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Explication: Auto Wreck

Updated on April 24, 2011

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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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Death really is illogical


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