The power of poetry, to illustrate and develop images in the minds of the readers is greatly demonstrated by Karl Shapiro’s poem, “The Conscientious Objector.” Through his literary skill, Shapiro is able to develop the realistic mindset and perspective of a conscientious objector.
Throughout the poem, Shapiro maintains the unique perspective of second person. He tells you what is happening and how you feel. This view is extremely effective in drawing the reader into the work and making the piece come alive. When one is trying to express the beliefs and feelings of another, the second person view allows the reader to stand in this other person’s shoes, and hence become more detached from personal views. The overall effect of this detachment is that it allows the reader to more effectively take on, if only temporarily, the views of another.
As the poem progresses, it is seen just how strong the will and beliefs of an objector are, in that he feels better in prison with the convicts (he does not consider himself one), than outside, where he finds the patriotism and war support to be obscene.
The objector sees himself to be of a higher breed than these patriots, and with various allusions, relates his imprisonment by the patriots as being similar to the Puritan banishment from England aboard “A Mayflower brim with pilgrims” “To establish new theocracies to west.”
These numerous allusions, presented throughout the piece, are highly effective in drawing the reader further into the piece and into the mind of the objector. Of particular note are the objector’s above shown pilgrim allusion and the reference to the fact that for objectors, there is “no safe Plymouth or green Ararat” (Plymouth was the harbour where the Puritans docked their initially leaking ship, and Ararat was the mountain upon which Noah landed after the flood). Another noteworthy allusion is present in the objector’s comparison of the superiority and righteous of his beliefs over that of the patriots, to the superiority and righteous of Noah over the Sodomites, who, in the Bible, were killed by God for their sins. All of these allusions provide to develop the character of the objector, and then bring the reader to the same conclusions he has reached.
At the conclusion of the poem, Shapiro relates how in the end how the objector, and now the reader, can come to the conclusion the conscious objector suffers in ways that may differ from the sufferings of a soldier, but are still sacrifices none the less. The reader must always remember that the objector is the soldier’s counterpart, and his balance. Even the soldier, who hates the objector during the war, will eventually consider him heroic, because the feelings of disdain for war are what the soldier eventually develops and “come[s] back to in the armistice.”