Rhyme and resonance
After War is a deeply considered and regular sequence of poetry: the poet’s use of form, rhyme and rhythm is exact and precise throughout. This is ironic given that the world described is one that is fractured, the poems a sequence of juxtaposed fragments and recollections.
The use of rhyme scheme in After War is particularly powerful. Steady quatrains of abab focus us upon the line endings and specifically the impact of the final word, as here, in the title poem:
Slit trenches, dug in by skeletal frames,
Hold nothing but the memories retained
By varnished pokerwork to post the names.
In addition, the regularity of a regular rhyme pattern relaxes the reader into its bounce, so we’re caught out when the poetry itself doesn’t adhere to this idea of neatness and conformity. For instance, in ‘Ubi Solitudinem’:
Between his teeth, a small boy pulls the string
That drags his toy tank over shifting sands
Beyond the walls: the only solid thing
After the mine that blew away both hands.
The neatness and regularity of ‘string’ / ’thing’ and ‘sands’ / ‘hands’ lulls us into a false sense of security, when what awaits — as that final word resonates — is a nasty shock. The brutality of the image is at odds with the elegance of the poem’s craft — which makes it all the more impactful.
There's a similar contrast in ‘Messaien: Quartet for the End of Time’:
Wind soughs; rain soaks the ill-constructed camp
Whose wooden stamp
Is rigid with the staves and barbs of wire
On which his semi-quavers dance.
Here the first three lines end with words heavy in association: ‘camp’, ‘stamp’ and ‘wire’. The final word of the rhyme scheme (aabc) is ‘dance’ — accentuated by its difference. The juxtaposition enhances the power of this incredibly striking image.