Denise Levertov wrote "What Were They Like?" in protest against the Vietnam War. She had strong antiwar feelings that she expressed through her poetry. The message to the reader is that war only causes death and destruction. She deliberately used the matter of fact questioning to portray what Americans were seeing every night on television. By using this format she recalled from the readers mind images seen on television that would promote her antiwar position.
In knowing a little bit about Denise Levertov's life we can understand her antiwar position. She opposed the war because she was no stranger to the horrors of war. She was born in Ilford, Essex, England on October 24, 1923. She was sixteen when on September 3, 1939 Britain had declared war on Germany. Levertov became a civilian nurse serving in London. (Academy of America Poets 3) Being a nurse she had a first hand look at the catastrophes of war on civilian life.
I think it was this experience as a nurse that enabled her create a vivid image of death and destruction in her antiwar poetry and the strength to be so open about her antiwar feelings.
The tone of "What Were They Like?" is very harsh this is probable because Levertov believed that The Vietnam War was going to be genocide to the Vietnamese. As proven by her response to NBC after they asked her not to comment on Vietnam in a scheduled interview she had with them. "It seems to me that a "balanced" view of genocide and of actions which are leading directly toward the extinction of life on earth is itself a kind of insanity" (Gifts of Speech 3). History has proven her wrong in regard to the genocide of the Vietnamese. But, the gruesome deaths...