How does Rodger McGoughs Poetry support the concept that nobody wins nuclear war?
How does Rodger McGough’s Poetry support the concept that “nobody wins nuclear war”?
Throughout the poems “Mother, the Wardrobe is filled with infantrymen”, “Noah’s Arc” and “Icarus Allsorts”, a bleak picture for mankind’s future after a nuclear war is painted. An almost desolate and chaotic existence is what McGough foresees as the aftermath, and these poems are effective at showing the futileness of fighting a nuclear war, given the ramifications, and absolute destruction of the war. Using absurdity, inversion, black imagery, dramatic irony as well as rhythm and rhyme, these three poems have created a strong argument that “nobody wins nuclear war”.
“Noah’s Arc”, a poem about a man obsessing over preparing for a nuclear war, is a very absurd as it shows the futileness of preparing for a “life, after death”. The audience is able to see that the persona within the poem, the man, has been driven completely insane by his obsession, as, “My wife…god bless her…”, which highlights his unstable mental state, becoming delusional about living through the war. The persona realizes his children do not share his ideas, and then begins to absurdly think his children “regard extinction (nuclear war) as the boring concern of grownups…like divorce and accountancy…”, thus showing that he is going completely insane, and it can then be seen that by attempting to ‘win’ the war by surviving, he is in fact losing – his sanity. This however, is in stark contrast to the poem, “Mother, the Wardrobe is filled with Infantrymen”, where the persona is an innocent small child, quite oblivious to the destruction of a nuclear war around him.
“Mother, the Wardrobe is filled with infantrymen” conveys a confronting message of the horrors and destruction following a nuclear war, and that the world can completely collapse into chaos around those who try to survive. The persona, a small child, is used and a ‘childish’ tone is employed to allow the reader to sympathise with the child, and to understand his plight. Repetition of “Mother…” allows for the audience to realize the child is all alone, and many audiences can relate to the feeling of losing a loved one. The child then asks his mother to, quite absurdly “…polish your identity bracelet” – all the while staring at a “…mushroom cloud in the back garden”. The audience is able to see the absurdity and black imagery, of complete desolation and destruction, surrounding an innocent child, whose mother has died but ironically, only the audience knows this; which allows the audience to share empathy for the child, and to understand the poem’s message that no one can win nuclear war, as it is so filled with horrors and destruction, that there is no room for survival. Directly opposed to this emotionally charged poem’s imagery, is that of the poem, “Icarus Allsorts”, which depicts an arrogant and ignorant general starting a nuclear war.
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“Icarus Allsorts” portrays a nuclear war, using sing-song rhyme and rhythm, “A littlebit of heaven fell \ out the sky one day”, to create an absurdly relaxed and childish atmosphere, which allows for a large scope of audiences to be reached with the meaning of the poem. The poem conveys an image that nuclear war can be triggered by incompetent authorities who shouldn’t be in control of it, “The general at the radar screen \ Rubbed his hands with glee”. The audience is encouraged to be shocked at the ignorance of the general. The fact that in the end, no one wins, is reinforced with the rhetorical question used to emphasise the absolute destruction, “But that wouldn’t bring \ Three thousand million, seven hundred and sixty eight people back. \ Would it?”. This thus shows the audience that a nuclear war is irreversible and complete in its destruction, but also allows them to feel great sympathy for the many lives lost as a result – further able to understand the deaths involved. This sheer destruction is in fact alike to that of in the poem “Mother, The Wardrobe is full of Infantrymen”.
As the persona of “Mother…Infantrymen” tries to go for help in the nuclear war affected town that he is in, absurdity is employed as he finds that the police are “…all looting the town” and inversion is used when he discovers that the fire engines are “…all upside down”. The use of absurdity and inversion together, as a rhyming couplet (looting the town \ all upside down) effectively shows the audience destructive and chaotic imagery of the results of a nuclear war; and also evokes empathy for the helpless child where even the emergency services, the very people there to help people in time of need, have deserted their positions due to the chaos of the war. Thus this is effective at showing that the war has defeated everyone – no one has won the nuclear war - and it’s an ‘every man for themselves’ ending”. Opposed to this, however, is “Noah’s Arc”, where the persona believes in a much (absurdly) happier ending for mankind following a nuclear war.
