Study Guide

What Were They Like? Bone

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The first appearance of bones in the poem isn't as grim as it sounds. In line 6, the first speaker asks if the people of Vietnam used fine bone ornaments, like bone china (usually made from cow bones) or ivory (from elephant tusks). These are delicate and expensive ornaments. The second speaker, answering the first, compares these ornaments to human bones, which have been turned to ashes because of the bombings. In lines 17-19, he or she reminds the first speaker that ornaments are used for "joy," but there is no more joy left in Vietnam. Talk about vivid—and depressing—imagery.

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