Dead Soldiers by James Fenton: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem Dead Soldiers by James Fenton is an example of journalistic poetry. This poetry comes in the form of reporting. Many ideas are implied through metaphors and symbols maintaining the clarity and trustworthiness of whatever are being reported. This poem renders one particular event; a party at Cambodian Civil War.

James Fenton (Born in 1949)

The party is organized by Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey in the battlefield and the poet is invited to attend the party. During the party the poet reports the activities both inside and outside the camp with sharp and analytical eyes of a journalist. This reporting of the party and activities in battlefield in fact is a satire on the leaders of the war. James Fenton observes that both parties are in the war not for the benefit of Cambodian people. They are in the battle field in order to please themselves. The battle therefore is a kind of game. The irony of this war is that it is a family war in other words the war between nephew and uncle and brother and brother.

The poem begins with a reference to the invitation that Norodom sent to the poet. In the description of the party and the kinds of recipe (dishes) that are being served, poet satirizes the war and demonstrates his critical position regarding the war. He is referring to the Norodom as mad. The organization of the party in the battle field shows that the war managers are fighting not for the people. They are in the war to please themselves. The way the war is romanticized from the viewpoint of “His Excellency” and the mood of relaxation found in Norodom further reveals the futility of war. It is the war in which the common people victimized by brutality.

“Frogs legs” “pregnant turtles” and “boiled eggs” are the dishes served in the party reveal the situation of the common people. Frog legs can be related to the innocent people and the soldiers fighting for Norodom’s cruelty of war. The image of “pregnant turtles” becomes more vivid and evident to show the Norodom’s cruelty just for the pleasure. It refers to those refugee girls who are raped, made pregnant and mercilessly killed. Similarly boiled eggs refer to the desertification of the land (of the womb of the mother) because of bombarding.

The desire for luxury in the battlefield that the poet finds in Narodom is suggested by “Napoleon Bonaparte” whisky. It has multiple connotations in the poem. This makes the war a kind of alcoholic madness in the Norodom. They are spirited with the spirit of war”. Here that poet shows devaluation and dehumanization of those soldiers who are dead in the war. Norodom and his party drink bottles after bottles, and throw the empty bottles which they call dead soldiers. It means that the soldiers are as valueless as the empty bottles after death. And moreover Norodom rejoices looking at the piling of empty bottles this suggests the piled dead soldiers become the object of pleasure for him. The soldiers have become deer for Norodom who is born to be hunted by tiger like Norodom.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Dead Soldiers by James Fenton: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 10 Nov. 2013,

Related Topic

James Fenton: Biography