ISC English Plus 2 –John Brown –Explanation
by Bob Dylan
First stanza .. John Brown joins the army to go and fight in a battlefield far away from his country. Far from being sad or anxious, his mother enthusiastically lets him go. She is excited because she feels a soldier’s job to be glorious and gallant. It filled her heart with pride to see her son standing tall before her in the soldier’s uniform. A sense of satisfaction and pride is palpable in her smiling face.
2nd stanza .. Sounding euphoric, she says how proud she is to see John going to battle with a gun in hand. She asks him to be a dutiful and obedient soldier, obeying the orders of his captain to the hilt. She exalts John to fight gallantly, and win medals after medals. These would be hung in the walls of the house as testimony to John’s chivalry.
3rd Stanza .. The train for John steamed in. It was time to depart. John’s mother was on cloud nine. She could barely hold back her glee to see her soldier-son going to the call of duty. She said she will loudly tell everyone in the neighbourhood that her son was a soldier now. Her pride and elation was limitless.
4th Stanza .. John’s letters trickled in from the battlefront from time to time. His mother read them with a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Her son was fighting! She took the letters and showed them happily to her neighbours. She was quite vocal in her praise of her son’s duty in the war. He was fighting with guns in hand. ‘How manly was it!’, she wondered before her community. He was a warrior, fighting in a ‘glorious’ war. For her, it was a ‘good old-fashioned war’—honourable, and romantic.
5th Stanza .. Letters from John stopped coming. Months rolled by. No letters even after the tenth month. Finally, a communication came asking her to go to the railway station and receive her John returning from the battle.
6th Stanza .. With great relief and expectation, she rushed to the station. Anxiously, she looked around, but there was no sign of John. All the passengers left soon. Finally, she was able to spot her son, brutally disfigured and barely recognizable. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
7th Stanza .. John’s face had been very badly bruised, and one of his hands was not there at all. Perhaps, the enemy ammunition had sheared it off, and his doctors had amputated the rest. To bolster his broken waist, he wore a metal brace. It just enabled him to trudge along. John was too enfeebled to speak. He managed to whisper something to his mother. His voice was barely recognizable. It was a very rude shock to the mother. She lamented his son’s sad plight, and kept saying to herself that John’s face had changed forever – for the worst! The sight of her crippled John left her shell-shocked.
8th stanza … She begged her son to tell her how he had come to such a pass. She choked with grief as she spoke. John struggled to speak about the events that had led to his misery. In a voice filled with melancholy, he reminded his mother that he had so willingly marched to the war front, thinking it to be a glorious thing to do. Looking into her mother’s tearful eyes, he asked her if she had not assumed that a soldier’s life is all thrill, glamour and glory.
9th Stanza .. Then John proceeded to give the harrowing details of what had happened. He bemoaned that while he braved the horrors of war, she was safely at home dreaming about his heroics. In the thick of battle, dilemma had gripped his mind. He was confused about the purpose of his being there. He was in a situation where he either killed his foe, or get killed himself. The self-doubt deepened when the foe came nearer. The enemy looked so similar to him! A fellow human being just like him!
10th Stanza .. With bullets flying and guns roaring, John’s sense of purpose went awry. His power of judgment faltered. He wondered why he was there, and what for he had to fight, — for whose victory. The realization dawned on him that he was just a puppet in the war – a young man sent to kill or be killed. Why? He didn’t know. Lost in such bewilderment and numbness, he stood there, when a salvo from the enemy cannons ripped his eyes.
11th Stanza .. Narrating these harrowing details, John began to walk. His flummoxed mother was still lost in her thoughts. With the metal brace weighing him down, John began to stagger forward. Calling his mother to his side, he dropped the medals he had won on her hands. It was the most valuable gift of a broken son to his devastated mother! The futility of war pounded their hearts.
Analysis .. To be given later.