Word Usage in the poem “wahbegan” by Jim Northrup
The poem “wahbegan” by Jim Northrup has unique word usage. Northrup's diction creates the correct mood for the poem which is about the Vietnam War. Northrup's use of slang, and the denotation and connotation of certain words make the poem effective.
Northrup begins “wahbegan” with a question, as well as ends the poem with a question. The first word of the poem is also a slang word, which he again uses to start off the second sentence of the poem. “Didja ever hear a sound” begins the first question which is immediately followed by another question, “Didja ever wonder” (Northrup 1158). By using the word didja, the reader understands that the speaker of the poem is from the South. The word also adds character to the poem as well as makes it unique. Northrup uses questions to catch the reader's attention. By using questions, it keeps the reader interested and causes the reader to want to read further to find the answers. The poem explains how the speaker's brother died fifteen years after he was in Vietnam at a younger age than he should have. The speaker is at The Vietnam Wall memorial and at the end of the poem asks the question, “How about a memorial for those who made it through the war but still died before their time?” (Northrup 1159). This causes the reader to understand the horrible memories the soldiers are left with after the war, and the effects of post traumatic stress.
There are a few words in the poem that aide to the reader's understanding of how horrible the memories are of the soldiers who made it out of the war alive. After the author asks the question, “Didja ever wonder when it would end?” he states “it ended for my brother” (Northrup 1159). This statement causes the reader to believe that his brother died in Vietnam. However, in the sentence that follows the reader discovers that his brother died fifteen years after the war. “He died in the war but didn't fall down for fifteen tortured years” (Northrup 1159). This sentence explains how traumatic war is. When the reader comes across the word died, the instant denotation is believed to be bodily death. However, as the reader continues to read the sentence, he/she understands that the connotation is that his spirit died and his body did not fall down for fifteen years afterwards. The reader also sees the phrase “fall down” with a denotation of someone or something dropping to the ground. Northrup uses “fall down” to refer to the speaker's brother dying. By understanding this, it gives the reader a visual of a body going limp and dying. This is the connotation of the phrase.
Another word used in the poem is sours. The speaker says, “The bitter taste in my mouth still sours me” (Northrup 1159). This sentence is explaining how the speaker feels about his brother's death. By using the word “sours,” Northrup helps the reader to understand how the death of his brother makes the speaker sick. The denotation of this word is bitter or unpleasant taste, but the connotation in this poem is to make sick. If Northrup used a synonym for sour in the sentence instead, it would not give as much meaning as using sour. Since he is referring to the sense of taste, the word sour fits the sentence perfectly and gives the correct description to the reader to help them understand how the speaker feels.
In his poem “wahbegan,” Northrup successfully uses the correct diction and word usage. By using words such as died, sours, and the phrase fall down, he effectively communicates to the reader. These words not only help the reader to understand how the speaker feels but also appeals to the reader's senses. Northrup's use of slang, and his denotation and connotation of the words died, sours, and fall down effectively get his message across to the reader.
Northrup, Jim. “wahbegan.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V.
Roberts. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009, 1158-1159.