Assess Michael Mack’s poem Small Pain in My Chest as an anti-war poem. Or, Show how the poem expresses the poet’s anti-war attitude.
Michael Mack’s poem Small Pain in My Chest is an anti-war poem. The poem evokes the pity of war in our minds as we go through it. In this post I am going to discuss this poem as an anti-war poem, analysing it from various angles. But If you haven’t already read the line by line explanation of this poem, I recommend reading that first.
The title, beginning and ending of Small Pain in My Chest contain the anti-war elements.
The title of the poem Small Pain in My Chest is used ironically. The expression “small pain” is repeatedly used in the poem only to make sure we get the irony and get that well. As we go through the poem, it gets clearer that the pain was not at all a small one, rather it was a fatal injury that the soldier boy succumbed to. So the poet might be hinting that the injury of the soldier boy is not a great injury compared to the destruction war can cause.
But this doesn’t end here. In the very last line the narrator says, “…the large one in my heart against the small one in his chest”. This is one of the most glorious lines I have ever read. This final line explains something different about why the soldier’s pain is tagged as ‘small’. The narrator is greatly shocked on seeing the ill-effects of war. He has seen the soldier boy, helped him responding to his call, talked to him, felt his concerns and seen him yield to the injury. So he cannot but feel the evils of war by heart. And he was so much overwhelmed that his pain seemed greater than the physical pain of the soldier boy. The poet couldn’t do better to indicate the destructive power of war.
Moreover, the poem begins with “The soldier boy was sitting calmly…”, making it clear what the poem is all about. We instantly realize there is something about battle. The calmness of the soldier-boy also brings a sense of gloom and silence. At the very first line the poet has successfully created the atmosphere to deliver his message. And that message is very clear: War cannot bring merriment; it always has a sad ending.
The pity of war is felt all over the poem.
Throughout the poem the soldier boy has a conversation with the narrator. And, that is the technique the poet uses to reveal the true self of a soldier boy. He has no enmity towards anyone. The boy doesn’t want to die so young. He has an affectionate mother and a caring wife like anyone else. So he doesn’t deserve this fate only for fulfilling the ill-desires of some warmongers. He even counts himself luckier than the rest to have survived so long, as others have already died.
But the real pity is aroused when the soldier boy expresses his concern regarding what his mother and wife would think if they saw him in such helpless condition. The boy thought himself to be a man “full of vim and zest”. It seems silly to him that war has made him so calm and made him sit there with the small pain in his chest. He really feels the futility and uselessness of war. And so feel we. The poet Michael Mack has deliberately and cleverly made us feel bad for the innocent soldier boy. That is how he wants to convey his anti-war message through his poem Small Pain in My Chest.