“Come On, Come Back” Analysis Using SMILE: Poetry (English Literature)

COME ON, COME BACK ANALYSIS Hello, welcome to another tutorial video.
This time we’re going to look at ‘Come On, Come Back’, really sarcastic poem. It’s
got this kind of light tone to this horrible, horrible, bleak thing that’s happening.
There’s a great amount of ridicule in this and we’re going to go into it, especially
actually when I get to this point here in images, I think this is brilliant and one
of the best poems for actually summing up this whole thing. So we start off with structure, as ever and
we’ve got this interesting side note to actually be taken here. It’s an incident
in a future war, so what’s that telling us is to imagine this first of all, but second
of all it’s linking it to every other war that could possibly have happened and ridiculing
all of the elements that will actually bring us to this situation. Second then we’ve got the long sentences.
We’ve got – you can see them just because of the punctuation – just even here we’ve
got this whole stanza with only one comma, so that whole stanza there is a sentence and
that allows us to get in a load of ideas but moreover, it actually reflects the lack of
structure that this soldier has within themselves, because they have no memory, so they have
no identify of themselves, so they don’t know who they are or what they do and that’s
emphasised further when ‘Her fingers tap the ground’, she just sits tapping the ground,
she doesn’t know what she’s doing. We don’t get a purpose, that’s not – tapping
of the ground in and of itself isn’t necessarily something that we’d expect a soldier to
be doing in terms of a command or trying to tap out a code. It could be that she’s just
passing the time waiting, but the feel that we get and the pace that she gets from the
rest of the poem doesn’t seem like that, this person is sad, she isn’t just tapping
her hand on the ground just waiting for someone, she’s lost herself, we can just imagine
her being utterly fearful and she has no idea who she is because of the ML5 that’s attacked
her. The enjambment used all the way through is
really interesting because it allows us to hang on so many words and focus on so many
words. We’ll take this one for example, ‘has left her just alive’ and we’ll
hold on that phrase of ‘just alive’, which I’ll come to in more detail later, but it’s
very powerful and it just reminds us that that’s all she us, just this collection
of chemistry really and biology, just kind of kicking off neurons and firing, reacting
across, but she has no idea in a sense of who she is. The biological parts of it are
just happening but there’s no person in there. It’s utterly, utterly dehumanising
and utterly, utterly sad to think of someone in that situation. And again here we have
example of the enjambment, ‘her mind is as secret from her as the water…’ and
just imagine there’s that phrase ‘on which she swims’, which is that phrase earlier
– ‘her mind is as secret from her…’ and just the idea of being so distanced from
yourself, like a lot of us have the idea sometimes of frustration, of not knowing exactly what
we want to do or why we do certain things, but having no idea at all, like literally
no idea, how damning must that be and how damning must it feel? The punctuation in the structure of all this
is really, really important as well because it allows us to get different tones and voices
coming through and different paces. So here we have the ‘dash’ is used to kind of
break us off into this really quick list of helplessness – ‘a child’, no ‘an idiot’,
no ‘one without memory’, so it gets worse as that builds. The punctuation here as well
where we have the quotation marks of the title of the song and the brackets just kind of
adding it as a little aside. ‘An enemy sentinel Finding the abandoned clothes Waits for the
swimmer’s return (‘Come on, come back’) Waiting, whiling…’ and it just gives a
little kind of sideway, like a different feel, again a different element of what feels like
ridicule all the way through this, making fun of it. We’ve also got the question mark
here, ‘she fears’, ‘Ah me, why am I here?’ So although that changes from the
third person to the first person, the question mark allows us to do that seamlessly because
in the question we can pick that up as a different voice. So if you look at what little punctuation
is used, it’s actually used to create effect, to really create different tones and voices,
which is important because when we’re looking at the effects of war, there’s so many different
voices that are heard and moments that are captured and so this allows us to do that
in some way. Moving on then to meaning. We’ve got the
effects of war and how this person is completely dehumanised, utterly broken, and we’ve got
that from obviously the use of ML5, which is interesting just in the way it’s written,
because it’s kind of like some kind of derivative, the kind of things that we refer to weapons
or weaponry or biological weapons there, such as an AK47, there’s this kind of combination
of letters and truncated numbers together to actually give us this sense of something.
So ML5 is used or like Zyklon B for example, another chemical name. I’d be interested
to find out what Stevie Smith was actually intending by the ML there. Memory loss 5 or
something, perhaps it could be but that’s just a guess, I’m not saying use that in
the exam, I don’t know what it actually stands for. So yes, the dehumanising effects on this,
she doesn’t understand who she is, she says she lost her memory, she doesn’t understand
why she’s actually in the place, etc. She’s like an idiot, she strips off her uniform
and that’s the last bit of identity she has, so it is really dehumanising, both in
the fact that she has suffered from the war in this way and also in the fact that perhaps
being in the army in itself was in some way dehumanising. One of the other messages that comes through
is that she suffers the same lies and the same propaganda, and that’s really emphasised
in the title, Come On, Come Back’ and that’s what always makes me laugh because it’s
such a ridiculous phrase, but used to such great effect to actually emphasise the absurdity
of this. We all hear the same kind of talk ‘your country needs you’, so many clichés
that you can think of with regards to time in the army, and that’s the kind of thing
that gets people kind of encouraged and following orders and doing what they’re supposed to
do, etc., but everywhere hears the same thing. So she’s heard it here and here her enemy’s
actually playing the same thing again and it’s a favourite of all the troops, of all
the armies, so it’s the same idea being pushed, the same propaganda, whatever it is
to actually get people into war. We need to beat the enemy, they’re planning to attack
us, they’re planning to do this, whatever the propaganda is, it’s summed up by ‘Come
On, Come Back’. The phrase in itself seems so simple, but you add words either side of
it and it means so much more. So ‘come on join us’, ‘come back victorious’ or
‘come on let’s kill them’, ‘come back winners’, stuff like this, it does sum up
so much of the emphasis of what you could say, some of the thrust of propaganda or hat
army commands were. We move on then to the idea of death, obviously
the death of her but obviously at the beginning here we have the death, we presume of other
people who’d actually lost their lives in Austerlitz up at the beginning. So you can
pick up quite a lot there. And the relentlessness of it is emphasised first of all by the tide
of the battle, ‘the ebbing tide of the battle’, the battle turned, they’ve lost it, but
moreover just in her being reduced to wanting to die here, killing herself, jumping into
the water to kill herself. We have then the images that are presented
to us. The first one that comes to us is – the major image that I can say for this is absurdity
– there’s so many absurd things that you could just pick up but it’s so subjective,
like you could read it in a completely different way and just say ‘this was starkly serious’.
