Explication: Auto Wreck
Auto Wreck by Karl Shapiro
Karl Shapiro obviously thought that it was important for people to
recognize the significance of deaths of all kinds, and uses a sudden and
ominous accident to explore the randomness of death. In the "Auto Wreck"
by Karl Shapiro, the poet effectively uses many ways to convey his message
that death is illogical. Readers of his poem will get the general meaning,
even if they don't understand how they got it. This poem is about
questioning death; this is illustrated through imagery, metaphors, and
The first line of the poem ends with the words "beating, beating."
(line 1) Immediately we get the image of a heart in our minds, this image
is reinforced when the light is described to as "red light like an artery."
(line 3) This image of a beating heart with arteries leading from it
brings a picture of a struggle for life. The heart must beat quickly to
keep the dying body alive. When the ambulance is described as having "wings
in a heavy curve," (line 6) an angelic image fills the mind. Still further
along in the poem there are "wrecks that cling, Empty husks of locusts."
(lines 20-21) These wrecks are described as the empty husks of locusts
presenting an image of something once alive, but now they no longer have a
purpose. This image of an empty shell, once inhabited, brings up a feeling
of sorrow. The images in this poem are very provocative and make the
reader clearly visualize everything that is happening at the scene.
Although the images in this poem are very intense, the metaphors are
what convey the simple message that is the author's theme. Although the
image of an angel is brought to mind as the ambulance is described with
"wings in a heavy curve" (line 6) this phrase is also a metaphor. The
ambulance is like an angel, guiding the dead or wounded to safety. The
ambulance lets the injured person go to the "light" which is "emptying"
(line 8) out of it, similar to what an angel would do. When the ambulance
is described as a "little hospital" (line 10), the metaphor insures that
the reader will see the importance the ambulance serves in taking the
wounded away so that the innocent bystanders can look on in awe and wonder.
These innocent people are not finished; they have to nurse the "wound"
(line 29) back to health. They do this by contemplating the accident and
the imminence of death that it implies.
Although the images and metaphors that are created are very thought
provoking, the word choices that the poet made are incredible. Each word
in the poem is used in to bring out a feeling or effect that makes the
actual events even more realistic. After the ambulance has taken the
accident victims away, people are still left at the scene. One officer
"douches" the blood away; usually, the word douche is only used in
describing the cleaning of the body, so using it in this matter bring the
mind of the reader back to the body, wounded and in need of cleaning.
After the unknown speaker asks the question "who shall die?" he presents
many key factors. He plainly states that he can understand many forms of
death because of their "logic" (line 34) and cause. Describing "cancer. as
a flower," (line 35) is an interesting way to get the readers mind involved
with the thinking process. This accident avoids such simple rules; it
"cancels our physics with a sneer." (line 37) So now death is laughing at
us, it has fooled us; this random death makes us think of our own
Through the amazing imagery, the metaphors, and the diction use in
the poem, it is easy to understand that the poem's focus is to question
death. The "Auto Wreck" by Karl Shapiro is an effective explanation of the
question of death. Although it doesn't answer the question, no one really
can, it raises the question for people to come and opens their minds to a
new perspective. There is no "denouement" (line 38) for this question; we
cannot simply stick an answer on any question about death. Everyone might
have a different definition of death, based on how they were raised or how
their country celebrates or shrouds death, or a different feeling that
comes from death. This is certainly explainable, everyone is different.
Eventually everyone will come to the conclusion that death is innately
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