Critical Analysis of Mass:
This poem is the poet’s way of protesting against war. It was written in the third decade of the twentieth century, that is, during the Interwar Period. This period of human history is known as the Interwar Period because it occurred between the First World War (from 1914 to 1918) and the Second World War (from 1939 to 1945). At this time, poets and authors were disillusioned with human society. The First World War had caused more loss of human lives and more damage to property than any war before its time. Vallejo himself had also been involved with the Spanish Civil War as well, which took place during the same decade. He had seen young men dying without anyone to help them out. Adequate first aid was not available, hospitals and rest houses were overflowing with more injured men that they could accommodate, and medical advancements were few and far between. At a time like this, it was not only doctors or nurses who could save lives. The encouragement of one’s fellow men could serve that purpose better, he felt. For it was not just physical care that the soldiers needed, but mental rejuvenation as well. However, war has a way of stirring up false patriotism, so that one comes to hate people of other nations. A German soldier dying in France will not normally get much sympathy from the native French population. This poem describes just such a situation though. The nationality of the people surrounding the soldier is not revealed, and neither is the soldier’s own nationality revealed. However, we can safely assume that the chances of them being from the same country are slim. But still these people stand up for him, because he is just a man like them. Their primary identity is that they are all human, and hence they must support each other in their times of need. Moreover, the poet imagines all the people in the world standing up for this soldier. That is, he envisions unity among all nations. This is a radical message to express in the 1930s when the entire world is ravaged by wars, and the poet is both brave and optimistic for doing so.
Stanza-wise Annotation of Mass:
Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition, Ex=Expression
Combatant (N): A person or nation engaged in fighting during a war
Approached (V): Past tense of the word “approach”, that is, to come near or nearer to (someone or something) in distance or time
Corpse (N): A dead body, especially of a human being rather than an animal
Alas! (Ex): Used to express grief, pity, or concern
Repeated (V): Past tense of the word “repeat”, that is, to say again something one has already said
Appeared (V): Past tense of the word “appear”, that is, to come into sight; become visible or noticeable, especially without apparent cause
Millions (N): Plural form of the word “million”, that is, the number equivalent to the product of a thousand and a thousand; 1,000,000 or 106
Individuals (N): Plural form of the word “individual”, that is, a single human being as distinct from a group
Surrounded (V): Past tense of the word “surround”, that is, to be all round (someone or something)
Common (Adj): Shared by, coming from, or done by two or more people, groups, or things
Plea (N): A request made in an urgent and emotional manner
Inhabitants (N): Plural form of the word “inhabitant”, that is, a person or animal that lives in or occupies a place
Moved (V): Past participle form of the word “move”, that is, to influence or prompt (someone) to do something
Embraced (V): Past tense of the word “embrace”, that is, to hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection
Poetic Devices in Mass:
The poet does not follow any consistent or identifiable rhyme scheme in any stanza of this poem. However, the last line of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th stanzas consist of the same words, that is, “but the corpse, alas!, kept on dying”.
This rhetorical device is used to bestow human qualities on something that is not human. In this poem, the poet uses the device of personification with respect to the corpse. We use the word ‘corpse’ when a human being is already dead, and it is, therefore, not human any longer. However, in this poem, the poet gives the corpse the active agency of indulging in the very process of dying, when he says that it continued dying despite the living men’s appeals to stay alive. The corpse also in fact comes back to life at the end of the poem, becomes human once more.
Central Idea of Mass:
If all men forget their national affiliation and become united on the basis of their humanity, then they can even bring a dying man back to life.
Themes of Mass:
Among pessimists there is always an optimist somewhere:
In the 1930s, the vast majority of people in the world were pessimistic about the future. They had been introduced to the idea of destructive military equipments, and the fragility of human life at a very large scale. The predominant emotion was one of bitterness. However, the poet shows that optimism is present in at least one man. This man believes that against all odds, he can bring a dying soldier back to life. And this man’s optimism is infectious. Once he reaches out to the dying soldier, other people around him cannot help but do the same. Eventually, this one man converts the entire world from their pessimistic frame of mind to his optimistic one. Such is the power of human hope.
For the poet, war is fuelled by hatred, and so its exact opposite is love and universal brotherhood. That kind of brotherhood can only be forged when we forget our narrow national boundaries. We must forget that we belong to a certain community, and create a larger association with peoples of all nations. We must come together, because after all, we are all human. While man is the only animal intelligent enough to wage wars for their own benefit, they should also be distinguished from animals by their ability to unite against all kinds of animosity. This is the kind of world the poet imagines – a world where all men stand beside the wounded and the dying, no matter what nationality the combatant belongs to. That is why he is able to express faith in humanity through this poem.
The Tone of Mass:
The overarching tone of this poem is one of hope and optimism. This is very strongly felt when it is contrasted with the very first line of the poem, when we learn that the poet is describing a scene in a war and a young soldier has passed away. Moreover, the poet’ tone of optimism heightens with every stanza like a crescendo. At the climax, when the soldier gets up from the ground, evidently alive once again, and hugs the man who had asked him to stay alive, we are overcome with a feeling of victory and triumph. That such a feeling can arise not from winning a war, but from saving a human life, is fascinating for the poet. That is why he takes readers through the same trajectory of emotions that he himself went through while imagining the events that he describes in this poem.
This poem is both typical of its times, and atypical. It is typical in terms of its choice in dealing with the subject of war, and hinting at its futility in the bigger picture. It is atypical in its optimism. While most other poets of the time, such as Siegfried Sassoon and W. H. Auden, only offered their readers a dismal and depressing view of the world around them, Vallejo is giving his readers hope. Moreover, he places this hope in humanity itself – humanity that includes men who have killed and pillaged towns and cities all over Europe. He knows that all men are not the same, and that some never lose hope, and can even inspire others with their optimistic bent of mind.