“The Last War” by Katherine Gallagher
“The Last War” by Katherine Gallagher
Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Tatsuya Shiihara, and today I will be presenting to you my interpretation of the poem “The Last War”, written by Australian poet, Katherine Gallagher. This poem expresses the feelings of the “winning” countries before, during and after the Second World War and the anticipation which the end of the war built. Born in 1935, in the town of Maldon, in Victoria; Gallagher went through the 2nd World War as a child, and as a result, experienced many adversities that came with it, such as fear of loved ones not coming home and rationing of food. I believe that this poem is unique in the way that it represents an important point of view on the ending of the 2nd World War, not just because it is Australian, but because it also conveys a form of acceptance and sorrow over the destruction caused by the atomic bombing on Japan. Gallagher uses many techniques, notably metaphors, to represent emotions felt by people, emphasising their desperation when waiting for news in the line “Ears keyed to the wireless” and ‘Ghost Towns’, used to aid readers visualise the devastating situation, allowing for them to understand the ravages of the war.
The final line, ‘the pit of ash beneath our tongues’, is a distinctive metaphor in that I believe it to not only represent the residue of atomic fires, but also the inescapable legacy that had been passed down, which is indisputably the objectionable usage of the devastating bomb. Symbolism also helps share Gallagher’s perspective on the war. The line “our teacher joining in” symbolises how even adults celebrated the event by having fun, something which they would not have been able to do for many years. This generates a sense of jubilance, and combined with Gallagher effectively positioning the reader as though they are actually in the situation themselves, World War 2 ended and celebrations everywhere, the reader can understand how joyous people were when the war was finally declared over. With the poem being written in first person, “we’ve won” and “The bomb entered our conversation”, Gallagher also uses personification in the lines “The bomb entered our conversation, a stranger who refused to leave”, to clearly convey that the bomb is unwanted, a symbol of guilt and fear, by making it personal with the reader.
Whilst this effectively reflects her personal attitudes towards the war, remorse and acceptance, the reader also starts to question their own attitude towards the war. However, it is the juxtaposition within the layers of the poem that most entices the reader’s attention. The sharp contrast between the cheerful and happy celebrations that the war was over, to the suddenly sombre tone that comes with the realisation of the deaths that were the price of war – combined with the existence of the atomic bomb which spreads fear. It effectively engineers turmoil within the reader. With no rhythm or rhyming scheme within the poem, the poem is a free-verse, following the rhythm of natural speech with no consistent meter patterns. Thus, Gallagher uses precise language and strong phrasing in order to get her point across quickly and concisely, such as the lines “Japan bombed, gigantic clouds curling, skies burnt scarlet -total destruction . . .” and “The War over.”
This short, sharp rhythm is very effective as it doesn’t let the reader’s mind wander from the point, thereby successfully demanding the reader’s attention at all times. Tatsuya Shiihara English Poetry Year 11 Term 2 Semester 1 2014 1 Poem Annotation The Last War There was only one war, and it was finishing any day soon. Ears keyed to the wireless, we waited. Then the news: Japan bombed, gigantic clouds curling, skies burnt scarlet – total destruction . . . We’ve won, we’ve won, a conga-chant round the schoolground, beating tins, sticks: our teacher joining in – flags, jumbled cries – uncles and cousins coming back. The war over. Hiroshima, Nagasaki – ghost towns now. Over two hundred thousand people ghosts too. We couldn’t imagine it. The bomb entered our conversation, a stranger who refused to leave.
Only years on did we become aware of the pit of ash beneath our tongues. Katherine Gallagher Taken From http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/gallagher-katherine/the-last-war-0646045 Comment [u1]: Symbolic – represents the anticipation that everyone had waiting to hear the news that the war had ended – therefore the suffering and death as well had ended. Comment [u2]: Symbolic – represents that this Comment [u3]: Short, sharp rhythm – gets straight to the point instead of wandering, doesn’t let reader’s mind wander from the point. Comment [u4]: Symbolic – represents that there was nearly nothing left after the explosion, everything had been decimated.
Comment [u5]: Symbolic – represents the jubilance felt by those who were relieved that the war had ended, generating a sense of relief Comment [u6]: Symbolic – represents how even the adults celebrated the event by having a little fun – something they had not been able to do for many years. Comment [u7]: Symbolic- represents how separated families got back together after the war Comment [u8]: Symbolic – represents how the cities were literally empty no, with nothing at all left untouched. Comment [u9]: Symbolic – represents that how many people were lost Comment [u10]: Symbolic – represents how, in the countries that “won” after the war, as the people there could not feel the direct effects of how the war was ended (atomic bomb), and no-one could imagine it, people celebrated, instead of mourned.
Comment [u11]: Juxtaposition – sharp contrast from cheerful and happy that the war was over to suddenly a sombre tone that was full of guilt and sadness. Comment [u12]: First person – generates a point of view of the poet Comment [u13]: Symbolic – represents the guilt that was felt for having to decimate over 200000 people in order to win this war and the fear because of the atomic bomb existing Comment [u14]: Personification – human nature Comment [u15]: Symbolic – represents how, only after the people of the “winning” countries realised the extent of the … Comment [u16]: Metaphor – represents the never-ending guilt over the destruction caused. Comment [u17]: No rhyming pattern detected Comment [u18]: Structured to be like a story, many symbolic words and phrases. Comment [u19]: * English Poetry Analysis Commentary * Official draft’