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The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

by Randall Jarrell

Lines 3-4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 3-4

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.

  • The bomber is flying at a very high altitude and the speaker's life before war (even life itself), left far below, feels like an illusion. Like a "dream," it slips away.
  • "Six miles from earth" places us kind of between earth and the heavens. This mirrors the in-between state of our speaker—asleep or awake, alive or dead?
  • The speaker wakes to a new reality—his "nightmare" existence in the ball turret, enemy fighters attacking.
  • Usually, in life it is hard to contemplate death. It seems far off and mysterious—we can only imagine it in a dream-like way. In lines 3 and 4, this is reversed: life is the dream and reality is death—the "black flak and the nightmare fighters."
  • The threat of death becomes more immediate, more real than life.
  • If we look at lines 3 and 4 together, we can see a stark contrast between the two lines in terms of imagery and language. 
  • Reading line 3, we picture earth from a great distance looking peaceful and serene. We probably see blue sky and white clouds. Seems kind of nice, right?
  • The words "dream" and "life" are positive-sounding words, words that pop up in Shmoop's diary a lot when we are in a good mood. Um, no, you can't read it.
  • In line 4, the blue sky we may have imagined in line 3 is filled with "black flak." (check out .25, 5.30, and 12.20 to see flak in action).
  • And that word "nightmare" never seems to bring up good feelings. (Shmoop can still remember the first time we saw Nightmare on Elm Street—we've never been the same.)
  • With this contrasting imagery and language, these two lines mirror the stark contrast between life and death, or even war and peace. Pretty smooth, Randall, pretty smooth.
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