The poem opens with the speaker addressing a maiden.
No, this is not a reference to the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. It is also not a reference to the torture device from which the band took its name. It simply means "woman" or "girl," but it's, like, medieval, man.
He tells the woman not to weep because war is kind.
Wait a minute. That doesn't sound right. War is kind? Actually, it's not bro.
Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? This is probably going to be one of those poems where the speaker acts like war is kind, when really he's trying to argue the exact opposite.
It's also worth noting that we might think of war being kind as personification. After all, we've never heard of anything besides a human actually being kind before.
Incidentally, does the speaker seem a little bossy to you? Who you telling not to cry, speaker?
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
The speaker continues with his sentence.
He says the maiden's lover threw his hands toward the sky, and his horse ran away without him.
Okay wait a minute, a horse? Yes, an "affrighted steed" is a horse that is scared.
Horses tend to be kind of skittish, and we're betting battle is not a place for a horse to be all calm, cool, and collected. Affrighted ain't the half of it.
Here's what we think is going on here: the maiden from line 1 had a lover who must have been in a war and at some point threw up his hands in a very wild way towards the sky.
Was he doing this to celebrate? Hmm, probably not. Sounds like he got shot or stabbed and flew right off his skittish horse, kind of like Charlie Sheen in Platoon plus, you know, a horse.
Okay, so now we have to ask: what in the world is a horse doing in war? Well, in the days of yore (as in a mere hundred years ago), horses were often used in war. Whereas our cavalry now uses tanks and Humvees and all that jazz, horses used to be the vehicles of battle.
Do not weep. War is kind.
The stanza concludes with the speaker telling the maiden, again, not to weep because war is kind.
The phrase "do not weep" also goes with the two lines about the arms in the sky and the horse; it is inverted and should read "do not weep because…"
Do not weep and war is kind have been repeated twice now, and they're going to be repeated again and again so that means this is a refrain. Head over to "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" for more.
But the weird thing is that here, the refrain is tweaked a little bit. It's enjambed, instead of being crammed all on one line. And Crane left out the "for" this time around.
It's a choppier, less flowy, more jarring way to put it. If the absurdity of the statement "War is kind" doesn't jump out at you here, well then you might not be paying very close attention.
Here the speaker sounds very business-like, almost like he's writing a memo or something. And that bossiness is back. Don't weep, lady. Don't you dare.
Does this speaker seem like a sympathetic guy? Hmm, not so much.
Rhyme scheme alert: Note that the first and fifth lines rhyme (kind), and that those two lines kind of rhyme with the second (sky). Maybe this pattern will persist. Then again, maybe it won't. We'll keep a weather eye out.