Study Guide

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner Death

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"The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" (title)

The poem begins with "The Death." What would happen if the title was changed to just, "The Ball Turret Gunner"? We'd still have a sense of war and violence in the title. But something significant would change. Jarrell wants us to feel that death is everywhere and he also wants us to feel the inescapability of death—to really feel our own mortality. With death in the title, we don't get to imagine, even for a second, that the gunner survives and escapes death.

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, (3)

"Dream of life" sounds kind nice, but "loosed" gives us the feeling of slipping away, losing a grip on life. So even in the mention of life, there is our old, spooky pal Death. Jarrell is hammering home that feeling of mortality, of life slipping away.

When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. (5)

The "Death" in the title is echoed in this last line. The poem begins and ends with death. Why doesn't Jarrell have the poem begin with life and end with death? Isn't that what actually happens? Well, by setting it up as Death to Death rather than Life to Death Jarrell forces us to consider the fact that we are all on the track to death the moment we are born. Death is just as present in the beginning of our lives as it is at the end. Yes, we know. Jarrell can be a bit of a downer.

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