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If- & Search and Destroy (lit essay)

Posted on March 24, 2009 at 12:45 AM

The two poems, If and Search and Destroy, despite both being strong and effective in portraying the author’s message, are quite different when compared to each other. Not just in content, but also style, rhythm, devices, themes, and mood.

The poem If, by Richard Kipling, is set in the context of a father speaking to his son about the many stages and challenges that he will face throughout the course of his life, but more importantly how he decides to deal with these hardships that will determine his integrity of character. The talk seems very confronting, as if the boy has reached an important stage in his life. Eg. Going away to college; getting married; going off to war. The talk is about how the boy should live his life and how he should meet each stage and challenge with courage and dignity.

The intended audience could just about be anyone. The poet is directing the poem at his son, but anyone could use the poem context as the foundation on which to live his or her life. The title of the poem is one that I think was chosen simply because it intrigues the reader. The word "if" could lead just about anywhere. In fact some consider "if" one of the most powerful words in the English language. In this case it leads to the words "If you can..." and follows with a set of rules and virtues on which to live your life.

The themes in the poem are to live your life humbly and fully; to use your talents to their full potential; to respect the faults of others and love your fellow man; and to make your memory live on after you have passed away. The mood of the poem is honourable and uplifting. It makes you want to live by these virtues and become a better person.

The poet did not really use that many devices, not to any greater purpose at least. Personification ("unforgiving minute") and metaphor ("not make dreams your master") but only to progress the tone of the poem. The rhythm of the poem is five beats per line, and it is every second line that rhymes (i.e. a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d). I think the poem is very effective in portraying its message of self-respect and common integrity. The poem has something for everyone but as a whole is very uplifting and flows beautifully.

The poem Search and Destroy, by Bruce Dawe, is set 200 years after the independence of America (1976). It is looking at the death and destruction of nature due to human influence. The story is set in the bicentenary, but probably is more relevant today than ever. The poem is directed at the current generation. It speaks sadly of a crumbling nature as industry takes over, and humanity sucks whatever is still useful from the earth. The poet, like many others, probably felt bitter about man taking nature for granted, and thought that he could best express his anger and sadness through his writing.

As I said above, the poem is intended for the current generation who have permanently destroyed much of the environment, but it could also be directed at man in general, or even the next generation to preserve and protect what's left of nature, before it's too late; for our own sake as well.

The title, for me, conjured up memories from the film The Terminator. In the future, when machines have taken over the world, there are these sentry drones that comb through the ruins searching for what's left of the human race. Only in the case of the above poem it is humanity who is systematically eliminating what is left of a dwindling mother earth.

The themes in the poem are the dwindling and fall of nature; the death of nature because of humanity; and the rise of machines. From the beginning the poem takes on a pessimistic and accusive tone, and towards the end removes any hope of human redemption, finishing with a question of our inevitable doom. The mood is dark and portrays a strong feeling of hopelessness.

The poet has used such devices as alliteration ("fumes from car-exhausts and fires, from dumps and furnaces aspires") to catch the readers attention; and personification ("the forests sigh and fall") so that human beings can relate to the decline of nature. He also uses metaphor ("nature grinds her basic gears") to deliver his opinions. What is interesting about this poem is the dull, almost mechanical, beat of its rhythm. This could also be to emphasise the substitution of nature for machine. I believe the poem is very effective of portraying its message. It is very confronting and accusive, but also holds an element of sadness and loss in its tone. The imagery and emotion it brings up is also well done.

The two poems If and Search and Destroy, despite both being strong and effective in portraying the author’s message, are quite different when compared to each other. Not just in content, but also style, rhythm, devices, themes, and mood.

The older, and more well known poem, If, has an integral and uplifting mood to it. Its themes are honourable and preach of self-development and virtue. The latter poem, Search and Destroy, has a much darker and accusive tone. It deals with more confronting and disturbing themes. Also the rhythm for If is a constant five beats per line. While Search and Destroy uses its rhythm in a much more cunning way. It has a four beats per line, save the eleventh and twelfth lines. And the sixth line ("sings on a diminished third"). Perhaps this was unintended, but I think this disruption in the rhythm is to highlight the off-key singing of the bird (which represents nature).

The rhyming of the two poems is also diverse, with If rhyming every first and third, and second and fourth together; while Search and Destroy works in couplets. Both poems are effective in the messages they seek to share, and I like them both for different reasons - If for its uplifting themes and rhythm, and Search and Destroy for its apocalyptic imagery and saddened mood.

Categories: ESSAYS, Literature

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