Death is a very serious topic something we all must deal with. People all choose to deal with it in the different ways. Poets like to tackle this subject in their own unique ways. The two contrasting portrayals of death could not be further on further realms from the spectrum. “The Vacuum” by Howard Nemerov is based around a vacuum the speaker’s wife owned. The speaker is an old widower, who has an empty place in his heart where his wife once was, symbolized by the vacuum. The account of the poem is about an elderly widower is missing his wife, and “can’t bear” to run the vacuum due to the painful memories attached to it.
The poem makes it evident that the widower is struggling with his grief and his newly appointed duty of caring for the house. The fractured and slant rhyme scheme of the poem creates a feeling of disarray and incompleteness. Some of the slanted rhymes are “dirt/heart”, “enough/dust”, “mouth/youth”. These rhymes make the poem sound unsatisfied, which reflects how unsatisfied the widower is with the loss of his wife and the current situation. The syntax and sound of the poem are two crucial features. The poem switches between vowels that sound grief-stricken, and sharp, harsh consonants.
Some of the grief-stricken sounds are from lines that have the letter “h”, in them like, “the hungry, angry heart hangs on and howls. ” Then, the somber lines are interrupted by short, piercing sounds, such as “biting at air” or “cheap as dirt. ” This tone shift coincides with what the widower is feeling hurt and the sharp pains of loss. The poem has very lengthy, and intricate sentences that build tension, stacks clauses, and then collapses with a hushed finished.
The middle of the poem reads as one long sentence: “I’ve lived this way long enough, but when my old woman died her soul went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear to see he bag swell like a belly, eating the dust and the woolen mice, and begin to howl because there is old filth everywhere she used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair. ” This to me represents him deciding that it is time for him to move on, and that by using the vacuum to clean he will be letting go of all pain and sorrow and can finally move forward with life. Though the ending of the poem seems to suggest that the widower now seems to understand that life is fleeting and to him not worth much since his wife is now gone.
The twenty-five line, story poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy gives us a short story of a “girlchild” who has allowed herself to be greatly swayed by the opinions of others, which ultimately lead to her untimely demise. The poem begins “This girlchild was born as usual”. As a young girl she received gifts such as: makeup, dolls, and miniature home appliances. Later, “in the magic of puberty,” a classmate remarks adversely on how she looks, mocking her about her “great big nose and fat legs. ” The young girl’s sexual drive, physical prowess, and intelligence are all expressed in the second stanza .
By all accounts she is capable, strong, and healthy. However, she chooses to ignore her natural gifts and she decides “to and fro apologizing. ” All anyone saw her as was “a fat nose on thick legs. ” Years later, she receives advice that many women receive. Aimed at teaching her how to be happy and successful she was told to conform to society’s beauty standards. ” She was advised to play coy, exhorted to come on hearty, exercise, diet, smile, and wheedle. ” She tries and tries until she is all worn out chasing beauty and decides to offer up her nose and legs. Effectively ending her life and succumbing to the pressures of society.
The final stanza reveals that the young girl is now dead and in a casket. An undertaker proceeds to prepare her body with a “turned-up putty nose, dressed in a pink and white nightie. ” Those who saw her finally acknowledged her beauty as they stated “Doesn’t she look pretty? ” The concluding two lines of the poem bring the it full circle to show she has her desired result: “Consummation at last. To every woman a happy ending. ” While the poem makes no explicit mention of a Barbie doll the reader can infer that this was her goal due to society’s pressure on her.
All of the free-verse stanzas have short lines and a spoken delivery style. There is no end rhyme, but we can easily see interior alliteration and assonance and a melodic rhythm throughout the poem. The positive accents give an ironic twist to the seriousness of the poem. Throughout the poem past tenses of words are used: “exhorted,” “tested,” “presented,” “possessed,” “offered,” “displayed,” “advised”. These words give a serious tone, as if we are reading a case study or clinical history. While both the poems deal with the theme of death, they are clearly from two very different perspectives.
While one seems to have died of old age and had a husband in serious mourning, the other died of self inflicted wounds in her vain pursuits of beauty. The poems have very different writing styles as they are from two different times. Both poems can without a doubt be enjoyed by all who read them as their messages are timeless and much needed. While the husband had a empty space from the loss of his wife and had to learn to move on. The young girl had a empty spot in her heart which is the reason she was never happy with herself.