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History and Memory: Denis Levatove

What has Denise Levertov’s poem, “In Thai Binh (Peace) Province” clarify for you about history and memory. Levetov’s poem “In Thai Binh (Peace) Province” shows how sometimes the collective memory that is the history of a society is used by those within that society as a substitute for a lack of personal connection. This inevitably clouds not only the individual’s perception of the event but also hides the truth, and also becomes part of the collective memory. This perpetual motion of fallacies via ignorance is the basis of this historical record of Vietnam and was catalysed by the media of the time.

Although media, especially visual media is considered tangible almost infallible history, Lervertov is adamant in revealing the bias that encompasses not only the viewer but also the composer. This bias, although an essential part of the historical record cannot capture the context within which is recorded or that of which it simply does not record. Lervertov opens our eyes to those other images of “peace within the long war” that the media of the rime chose to ignore and subsequently show that the collective memory that is history is only part of the wider picture.

Before Lervertov can question the collective memory she must first recognise its merit and assure her audience, who is collectively American, that it is in fact the majority truth. To do this Lervertov comments on the atrocities of the war, of which the media has given social salience. The use of the elongated sentence that composes the first two stanzas is accompanied by the repetition of the high modality word bombed which as he sentence structure progresses expresses the extensive, excessive repeated damage of the war, and the apparent collateral damage it incurred.

The commonality of these atrocities is highlighted in the second stanza, where the lack of personal description in the child’s identity is resemblant of the statistical approach to loss that is often explored in times where the personal loss it to great to even contemplate ” for the moment all my tears are used up”. The negative spacing of “a girl, this one eleven years old” serves to place more emphasis of the words while the use of asyndeton speeds up the clause ironically highlighting the superficial nature of those personal traits, ultimately drawing the lack of personal connection through irony.

This lack of personal connection is associated with a lack of memory shared with the event and subsequently the reader comes to question their belief in the majority truth, encouraging them to participate in the euphoric exploration of the Vietnam that follows. Essential to the exploration of these fallacies of the collective memory is the development of conscious thought. The high modality of the metaphor “so i’ll use my dry burning eyes to photograph within me” creates a sense of self exploration, of which is considerably painful considering the sheer atrocities of the war.

This recognition of the collective memory as the morally just opinion encourages the exploration of other truths by acknowledging the difficulties in doing so, aiding the audience in distancing themselves from their bias. The focus then shifts to the beauty of the Vietnam landscape, with low modality, vivid imagery created through a neutral welcoming lexical choice and a repetition of long consonants in “brown, swift Wide River”. This quickly challenged the wider perspective of Vietnam outlined in the first two stanzas.

As well as focusing on the natural beauty of Vietnam present as “Pease within the long war”, Lervertov also highlight the ability of Vietnam to rise from the war and star anew. This is achieved through metaphoric allusions to birds of Pease and hope in “here the future fabled bird has migrated from America, nests, and breeds, and sings common as any sparrow”. The use of enjambment in the line “common as any sparrow” places further emphasis on it and consequently her belief that Pease and hope are ever-present in the post war Vietnam.

The alliteration in “future fable” draws on the phoenix which is further representative of the ability of Vietnam to rise from the ashes and “sing”. Ultimately Lervertov aims not to dispel the dominant truth but to add to it and expand on it in ways that the media of the time and certainly the present failed to capture. As such Lervertov shows the fault of history as the collective memory to take place of a lack of personal connection to events, as well as the collective’s tendency to focus on the negative aspects of such events rather than the positives.

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