Study Guide

What Were They Like? Injustice

By Denise Levertov

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Considering the poem itself is a form of protest, it's no surprise that a sense of injustice permeates the tone and imagery of "What Were They Like." The people, described as peaceful and nature-loving, have been totally wiped off the map by violence and war. Many of them were children and peasants who took no part in the fighting. It's not fair, the poet argues. Levertov's tone implores us, repeatedly, to think of who suffers the worst losses in war. And when you put it that way, you can see why any cause that creates such suffering and loss is never a just one.

Questions About Injustice

  1. How does Levertov use tone to indicate that a great injustice has been done? Is it explicit or implicit? How can you tell?
  2. Whom does the second speaker indicate has suffered the most? How have they suffered?
  3. Who else faces injustice in the poem? What have they lost?

Chew on This

This poem is a perfect example of how poetry can be a powerful form of protest. It's just that sometimes you just have to dig a little for the message—and sometimes it hits you over the head.

This poem is proof that war can never be just.

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