What Every Soldier Should Know, Brian Turner — Poetry Analysis

This poem is an interesting one that I found looking over the list of the “Best American Poems of 2008”.

To yield force to is an act of necessity, not of will;
it is at best an act of prudence.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon,
it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.

Always enter a home with your right foot;
the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.

O-guf! Tera armeek is rarely useful.
It means Stop! Or I’ll shoot.

Sabah el khair is effective.
It means Good morning.

Inshallah means Allah be willing.
Listen well when it is spoken.

You will hear the RPG coming for you.
Not so the roadside bomb.

There are bombs under the overpasses,
in trashpiles, in bricks, in cars.

There are shopping carts with clothes soaked
in foogas, a sticky gel of homemade napalm.

Parachute bombs and artillery shells
sewn into the carcasses of dead farm animals.

Graffiti sprayed onto the overpasses:
I will kell you, American.

Men wearing vests rigged with explosives
walk up, raise their arms and say Inshallah.

There are men who earn eighty dollars
to attack you, five thousand to kill.

Small children who will play with you,
old men with their talk, women who offer chai—

and any one of them
may dance over your body tomorrow.

–Brian Turner

This poem outlines the complex psychological situation that American soldiers experience in the Arab world. The primary tone of the poem is that of the ever-present threat of death, but it also expresses other parts of the experience that contribute strongly to the poem’s conveying of the complete experience.

The poem, in addition to portraying the psychology of an American soldier, indirectly portrays the psychological situation of someone living in the country where the soldier is in. The soldier sees nothing but chaos and disorder, which is the society that the natives experience every day of their lives. This disorder is completely alien compared to the normal American life that these soldiers would have experienced in their home country, which is expressed in the poem.

The poem also conveys the message “War is hell”. No person can be trusted, there is always someone out to kill an American soldier, and there is no rest. The stress that one feels during war is enough to cause madness in some cases, and nobody comes back home completely unaffected.

Overall, this poem, in its succinctness, is able to bring the entire experience of an American soldier in the Middle Eastern World.


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