The use of a Biblical Inverted Allusion in “Noah’s Arc” (the name of the poem), effectively shows that the futileness of surviving the nuclear war before it has even begun the poem – the persona believes he will inherit a ‘cleansed’ earth. The Biblical tale of Noah and his Ark, where he took two of every animal to save them from a great flood God would send to wipe out the evil on the earth, has been completely inverted. The juxtaposed result of the nuclear war and the gift of “God” to the persona in the poem are in fact total devastation and an earth uninhabitable and completely devoid of life – as opposed to the ‘habitable’ and evil-cleansed earth Noah would inherit. However, in the poem, only the audience ironically knows that he’s very wrong indeed about his prediction of a ‘new earth’, and is able to feel great sympathy for his delusions, but also encouraged to be astonished at the persona’s way of thinking.
“Noah’s Arc also further delves into the persona’s insanity, where the persona believes that he will, absurdly, “…one fine day”, inherit “…an earth, newly cleansed”, showing the complete delusional mindset of the persona, completely devoted to living through a Nuclear war; with a pseudo-grandeur of being the last man (and his family) alive on earth, thus allowing the audience to be able to either feel sympathy for the confused man, or have none at all, for he is completely insane. The inversion of ‘newly cleansed’ is that it is not ‘clean’, but in fact irradiated beyond livable standards, and a wasteland uninhabitable for centuries. All of these effective uses of imagery, enable the audience to understand the sheer destruction and futileness of nuclear war and the further message that even if people believe they will ‘win’ the nuclear war and ‘enjoy’ life afterwards, they will not at all, and will ultimately ‘lose’ the nuclear war. The audience is also encouraged to feel sorry for the potential victims of such a war, but also feel no sympathy for delusional men seeking a paradise which will never come. The futility of surviving the nuclear war is similarly put forth in “Icarus Allsorts”, where as “…the bombs began to fly”, everyone – rich and poor, all lost.
In “Icarus Allsorts”, through juxtaposed imagery, “The Rich \ Huddled outside their fallout shelters (they’re dead)” and “The poor \ Clutching shattered televisions (all dead)”; conveying the equal footing all social and economic classes are put on after a nuclear war began is shown – that no one is truly safe in a Nuclear war (even those who have shelters). Forth continued, through black imagery of the euphemism, “…the people fell, the mushrooms rose”; the audience is shown the sheer destruction of the nuclear war, and the child-like sing-song rhythm of the poem allows for the audience to feel that the deaths to seem unneeded, and unnecessary (all due to a ignorant authoritarian), and they are compelled to feel empathy for the victims. As follows in a monosyllabic rhyming couplet, “In the time it takes to draw a breath \ Or cat, a toadstool, instant death”, the couplet and blunt tone is able to convey a confronting image to the audience, and to evoke fear in them of the wide-spread death involved with Nuclear war, and the fact that in the end, no one does win, as everyone is dead. The sheer death described in “Icarus Allsorts” is commonly shared with “Mother, The Wardrobe is filled with Infantrymen”, where the child discovers death and destruction around him, but is in fact not able to fully comprehend what is going on.
“Mother, the Wardrobe is filled with Infantrymen” shows the persona, the small child, to be walking around helplessly lacking the ability to understand the destruction and implications of the death around him. As the persona pleads to his mother “I did I tried to bring the cat in” and attempts to go about saving his pet, with absurdity employed as “(the cat)…it simply came to pieces in my hands”. The audience is able to feel empathy for the child as the undercutting of the above live (I did I tried) is effective at showing the child’s pure innocent and lack of understanding of the horrors surrounding him. Finally, the child begins wondering why his mother isn’t responding to him, with dramatic irony in “mother don’t just lie there say something please \ mother don’t just lie there say something please”, where the repetition of the two lines allow the audience to feel great empathy for the child, as he has lost his mother (she’s dead) and he has not realized this yet. The poem is thus effective at displaying the destruction associated with war, and that everyone suffers as a result, including horrific examples (such as a small child being left without his mother), and that war is completely futile and therefore no one wins, as everyone is either close to, or is, dead.
It is then obvious that “Noah’s Arc”, “Mother the Wardrobe is filled with Infantrymen” and “Icarus Allsorts” have effectively portrayed, through absurdity, inversion, black imagery, dramatic irony as well as rhythm and rhyme that everyone is eventually going to die as a result, and there are such horrific incidents following a nuclear war that anyone wishing to survive through one, is completely delusional beyond all reason. The audience is also able to see the arrogance of some authoritarian figures within Government, who can make the decision which could wipe out billions of people. Thus, the poems all effectively combined to paint the image that, as “…one fine day” when “…the bombs began to fly”, “…there’s a mushroom cloud in the back garden” and it is set in stone that “no one wins nuclear war”.