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War Is Kind
War Is Kind
by Stephen Crane

Stanza 5 Summary

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

Lines 23-26

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind!

  • Here we are in the fifth stanza and the speaker has softened his tone yet again, but just a bit.
  • The speaker has addressed a maiden and a babe, and now he addresses a mother.
  • Using a simile, he remarks that this mother's heart hung humble as a button on the shroud of her son.
  • The heart is doing the hanging because sometimes, when talking about somebody's emotional reaction—affection, sadness, etc.—we say "heart," as in "my heart grieves for that woman." That's a little thing we like to call metonymy.
  • Speaking of hanging, what's going on with that phrase? First, imagine a button hanging on a shirt.
  • Now imagine a mother standing over her son's dead body, which is covered by a funeral sheet (shroud). The whole deal with humble is that the mother is watching silently or humbly, not wailing or crying or making a fuss. She's as unobtrusive as a button on a shirt.
  • This is certainly a strange image, to say the least. Is the mother in complete disbelief or what? Perhaps the period of her mourning is over? We really don't know.
  • But Shmoop does know that that shroud is probably not at all bright and splendid. Sure, maybe it's clean and white, but a death shroud? Splendid? We're thinking there's a tinge of irony in that description.
  • The words recall the description of the flag earlier (blazing flag, 17) and remind us of the perspective of that hardline soldier guy.
  • This moment is clearly a mockery of that dude's whole outlook. 
  • As we expect now at the end of the odd-numbered stanzas, the speaker concludes by telling the mother not to weep because war is kind.
  • Honestly, we're getting a little tired of this refrain. It's pretty impossible not to weep when a loved one dies. Sheesh.
  • But there is something a little different about the refrain this time around—the exclamation point. Maybe the speaker's growing frustrated that no one's really hearing him. Or maybe he's crying out with conviction. Or maybe, just maybe, that exclamation point adds yet another note of irony to the speaker's address.
  • No matter which way you slice it, the poem leaves us with one firm conviction: war is certainly not kind, thank you very much
Next Page: Analysis
Previous Page: Stanza 4

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