14 April 2011

Poem: Death of The Ball Turret Gunner

(NOTE: Completely off the beaten path, but I didn't want to molest my followers with ridiculous posts of Blog News. However, I'm debating hosting a read-along, probably next month or the month of June. If anybody is interesting, please post a comment below letting me know, and tell whatever friends might be interested! I'm excited to host a read-along, so let me know folks! : D )

So, I realized that I hadn't posted much poetry honoring the month of April, and National Poetry Month. This is really just my feeble attempt to expose myself more to poetry, since, although I heartily respect it, I haven't spent as much time as I've wanted on poems.

This week I thought I'd feature a rather short poem, so here goes:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

So this is a very short poem, set during the second world war. A ball turret, if you are unaware, is a little bubble on the bottom of a B-17 bomber, where some fellow crawled into, in a fetal position, to provide cover fire for the rest of the plane while on a mission. It was the most dangerous job on the plane, since you were venerable and cramped.

I've had the 'honor' of seeing one of these lovelies for myself, and it's not a fun place to be. I'm extremely claustrophobic, but luckily very tall, so they probably wouldn't have stuffed me in there...

Anyway, I found two different 'goodies' in this poem. Completely unrelated, but let's see if I can't pick it apart with my brain of English Major goodness!

1). So the first thing that caught me eye was the reference to innocence. 'From my mother's sleep...' reminded me of the womb, and I further recalled the fact that the men were in the 'fetal' position when they were in the turret. Furthermore, in his sleep the man seems to be most free and alive, but when he wakes he finds himself killed. The roles are reversed.

2). The idea of washing out another human being from a machine is a horrific idea. However, the language used in this poem is extremely casual, and our prior knowledge of the war doesn't allow us to pause and read over the last line with much shock. We might be appalled, but in a macabre way, we understand. How does that speak for how conditioned we are to respond to war fatality?

How do you respond to this poem? Or, is there another poem that you appreciate or have in your favorites for some reason? Comment or link from your blog, I'd love to hear from you, : ) Thanks!


  1. This poem gives me goosebumps every time I read it. The first lines always makes me think of "Dule Et Decorum Est."

  2. I agree, "Dulce Et Decorum Est" is another very powerful piece of poetry. Written in a time of war, it seems to shed artistic light on the violence. I think that's why it's so very memorable.


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