In this essay I am going to compare two poems. The poems 'Vultures' by Chinua Achebe and 'What were they like?' by Denise Levertov, both poems are the same in a way both poems are about war and conflict. Both poems reflect the effects of war and how can dramatically change history. Chinua Achebe uses vultures to explore his thought and ideas of war. He starts by introducing us to their foul diet of dead humans and animal flesh, and then they appear to care and love for one another. Achebe feels that people should be hopeful that the goodness and love will one day overcome the evil inside others an that deep down there lies goodness and love in even the worlds most evil people. In this essay I am going to compare the poems ‘Vultures’ and ‘What were they like’. I am going to show how people are presented in those two poems. The people in both poems are innocent and they were victims of war.
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The poem ‘What were they like’ is presented as an interview the questioner is curious. The questions are asked too quickly and impatiently. The questioner is naïve, knowing less than he should about the way the war has ruined Vietnam.
In the first section, the questioner asks six questions about the culture, character and art of the Vietnamese people. Denise Levertov cleverly selects the finest aspects of traditional Vietnamese life as the subject of the questions. This is her way of reminding her readers about what has been lost, due to war. The questioner asks about their ornaments, worship of nature, laughter, poetry and song. The speaker answers bitterly, with knowledge that the questioner didn’t have. She gives out to the questioner for not remembering that Vietnam was a peasant society up against a Super-Power. The speaker answers with a real feeling for the suffering of the children of Vietnam. The speaker who answers is very formal, referring to the questioner as ‘Sir’. The word ‘Sir’ suggests the poem is a military investigation.
In the second section, the speaker tears each question apart. She shows the grief of the Vietnamese people.
To answer the first question, she plays on the words light and stone. She states that horrors made the Vietnamese people numb, unable to feel. Because of shell-shock they cannot remember their own past or culture.
In her second answer, she states the killing of children destroyed the country’s delight in nature and ceremony. The children are compared to buds.
To answer the third question about laughter, the speaker pictures their suffering. The Americans were using napalm to burn the jungle. The mouths of innocent children were burned. How could they laugh then?
To answer the fourth question about ornaments, the speaker says they don’t need ornaments made from animal bone when human bones have been burned by bombs.
To answer a question about their epic poems [poems that celebrate the past] the speaker says the war has wiped out memory. She points out that the people of Vietnam lived peaceful rural lives, growing rice in a beautiful countryside. The water in the paddy fields mirrored the sky. She blames the American bombs for destroying their agricultural way of life and their family structure.
The sixth question is about their song-like everyday speech. The speaker answers that some say there is still a faint echo of song in the people’s speech. It is as faint as the beating of moth-wings. The speaker concludes by declaring that war has finally silenced their beautiful and gentle songs.
However the poem Vultures is written in free verse, with lines of different lengths. The lines are short, so we read the poem this shows how long and harsh the punishments were.
It is divided into four sections. Each is marked by an indented line rather than a new stanza, perhaps to emphasise the logical flow of ideas and there is minimal punctuation.
The concentration camp Commandant cannot escape the evil deeds he has spent the day performing - 'the fumes of human roast [cling] rebelliously to his hairy nostrils' The word 'roast' makes us think of food, so it is doubly repulsive that he then buys 'chocolate' for his 'tender' child (or children) on the way home.
The people in ‘vultures’ are represented as not worthy of being human, the Aryan race is the superior race therefore the Commandant goes and kills thousands of Jews just because they are form a different race. Similar in the poem ‘What were they like’ America thought they could start a war against Vietnam and win it because most of the people are not peasants and farmers instead they didn’t but destroyed whole Vietnam.