The title of Rothenberg’s poem “In a Time of War” seems to encapsulate the poem’s subject-matter, written with uncomplicated words of the English vocabulary makes the poem stand out in a stark manner. This method is used by Rothenberg to illustrate to readers exactly how he sees war, as it is.
One outstanding feature of this poem is its structure. Rothenberg appears to want to isolate the first stanza from the rest of the poem. At a closer reading, the first stanza is concerned with the poet’s thoughts of war, while it is taking place, whereas the remaining stanzas talk about his feelings on the notion of war, irregardless of whether it is occurring or not.
This distinction is further enhanced by the language and degree of imagery of the stanzas. Note that in stanza one, there is more emphasis on description, with the constant use of pastoral imagery, “daisies wilt” and “the war sucks up the dew.” The mood generated from it, is “dark”, gloomy and miserable. However, reading on, the mood apparently lightens up, especially from stanza three. The word “love” begins to appear. The pastoral imagery transforms to a more hopeful state, “a love that floats like butterflies” and “flowers in the endless night.”
Rothenberg is probably telling the reader that all is not lost, “even a year of war won’t hide or tame [moon acacia water lily star].” There is hence, no predominant gloomy mood or atmosphere to this poem as there is a shift from a state of hopelessness to one with some optimism present.
Even so, we cannot overlook the fact that Rothenberg is saying that since we can move on from the aftermath of war, we can then take war lightly. The poet, apart from telling readers not to lose faith when war comes, is also signaling to us that “war [is] waiting in the gateway to the hive.” The lesson Rothenberg is conveying to the readers that war may strike us anytime, and so we should prevent it at all costs if not things might return to how he describes it in stanza one.
The structure of stanza one consists of many short lines, even a word alone constitutes a line as seen in the tenth line “nightingales.” Rothenberg ‘compels’ the reader to pay attention to each and every line. He wants us to feel, as closely as possible of the horrific experiences that war can bring out. Wars sometimes take decades before it ends and the literal length of the stanza symbolizes this. And yet, as we move on the next stanzas, lengthwise, they grow shorter and the lack of commas causes the reader to move from one stanza to the next rather swiftly until we approach stanza seven where Rothenberg cautions us of the unpredictability of war.
And if we fail to take his advice in hand, we return to the state that stanza one illustrates. The poem may have ended with stanza seven, but Rothenberg has cleverly twisted it. A vicious cycle is formed, if humans refuse to prevent war, “another war” will always emerge. The poem is overall an excellent portrayal of the world “in a time of war.”