In reference to Mary Gilmore’s, The Measure, what is the meaning and force of the repeated phrase “And see(s), not friend and foe, but man and man”?
The waste of life and emptiness that war leaves is the foundational theme of Gilmore’s poem, The Measure. Underlying this theme, is the pointlessness of war that is highlighted through the line “And see, not friend and foe, but man and man.” The repetition of this phrase highlights its importance and forces the reader to think about their own humanity in relation to the humanity of others.
The perspective of the sun and stars is representative of a higher power or an indication that there is more to the world than our struggles and in this case, war. The sun and stars are seen as sublime and look down upon all of the earth, wherever you are in the world. In a similar way that every person looks up and sees the same sun and the same stars, the sun and stars look down and have the same perspective but reversed- “man and man”. This highlights the fact that each person is the same, skin, bones and organs when it comes down to it. Whether a man killed through war is on your side or against, when they are shot, they bleed and another life is left vacant on the earth.
Rather than focussing on the “glory” that the dead bring to their country, family and themselves, Gilmore focusses on what is left behind; the emptiness, broken families and sorrow. With this intertwined with the reminder that friend and foe are both the same man, the true meaning of war is highlighted. That meaning is in fact, nothing.
The poem greatly reminded me of the Christmas Truce of 1914 in which British and German soldiers on the Western Front stopped fighting on Christmas, even leaving their trenches and sharing food, souvenirs and stories. Despite a language barrier, they sang together, ate together and played sports. In this moment, they too were not “friend and foe, but man and man.” This event really encaptures the feelings that Gilmore portrays and is a real world example of her statement which reinforces the meaning and force behind her words.