ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Howard Nemerov's "Grace to Be Said at the Supermarket"

Updated on May 29, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Howard Nemerov

Source

Introduction and Text of "Grace to Be Said at the Supermarket"

Howard Nemerov's "Grace to Be Said at the Supermarket" consists of three unrimed versagraphs. The former poet laureate's theme dramatizes the contrast between the reality of animals' bodies and the way they seem when packaged to sell in groceries stores.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Grace to Be Said at the Supermarket

This God of ours, the Great Geometer,
Does something for us here, where He hath put
(if you want to put it that way) things in shape,
Compressing the little lambs into orderly cubes,
Making the roast a decent cylinder,
Fairing the tin ellipsoid of a ham,
Getting the luncheon meat anonymous
In squares and oblongs with all the edges bevelled
Or rounded (streamlined, maybe, for greater speed).

Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance
Upon our appetites, and on the bloody
Mess of our birthright, our unseemly need,
Imposed significant form. Through Him the brutes
Enter the pure Euclidean kingdom of number,
Free of their bulging and blood-swollen lives
They come to us holy, in cellophane
Transparencies, in the mystical body,
That we may look unflinchingly on death
As the greatest good, like a philosopher should.

Commentary

First Versagraph: "This God of ours, the Great Geometer"

This God of ours, the Great Geometer,
Does something for us here, where He hath put
(if you want to put it that way) things in shape,
Compressing the little lambs into orderly cubes,
Making the roast a decent cylinder,
Fairing the tin ellipsoid of a ham,
Getting the luncheon meat anonymous
In squares and oblongs with all the edges bevelled
Or rounded (streamlined, maybe, for greater speed).

The speaker metaphorically compares meat handlers to God. He is not being blasphemous; he is merely demonstrating the odd power that these meat processors possess and exhibit as they turn a cow into beef or pig into pork. Seemingly, most people would balk at eating decayed cow or pig flesh, but when called beef and pork, the reality somehow becomes much less obnoxious.

The speaker claims that these meatpacking "Gods," who are "Great Geometers," help us out by putting those animal shapes into "cubes," "cylinders," "ellipsoids," "squares and oblongs with all the edges beveled."

By placing the flesh of animals into geometric shapes, these meat workers, these Gods, these Great Geometers eliminate the reality that those shapes once lived and breathed, circulated blood, reproduced, and had feelings just as the humans who consume them do. Those animals may not have the brain capacity of the human consumer, but they nevertheless walk around in bodies that work pretty much identically to their human counterparts.

Second Versagraph: "Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance"

Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance
Upon our appetites, and on the bloody
Mess of our birthright, our unseemly need,
Imposed significant form. Through Him the brutes
Enter the pure Euclidean kingdom of number,
Free of their bulging and blood-swollen lives
They come to us holy, in cellophane
Transparencies, in the mystical body,
That we may look unflinchingly on death
As the greatest good, like a philosopher should.

In the second versagraph, the speaker feigns a prayer, saying "Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance / Upon our appetites." Those geometric shapes that appear bloodless and sanitized represent something very different from the living animal before it was slaughtered.

And not only are they different from the living animal, but they are also very different from the mess of severed flesh they become during the process that takes those animals from their living form to the packaged form. The human sensibility, especially of modern humankind, does not care to be bothered with the reality of animal life and the bloody, savage process that kills them and shapes their flesh for human consumption.

If most of the consumers were to see that bloody mess, they would lose that "aesthetic distance," and their appetites for eating animals would be averted—at least, the speaker seems to believe such.

But as the speaker asserts, that "mess of our birthright, our unseemly need" is assuaged because the meatpackers perform this miracle of transformation: "Through [the meat processors] the brutes / Enter the pure Euclidean kingdom of number." As clean, packaged shapes, the animals and thus the human consumer are "Free of their bulging and blood-swollen lives."

No longer pulsing with life, no longer breathing, eating, drinking, the animals "come to us holy, in cellophane / Transparencies, in the mystical body." The human consumer is spared the ugliness of the meat packing process by the skill of the meat packer and his command of geometry.

The poem concludes with an unrimed couplet, except that the final line does sport an internal rime. After all of the talk of Euclidian geometry and the clean shapes of former living animals, the speaker then avers that the purpose of this process is simply, "That we may look unflinchingly on death / As the greatest good, like a philosopher should."

No need to flinch when the product is presented merely as food in clean squares and cubes in cellophane, and no need to flinch when not reminded of death. The geometry has eliminated death, as miraculously as God would do.

Nemerov, reading his poem, "Thanksgrieving"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment

No comments yet.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)