Karl Shapiro’s Auto Wreck Poetry Analysis Essay mmiller124_03 October 20th, 2009
Current Location: Arnold Hall Current Mood: happy
The Auto Wreck by Karl Shapiro is a gripping poem that delves into the world of death and the idea of voyeurism from the perspective of an onlooker. Shapiro embellishes the poem with interesting subtle language and a beautiful, although rather saddening, portrayal of death throughout the poem. While this is poetry, the author still incorporates elements of literature that apply to both narrative and poetry. As Shapiro weaves a word web, he uses several dominant elements to ensure that his point is conveyed to the audience. Through imagery, personification and sound work, Shapiro envisions all aspects of an automobile wreck from a voyeuristic perspective, ultimately removing the comfort of distance to create an all-encompassing victim.
Imagery is used heavily throughout Shapiro s Auto Wreck to bring to life the horrors of an automobile wreck in front of the eyes of innocent bystanders. As we read Shapiro s delicate and purposeful visual cues we are made aware of the severity of the situation and reality of what is happening. Cues such as, And down the dark on ruby flare/pulsing out red light like an artery, (Line 2) and The doors leap open, emptying light/stretchers are laid out, the mangled lifted, (9) necessitate the bystander to become encompassed in the scene as if he or she were experiencing the automobile wreck just as intensely as the accident victim. This direct correlation between the use of graphic imagery and the bystander or the reader is what creates a situation that is devoid of comfort and serenity, a situation that no one can escape; voyeurs by extension.
While Shapiro uses imagery to paint a picture in our minds, he uses the element of personification in a way that is not normally seen. Soft silver bell beating, beating, (1) described in the first line of the poem lends itself to not only the beating of a heart but also the fragility of life amongst the living bystanders. The echo of the beating bell and heartbeats once again negates the comfort that standing at a distance provides. While rhyme is not a hallmark of this poem, Shapiro uses this opportunity to illustrate another image in our minds with the internal rhyming of bell and shells, planting seeds of imagery in our minds. Comparing the shells of automobiles that have wrecked on the street to empty husks of locusts (21) Shapiro gives cars a life like feel. Wrapping around iron poles, the cars come alive as the occupants, like the locusts, transcend their iron prison. Unlike the locusts that fly away to safety, the bystander does not have the ease of ability to remove himself from this situation of danger and death.
Just as the sound of an automobile wreck breaks the impermanent silence of safety, so does the use of sound work in Auto Wreck. Shapiro combines the techniques of alliteration, assonance and consonance to compose a symphony of sounds. This cacophony ornaments the poem with character and embellishment to further the purpose of involving the bystanders in the atrocity that is the auto wreck. While the first line of the poem is full of imagery, it is also full of alliterations. Its quick soft silver bell beating, beating, and down the dark one ruby flare (1). The repeating s and b sounds create a driving rhythm in this otherwise unmetered poem. With the stubborn saw of common sense (26) is another instance where alliteration creates the feeling of connection and movement throughout the poem. The melodious use of alliterations move us into the body of the poem where we become numb to the situation, to the point where we, the onlookers, cannot distance ourselves from this startling type of death.
The end of the poem serves as a great place to draw the question, Who shall die (31)? This, the volta of the poem, is set off by the strategic use of questions and shortened line length. Shapiro could be using this poem to question how death chooses its victims and the randomness of a car wreck. He goes through several different types of death including war, suicide and cancer, justifying how each one chooses its victims. Leaving automobile wrecks for final analysis, Shapiro concludes that auto wrecks indeed are the one cause of death that is random and attacks the innocent. While the deaths that come from automobile wrecks are completely random, a secondary type of death is experienced that not many people know about. The victimization of the on looking bystander almost always occurs. By stripping the level of comfort from the bystander he, like the victim himself, grows to be just as defenseless.
This idea of dual victimization is pronounced with the use of imagery to enhance the text, making it burn alive, negating one s ability to distance themselves from the wreck, becoming a victim in their own right. Personification also facilitates the case of dual victimization as it makes the death of a car wreck more personal and human, removing the comfort level of being a bystander. Lastly, the use of sound work breaks the silence of the hushed crowd as we all fall victims to the Auto Wreck.
Shapiro, Karl. Auto Wreck. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 4 th ed. Edgar V. Roberts. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2008. 841-842