So I don’t want to go into that too much but if you can see where this is absurd and
you want to talk about it, then I would recommend you do so. But classical images or things
that are much more universal – the darkness that comes across. So she goes in at midnight
when she goes into the water or when she’s actually found – so it’s actually midnight
when she’s actually in this situation. She goes into the dark lake, the waters close
above her. We’ve also got the ‘blackness of her mind’. So all those images of darkness
and nothingness are kind of indicative of the state of her memory and indicative of
her not knowing who she is and being bleak and dehumanised. We’ve got this image of everything being
against her as well. So right from the beginning where she’s lost the war to the point here
where she’s tapping her fingers and maybe doesn’t actually know why she’s doing
it; to the fact that her own memory won’t allow her to think of anything; to the fact
that her body isn’t responding the way it should, as she’s staggering, as she moves
along; to the fact that she wants to kill herself in here; to the fact that even as
she swims, she’s got this light that comes down on her, the kind of the white of the
moonlight actually comes back ‘Up the river of white moonlight she swims’, and the moonlight
we imagine being a full moon, a full bright moon and that again, makes her out to be a
little bit crazy because we get the idea of the moon, the lunar, lunacy and her who’s
obviously she’s gone killing herself and she doesn’t know who she is, so everything’s
against her. And then we’ve got her own song, her favourite one is actually being
sung by someone who’s waiting there to kill her, etc., etc., so everything in this poem
is against her. So you get that image of just I suppose being a soldier in some ways, you
can be damned if you do and damned if you don’t – not only in terms of how people
respond to you, but just in terms of you might kill to win but at the same time when you
kill someone you kill part of yourself. So that blackness or that darkness really comes
against her. The last image we have, or the last image
I’ve picked out here is Vaudevue dead and she’s actually being ‘cradled by the water
in the swift close embrace she sleeps on, stirs not, hears not the familiar tune’,
so there is just, this is where she’s peaceful because we’ve got the word of the ‘embrace’
and she sleeps, you know, rather than it being a horrific death etc., she’s just held,
she’s sleeping, so she’s rested there. The language then. There’s lots and lots
to pick up here but one of the ones I want to talk about, I think I mentioned earlier,
the ‘just alive’, there’s just the bare necessity of that here, the ‘just alive’
I think is really powerful because it refers very well to the dehumanisation, you know,
forget all the things that make you great, all the compassion, all the love, etc., you’re
just reduced to this thing that is just alive. We’ve got the simile, this simile here ‘as
a child’ and I think that’s really important and then we’re supposed to infer these as
an ‘idiot’ and as ‘one without memory’. So all this list of similes here in quick
succession, really strikes the degradation that she’s gone through, or really strikes
home the loss that she’s gone through and moreover, it just offers us a vivid image
to actually build in our minds and it’s not often that you see simile used in such
quick succession, so that’s a very novel and striking way of using the similes. And then lastly in the language, I’ve just
picked out that we’ve got the naming of Vaudevue. We’ve just got this soldier, a
real soldier, with a first name and it’s kind of like we know here quite well but also
she’s got like a futuristic name in this futuristic time and he emphasises to us – again
in my own view – how absurd this is because her name is quite bizarre. But it allows us
to be personal with her, we feel like we know her, we know her plight, we know what she
says but we don’t know her thoughts because she doesn’t know her thoughts, but we can
piece together how she’s feeling in that moment, so we can really empathise with her
and feel a great deal of pathos for her situation. So what effects does this have on us? Well
ultimately it’s a very personal story, a very personal moment which we can relate to
a load of soldiers, especially the suicide rate for people who’ve finished serving
in wars is actually higher than the average, so it makes us think about what personal journeys
and experience people go through. It makes us think about how the war changes people
and a lot of intense situations do that – prison is actually one that comes into my mind as
well – but here we’re focusing on war and we can just think about the dehumanising
process and how can anyone feel the same after killing someone else? Who knows? The suicide as well is brought up, the idea
of what people will do to try and get away from certain problems and issues. So all these
kind of things are just kind of brought up and remember with the effect on the reader
– every time I explain something, that’s the effect why it was done – the effect
on the reader is just to show that you’re relating to it in a way, just to show that
you’re understanding it, it’s got you thinking about something, because generally
the Examiners like that, just to show your own personal thoughts on something and how
it’s linked or how you’ve been inspired in some way to think about something from
a poem that you’ve studied.

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