Poetry Speaks: John Wakefield’s Selection

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This is an anti-war, anti-group-identity song that I listened to more times than I can count during my junior high and high school years growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska. It is by the British band Pink Floyd from their album The Dark Side of the Moon. The lyrics are by Roger Waters.

1.         The first two lines refer to our instinct to separate ourselves into groups, but that we are nevertheless all just ordinary people—we’re all fundamentally the same.

2.         The second two lines go down to the individual level. When we get the opportunity to interact on this level, we see each other’s sameness and don’t separate ourselves into opposing groups.

3.         The next six lines refer to the extreme consequence of separating ourselves into opposing groups—war breaks out. And these wars are orchestrated and led by generals sitting in chairs looking at maps. One could refer back to the line “it’s not what we (i.e. you and me) would choose to do”.

4.         The next two lines refer to the colours of injury, but also to any arbitrary pair of colours that may be used to represent opposing sides. The second of these two lines may indicate that people on both sides turn black and blue when injured. This, plus the fact that we are all fundamentally the same (see the first two lines), makes us indistinguishable.

5.         The next two lines may mean that there are advances and retreats on both sides in their fight with each other, but war and fighting just get repeated again and again.

6.         This paragraph of dialogue seems to refer to propaganda being an important battle between governments, and an important aspect of their propaganda is aimed at their own people, trying to convince them to join the fight.

7.         This paragraph of dialogue seems to be about justifying torture, saying it is useful and justified.

8.         These two lines are about the ubiquitous nature of poverty, much of which is no doubt a consequence of the government spending so many of its resources on war.

9.         These two lines are also about poverty and especially about the gap between the rich and poor. Wars are fought to ensure that the rich stay rich.

10.       The final lines seem to be about those who benefit from this system walking past those who suffer under it. Those who benefit probably don’t even know they are benefiting from it and they can’t be bothered to see it—they just want to think about their own lives and jobs, and they brush aside the homeless who stand or lie in their way as they go about their busy lives—ignoring an old man in the street and letting him die.

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john wakefield

John Wakefield is an Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by John.]

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