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Commentary on 'the Leveller'

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Commentary on 'The Leveller'

'The Leveller' is a poem written by Robert Graves in 1916, right in the midst of the First World War. In it he tells the story of two soldiers, one a mere boy, and one a decorated, experienced war veteran. As the poem reaches its conclusion it shows how death in warfare acts as something that levels social and professional status out, despite people's differences.

The second stanza sees the poet paint quite a negative view of the young soldier.

'One was a pale eighteen - year - old

Blue - eyed and thin and not too bold

Pressed for the war not ten years too soon

The shame and pity of his platoon'

Graves describes the physical appearance of the soldier in more detail that would usually be found in a piece of poetry. The use of the word 'pale' links back to the age of the soldier, as I think this suggests that he isn't a worn person, meaning that he hasn't seen much or experienced much of life. The imagery of his blue eyes is an image that is linked to the idea of innocence, and that perhaps someone of such a young age was too young and naive to find themselves fighting in such a horrific battle. The first two lines Graves emphasises slightly with the soldier, but the final line is quite harsh towards the role the soldier played in his platoon. Described as the 'shame and pity' these are two very strong words that make it clear that the young soldier was not very good at his job and received very little respect. The word 'pity' is plosive - like, and so this adds to the harshness of the line, as it sounds as though Graves does not respect the young soldier and uses sharp monosyllabic adjectives to describe him, almost suggesting that he does not have a lot of time for this character.

The professional positions of the two characters are reversed as the poem continues.

'Yet in his death this cut - throat wild

Groaned 'Mother! Mother!' like a child

This section of the poem is referring to the war veteran, a man who has seen battle many times before, and so it would have been though that he would have become accustomed to facing situations where he could die. The poet describes him as a 'cut - throat wild' and this suggests that as a soldier the man was very brutal in his fighting technique and essentially "took no prisoners" when he battled enemies. However, I think that this description paints quite a derogatory image of the soldier and therefore perhaps Graves himself did not agree with warfare and was against the violence that, of course, is involved, and therefore perhaps he uses this description to show his disgust. The cry 'Mother! Mother!' is suggesting that whilst this man was supposed to be a man of great pride and well decorated within the armed forces, in fact he too was scared as he knew he was about to die. I feel that perhaps Graves' description of his plea as childlike could suggest again that the poet had very little respect for the soldier and the actions that he was carrying out, and so perhaps he does not have much sympathy for him either.

The speech the Sergeant uses is the same one he uses at every funeral.



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