The Poetic Definition

I love poetry explication. The way one definition can change the entire scope of a poem has always fascinated me. When I realized last week’s readings were poetry, I was enthralled. However, we did not speak about my favorite of the poems from the reading in class: Madeline Ida Bedford’s “Munition Wages.” The heading tells the reader it “focuses on the unthinkable materialism of these lower-class workers but remains silent about the war itself” (129). I read the poem with this type of speaker in mind. By looking at the poem from the standpoint of a lower-class worker, and “A woman, too, mind you” (Ln 3), I feel that it expresses not only the ironic feeling of someone who has not been appreciated but also someone is expected to live and think in a certain way, especially regarding war. Though the speaker of the poem does not mention the word “war”, the meaning can be implied by looking at the different definitions.

I feel that the speaker is being a little sarcastic when she claims “I spends the whole racket / On good times and clothes” (7-8). The word racket is what stands out to me as there are several definitions of the word, each changing subtly the meaning of the poem.

If we take the definition of racket as “a large, noisy, or exuberant social gathering or event,” one can see that the poem changes focus from the lower-class materialism to a commentary about the war. The meaning changes from I spend my whole paycheck on frivolous things to I exercise my rights to enjoy all that I can while I’m still around as one of these rounds might come back around and get me.

By looking at racket as the British slang definition of “a dishonest or fraudulent line of business; a method of swindling for financial gain; a scam,” one can see that the meaning has changed focus again to looking at war as an illegitimate way to earn a living and why would one spend that money on anything other than frivolity. However, in looking at this from the lower-class worker’s point of view, one can question whether there is enough money left after 5 quid a week to spend on such frivolities.

The sarcasm continues with the lines “Are yer kidding? / With money to spend!” (21-22) and “It is jolly worth while” (32). But the subdued ending of the poem tells of a sad fate that would be the end of the munitions worker. By stating “If I’m blown to the sky / I’ll have repaid mi wages / In death—and pass by” (34-36), the speaker of the poem recognizes that the fate of the soldier can also be her fate. This particular set of lines gives the feeling that perhaps these wages have not yet been earned by the worker, or that by contributing to the sin of war, the wages will most definitely be death.

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One thought on “The Poetic Definition

  1. Stacy, Glad you took on a close reading of this poem. Your articulation of the class implications of the speaker’s voice adds an important dimension to our broader conversation about West’s critique of class protections. Do you see this poem as a social critique? How does it rest within the landscape of visual and rhetorical propaganda?

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