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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained


"V-Letter to Karl Shapiro in Australia" is a poem by Selden Rodman, written during World War II. The poem is a response to a letter from Shapiro, who was serving in the war at the time.


The poem takes the form of a letter from Rodman to Shapiro, and begins with a description of life back home in the United States. Rodman notes the contrast between the routine and mundane activities of daily life and the violence and chaos of the war.

The poem then shifts to a discussion of the challenges facing soldiers like Shapiro. Rodman acknowledges the fear and uncertainty that comes with serving in a war, and expresses admiration for Shapiro's bravery and determination.

The poem also contains a strong sense of camaraderie and solidarity, with Rodman expressing his hope that the war will end soon and that Shapiro will be able to return home safely. He also notes that the war has brought people from all walks of life together, and that this sense of unity is a positive outcome of a difficult situation.

The poem ends with a powerful image of a wounded soldier returning home, suggesting that the scars of war will continue to affect those who served long after the fighting is over.

Poetic Elements:

  • Form: "V-Letter to Karl Shapiro in Australia" is a free-verse poem, with no consistent rhyme scheme or meter. It takes the form of a letter, with Rodman addressing Shapiro directly throughout.
  • Imagery: Rodman's use of imagery is often stark and vivid, with descriptions of daily life in the United States contrasting with the violence and uncertainty of the war. The image of the wounded soldier returning home is particularly striking.
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is one of admiration, solidarity, and concern. Rodman expresses his deep respect for Shapiro's service and his hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.


"V-Letter to Karl Shapiro in Australia" is a poignant and deeply personal response to the experience of serving in World War II. Rodman's use of vivid imagery and a free-verse form create a powerful sense of contrast and emotion, while the poem's themes of bravery, solidarity, and hope lend it a deeper resonance. Ultimately, the poem is a tribute to the sacrifices of those who served in the war, and a reminder of the ongoing impact of war on the lives of soldiers and their families.

Poem Snippet:

"Karl, your letter from a far-off land

Tells of a crowded marketplace where

A woman stumbles over a wounded man,

A boy walks into an explosion, and air

Is full of flames and smoke and cries

Of agony. But with such daily fare

You must still long for news from home,

The boy's first word, the swing in the yard,

Your wife's face. And maybe you fear the day

The war will be over and you will come

Back to a strange country where no one

Knows the terror you have faced, and a wound

Will sometimes ache in the wind, years later."


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