Poetry Analysis of "Lament" by Gillian Clarke

To lament something is to express grief. In "Lament," Gillian Clarke expresses grief about the Gulf War of 1991, in which Iraq invaded Kuwait. According to Clarke, "The poem uses the title as the start of a list of lamented people, creatures, events and other things hurt in the war." As Clarke points out, war leaves nothing untouched, and her poem is meant to underscore each area that is hurt. To analyze a poem, scholars study its content, language, imagery and form to understand it completely.


The content of a poem goes beyond the subject matter. Obviously, "Lament" is a list of casualties of war, human and otherwise. Clarke lists everything from pregnant turtles to men unable to enter their country's borders to the ocean itself. Her tone, or attitude toward what she is writing, is stark and serious. There is tension in the way she describes the scene; many elements of creation are harmed by the war.


Poets choose language carefully for musicality and shades of meaning. Clarke uses powerful adjectives throughout, such as "pulsing," "restless," "veiled" and "scalding." Her choice of words creates a picture of a war alive with shrapnel. She creates imagery with nouns such as "iridescence" and "vengeance." The words paint the war in a negative light. Her last line evokes the death of life as she once knew it with the phrase "ashes of language." When even words and thought are ashen, the lament is very powerful.


Poets create pictures via imagery, so the audience can relate closely to the subject. Clarke creates powerful imagery of a nesting turtle with her words "pulsing burden" and "nest of sickness" in stanza 1. She employs personification, giving human qualities to objects, in stanza 6 by saying "the veiled sun and the stink of anger." A great example of metaphor is achieved in stanza 5 with "the whale struck dumb by the missile's thunder." By comparing the missile to thunder via metaphor, she is telling of its power.


The poem features seven stanzas of three lines each, and has an unrhymed structure. The first stanza describes the plight of a pregnant turtle, and the second stanza explains a cormorant doused in oil. However, the next five stanzas describe elements more rapidly, with one line dedicated to each. Clarke moves from a gunsmith, to a lonely soldier to a farmer's musical son in stanza 4, to a turtle, a dolphin and a whale moved by the "missile's thunder" in stanza 5. Although the poem does not rhyme, slant rhyme does occur; the words "wader" and "anger" almost rhyme in stanza 6, for instance.

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