Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.What are we doing here?The use of the present participle ‘watching, ‘ placed at the beginning of the line, gives marked presence to the anxious vigilance of the soldiers. Suffering is ongoing and even the act of seeing is fraught with pain. You could also argue that the organisation of the line, where the act of ‘watching’ precedes the pronoun ‘we,’ underlines the way that vigilance has usurped their identity. In other words, that their aliveness is dependent upon their watchfulness.The wind is again heavily personified with the reference to the ‘mad gusts tugging on the wire,’ a reference that both animates the wind through its insane power, as well as suggesting that nature has become replaced by man made brambles- and that this wire, which was ubiquitous at the front, horribly mimics and foreshadows in its movements, their probable deaths crucified upon the wire.‘Northward’ gives momentary direction in a poem primarily concerned with disorientation. The noise of the almost hallucinatory ‘flickering’ gunnery seems ‘far off’ as the men as so tired and disconnected from any reality. In fact the simile ‘like a dull rumour of some other war’ shows how far they have lost their sense of connection and now the war almost seems concerned with others. Maybe the cold has induced a hypothermia and the speaker cannot judge where reality begins or ends anymore?The short question, ‘what are we doing here?’ poignantly summarises the terrible hopelessness of the soldiers’ predicament. All the initial patriotic propaganda is revealed as a hollow lie. The question is never answered in the poem as there is no justification. Instead the poem edges forward in small snatches of time, offering no change but an overwhelming sense of nullity and despair.
The Woman in Black
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