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Reading a Poem. Practice Session on Close Reading Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. Purpose. The purpose of this exercise is to give you practice in analyzing a short poem. The questions are specific to this poem, but basically they all ask you to do the same thing:

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reading a poem

Reading a Poem

Practice Session on Close Reading

Randall Jarrell’s

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

purpose
Purpose
  • The purpose of this exercise is to give you practice in analyzing a short poem. The questions are specific to this poem, but basically they all ask you to do the same thing:
  • Look closely at the words of the poem.
  • Look closely at their meaning.
  • Look closely at their sounds.
  • Ask yourself this: “Why this word and not a different one?”
the death of the ball turret gunner
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
  • Directions: Read this poem aloud and write down as much as you can about its sounds and meaning.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,

And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.

When I died, they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

context
Context
  • Who is the speaker?
  • What situation is being described?
  • What do we know about him, and what words tell us of his situation?
  • B-17 during World War II
first line
First Line
  • From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State.
  • Underline the words that seem important and think about them:
    • Why “sleep”? What does this say about the narrator’s life?
    • Why use a verb like “fell” instead of “walked” or “went”?
    • Why is “State” capitalized? Can you fall into this kind of State?
second line
Second Line
  • And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    • What image does this suggest (being hunched in someone’s belly)?
    • What literally is the “wet fur”? What does it suggest figuratively?
    • How does this line set up a contrast to the previous line?
    • What noun is the referent for “it”? Does the “State” literally have a belly?
third line
Third Line
  • Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    • Why “six miles” from earth? What does this image do for the poem?
    • What’s the referent of “its” here?
    • How does the word “dream” relate to the rest of the poem so far?
    • Why does Jarrell choose the verb “loosed”?
fourth line
Fourth Line
  • I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    • How do the words and images this line relate to the previous lines?
    • What is “black flak”? Is this language an example of euphony or cacophony?
    • What are the “nightmare fighters”?
fifth line
Fifth Line
  • When I died, they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
    • From what position is this narrator telling of his experiences?
    • Who is “they”? What effect does using this language have?
    • What has happened to him, and why is this a vivid way of describing it?
    • Why does he say “me” instead of “my body”?
other features
Other Features
  • What is the writer’s view toward what he describes?
  • What controlling metaphor does he use for his experiences?
  • What do you think is his attitude toward war?