In the poem Green Beret by Ho Thien, there are the lines:

in that same instant,
protected by frail tears
far stronger than any wall of steel

Is irony being used in the above lines?

closed as off-topic by TimLymington, Davo, Hellion, jimm101, Xanne Nov 9 '17 at 9:27

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  • It's oxymoron. It uses poetic licence to compare things that can't really be scientifically compared (strength of defence against hostile action per se, largely based on the compassion of the enemy, versus strength of defence against bullets etc). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 31 '16 at 15:06
  • It's a poem -- it means whatever readers think it means. – Hot Licks Aug 1 '16 at 12:23

It is not, exactly, irony. Irony consists of saying one thing while meaning its opposite. The phrase asserts that the child's tears are simultaneously frail and unbreakable.

While poetry analysis is always chancy, I suggest that you look at a slightly longer excerpt.

And in the moment that he cried out,

In that same instant,

Protected by frail tears

Far stronger than any wall of steel,

They passed everywhere

Like tigers Across the High Plateau.

I believe that the point of the poem is one the spiritual as opposed to the physical. The child's "frail tears" offer no physical protection, but in this case they (along with his silence) show an unyielding resistance to the will of the invaders, and as such are "stronger than any wall of steel", since as long as such spirit exists the invaders cannot prevail. And in this act of defiance, at the cost of his father's life, both the child and the father become a part of the spirit of resistance which infuses the country ("across the High Plateau"). Even if the soldiers had killed the child as well as the father, their spirit and sacrifice would remain unaffected.

It is also an example of exageration, of ascribing a larger virtue to a choice, of the kind you often see in sentimental and/or political poetry. After all, the father had no choice and his death did not show any resistance; for all we know, if the Green Beret had chosen to interrogate the father and threaten to kill the child, the father might have spilled all he knew to protect his son. Maybe, maybe not, but we'll never know. But the child did choose loyalty to his country, or at least the resistance movement, over the life of his father, and the poem glorifies this choice.

  • Or a clash of images. – Mitch Aug 31 '16 at 14:19

It's a metaphor, which Wikipedia defines as:

a figure of speech that refers to something as being the same as another thing for rhetorical effect

So Ho Thien is comparing the childs frail tears to a wall of steel, whereas the two concepts are not directly related, and has the effect of claiming tears are stronger than steel when it comes to stopping bullets, or dealing with emotions, which ultimately depends on how the reader interprets the poem.


"in that same instant, protected by frail tears far stronger than any wall of steel" Frail means : physically weak ; "an invalid's frail body". A poet would not use the word 'protected' here, unless it was irony or sarcasm, in all probability. Though I may have to see the poem in full to give a precise answer. Send it to me if you wish like.

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