Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Gift

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“The Gift”

by Timothy Clover

The loss of the ability to empathize with or care deeply about other people is a theme that has always underlined the Vietnam War. This is shown in the many instances Americans have heeded of men killing innocent Vietnamese civilians for no apparent reason at all. However, in his poem “The Gift,” Timothy Clover expresses the guilt the war had bestowed him and his uncertainty of US motivations for fighting in Vietnam.

“The Gift” is personal narrative written in the first person by the late Timothy Clover. In this poem, written during the Vietnam war, Clover speaks with a Vietnamese boy younger than the age of six. The poem is broken up into three stanzas; the first stanza contains four lines consisting of an alternating rhyme scheme and a set of rhyming couplets at the stanza’s close, the second stanza is 1 lines formed by rhyming couplets, and the final stanza is a simple four lines with the last three rhyming. Though there is no clear set rhythm, there I however a definite use of

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The terms of the war demand that a soldier renounce any form of empathy in order to survive. Of course with this demand comes an overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame. As an author who attempts to exorcise his guilt by generating the recurring image of the subject which causes him such remorse, Clover creates numerous titles for the young boy to whom he owes his guilt. By labeling the boy “child of the Asian sun” (line 1), Clover depicts the race and youngness of the boy. “Child of the holy rain” (line ), represents the religious acknowledgement the soldier has for the innocent people of Vietnam. The comparison of “hopeful-eyed tiny one” and “shining-eyed ageless one” (lines and 1) describes the changes in the way Clover views the boy at the beginning and the end of the poem. At the beginning, the boy seems full of hope, almost begging for peace. Yet at the end, the boy is so engulfed with the horrors of war, that despite his age, he’s “had twice the years [Clover’s] had (line 7),” therefore deeming him ageless. The repeated use of “-eyes” also illustrates the intensity of the silent relationship between Clover and the boy. The two never speak, yet the soldier knows that he is responsible for the boy’s pain, the irony being that Clover brought his own guilt upon himself. By speaking of the boy in so many terms, Clover is able to relieve himself slightly of his burden.

When Clover questions the boy, he is also questioning US involvement in the Vietnam War. The poem itself is a metaphor for the body “hollowness” (line 5) Vietnam forced American soldiers to become. They were forced to put aside their compassion and youth to go out and kill, because after all, that was their “American Duty,” right? The US government caused soldiers to feel like they “nothing inside [them]” (line 14). In lines 15-18, Clover describes the fate of each of the boy’s family members, yet on a larger scale he exemplifies the added horrors we Americans brought to Vietnam. Vietnamese children were not criminals; they were merely born into a world of communism, hatred, and fear. Men died at the will of American soldiers, bountiful land was turned to “dust” (line ), soldiers took over towns, and Vietnamese women resorted to prostitution in order to earn money and respect from the soldiers.

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