CloseReading of Warhorses
YusefKomunyakaa presents rhetorical arguments in his poetry collectionbook titled “Warhorses.” Most of his poems speak about wars andmoments of people directly or indirectly involved in them. However,unlike the usual themes of brave soldiers and poems that praise thevalor and allegiance of these soldiers, Komunyakaa takes a uniquepath that addresses the counterarguments of war. These disapprovalsare the pains that war creates on the families and partners of thesoldiers. This essay will use a total of three poems fromKomunyakaa’s collection. First, “When Our Hands Caress Bullets &Grenades” examines a soldiers scars from a battle. The second poemis “His Name is Called” and speaks of a dejected wife who isstill mourning her husband. Lastly, “The Towers” reminds peopleof America’s major historical attack the 9/11 attack. Therefore,Komunyakaa examines historical attacks and wars and aims at revealingtheir instigated pains on families hence, challenging the essence ofwar in the current age and culture in a subtle manner.
Accordingto Goldstein, Komunyakaa has broken free from the poetic style of‘poetry of witness’ and speaks as a cultural historian (1366). Itis an irony that the first section has an additional element ofaffection considering that the earliest sonnets comprised of lovepoems (Pusateri 89). In the poem titled “When Our Hands CaressBullets & Grenades,” Komunyakaa voices a soldier whocontemplates on what he has given up for the war. He talks about howthey (soldiers) have surrendered sweat, skin, fingerprints, and hairto the war (Komunyakaa a). The poet presents the narrator as afirsthand war victim. Furthermore, the soldier goes ahead to mentionhis crescent shaped scar which can be caused by a gunshot. This poemexplains what soldiers went through during the ancient times, leavingtheir partners at home, only to risk their lives. In the currenttimes, the same still happens as soldiers are forced to leave homefor war only to come home with war wounds which sometimes are moresevere than gunshot injuries. Similarly, the narrator speaks of awoman, presumably his wife. These are the people who feel most of thepain after the soldier dies or is wounded in the line of duty.
Goldsteinsuggests that the objective of Komunyakaa is to stir a reevaluationof the society’s values concerning the once celebrated warbarbarism that existed in ancient civilizations (1368). Earliercivilizations’ poems were more focused on appreciating and praisingsoldiers who went to war, regardless of whether they went back homealive or pronounced dead. The poem “His Name is Called” describesthe anguish felt by the people who have lost loved ones to the war.Komunyakaa describes how his boots and helmet hang on the wall(Komunyakaa b). The narrator also describes how the soldier’s loveris still heartbroken and disconsolate over her lover’s demise inthe war. In this poem, Komunyakaa tries to show the audience whathappens after the death of a soldier. His viewpoint illustratesbrokenhearted people who are not interested in the soldiers’ heroictitles. However, this would not have been the case during the ancienttimes where fallen soldiers were treated as heroes. Komunyakaa isbound to the audience as he presents this poem. Komunyakaa connectswith his audience and speaks as one of them. This particular poemcontributes to Komunyakaa’s rhetoric that speaks about the negativeattributes of war on families and nations.
Thesecond part of Komunyakaa’s book is titled “Heavy Metal.” Justas in war, this title implies that things are going to get moresevere (Goldstein 1370). According to Pusateri, this sectionaddresses the implements of war (89). These are the things that relyon human intelligence to make them lively, such as combat gears. Thepoem “The Tower” is divided into two sections to represent theattack of the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attack against the UnitedStates. In the first part, the poet tries to recollect and presentindividual accounts of people in the building moments before theassault. Lines such as “How can I forgive him?” and “Why doesthe dog bark when someone turns the doorknob?” show that Komunyakaais trying to memorize the victims of that attack (Komunyakaa c). Hisgoal was to remind American citizens that lives were changed afterthat attack. This poem triggers the intended audience to keep onremembering the fallen ones during this terror attack.
Inconclusion, Komunyakaa uses his poems to show the effects of war onpeople and nations. However, he does not directly condemn or approvethe war in the current era. The selected poems include both fictionaland non-fictional works. Most of the selected poems and also in theWarhorses book address the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars where soldierswere sent to restore peace. However, the ripple effects were alsofelt in America. Komunyakaa uses the classical pieces to create a warrhetoric that addresses war effects and questions the essence of warin the twenty-first century. However, he does not directly condemnwars even though they cause relentless havoc to families, nations,and global economies.
Goldstein,Laurence. "Warhorses: Poems (review)." Callaloo 32.4(2009): 1366-1372.
Komunyakaa,Yusef. “Warhorses:poems.”Macmillan, 2009.
Pusateri,Chris. "Warhorses." LibraryJournal,vol. 133, no. 13, 15 Aug. 2008, p. 89. EBSCOhost,