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Monday, June 23, 2008

Reader's Diary #370- Mark Twain: The War Prayer

Short Story Monday

I was surprised to find a complete copy of Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" in the anthology The Poem I Turn To. While I've seen just the prayer clipped and used as a stand-alone poem, I didn't know at first why the editor of a poetry anthology chose to go with the whole piece when it's really a short story.

Upon reading the story, my initial reservations were a little critical. I knew the prayer wasn't a particularly great poem on its own, and I suspect so did Twain. I'd be very surprised if someone told me that the story part came first, for it seems as if he had the idea for the poem, and wrote the story around it to basically explain what his idea and motivations were for the poem.

So why did I love it? Since when do I like it when poets stick their noses in and say, "this poems is about..."? I guess when they're able to pull it off. Twain hides his explanatory message better than I'm giving him credit for, and presents it in such a way that evokes the Biblical images of Revelations ("holy fire," "drums were beating," etc) yet sets up an unnerving feeling when one realizes this could happen today. Yes, today. It's remarkable how well this story can still apply over 100 years later.

On a note related to short stories, but not to Mark Twain, I read about Readatwork.com at John Gushue's blog last week and had every intention of picking one of their short stories to review for this Short Story Monday. However, I found the format that they had the short stories presented in not only distracting but confusing-- half the time I didn't even know which was supposed to be the next paragraph. I perhaps could have figured it out through context, but that would have been work and would have defeated the whole purpose of the site. Still, they have a fun concept and for that reason alone, it's worth checking out.

3 comments:

Rob Hardy said...

Have you seen the animated film of The War Prayer/

John Mutford said...

Rob: I have now! Thanks for the link.

Allison said...

"I guess when they're able to pull it off." Pretty much sums up a lot of the allowances I make for styles, and techniques that aren't necessarily my cuppa.