The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
swings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins …
Some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing …
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire) …
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides foods for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

About this Poem:

The War Works Hard is a new kind of antiwar pocm. It is sardonic and takes an odd, funny, reverse angle on the hateful experience of war itself.
Mikhail was writing from inside a war, on the side being attacked, while American poets such as Thomas Lux and Lucia Perillo were writing against the war from the side of the attackers, the American side. Mikhail paid for her poem with experience, but the poems by all three pocts are infused with a sense of bitter helplessness and irony.
"The War Works Hard" unfolds with manic energy, which is deftly enacted by the short lines. Diligent movement characterizes the stichic structure a single stanza of fifty-three lines. The mordant personification of the war, as an industrious, indefatigable worker who has been underappreciated, gives the poem a faux-naif quality, an understated and plaintive comedy. Personification, the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, oridcas, has special purpose as the basis for allegory- think of those medieval
morality plays in which characters are named "Lust" or "Hope." This figure of speech indicates that general ideas, and not individual people, are being dramatized. Mikhail's personification has special ironic force.

Last updated February 21, 2023