Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
- Ah, now we get some battle scenes. We'll see war in action, and figure out if it actually is kind.
- The speaker sets the scene for us Just imagine a montage, containing a horse, booming drums, and a bunch of young guys itching to fight.
- These young guys sound like a bunch of drones to us, because according to the speaker, they were born to drill and die.
- This does not mean that they were born to drill holes with a power drill from Home Depot, but that they were born to be drilled by a sergeant—ordered and bossed around like cattle, doing repetitive exercises like target shooting and crawling through barbed wire mud pits. Or something.
- This is a very bleak picture, dear speaker. But it's effective, too. The idea here is that the fates of all these soldiers seem to already have been determined: they're going to drill and they're going to die, and there's not much anyone can do about it.
- But let's break down this image even more. First, what are the drums doing there? Well, back in the day, military regiments had drums and other instruments that were meant to spur the men into battle. Sure, it's weird to think of war as something that needs or has music, but once upon a time that's how it was.
- When the speaker says "little souls," he doesn't want us to imagine a bunch of little souls running around armed for battle. What would that look like anyway?
- He's probably just referring to the young (little) men (souls) who fight battles, using a metaphor.
- Actually, we think he's using a specific type of metaphor, in which a word (souls) that's closely related to something (men) is being used to refer to that something. The fancy word for this type of metaphor is metonymy.
- Strangely, the speaker switches to the present tense in this stanza. It's almost like he's going back in time, or putting himself at the scene of the lover's death.
- It's like a movie: speaker talks to maiden, the scene changes, and boom, we're on the battlefield with drums pounding and soldiers ready to go.
- All this raises one key question: who exactly is this speaker anyway? We're not too sure, but his attitude, while critical, makes him sound like a military man, a superior of some sort who sees his men as his cattle or something. But be sure to head over to our "Speaker" section to read more about this fellow.
The unexplained glory flies above them.
- The unexplained glory? What's that about?
- Here are a couple theories Shmoop drummed up:
- It could be glory in the abstract, as in "the glory of fighting and dying in battle." It's unexplained because once you get out there and starting murdering people it all seems kind of pointless.
- Or—and this version's more likely—glory could refer to the flag, which explains why it's flying.
- A lot of folks refer to the American flaf as "Old Glory," though this poem isn't necessarily about a war that the United States was in. But since Stephen Crane was American, the theory's definitely plausible.
- And that flag is unexplained because, again, the idea of dying for it just seems kind of ridiculous once you get out in the field and start killing people.
- Did you note the contrast between the flag and the soldiers? They're down on the ground, fighting it out, and it's up there in the wind, just hanging out. That points to a huge gap between the gory fighting on the battlefield and the grand purpose of the war, high above all the mess.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
- The battle-god is a really great guy, just… great.
- And his kingdom? Ironically, it's just a field where a thousand corpses lie (that little dash might as well be an "is").
- Battle-god does not necessarily mean any specific god, just some presiding battle spirit.
- But, here's a list of some battle gods from various mythologies for your, um, pleasure: Ares (Greek), Huitzilopochtli (Aztec), and Odin (Norse).
- Again, our speaker seems really into this war business, calling the battle god great and all. We'd think a kingdom with a thousand corpses usually means its leader is kind of a deadbeat, but our speaker thinks differently.