Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Two Views of a Cadaver Room"

"The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1562)

Reading poetry is like "emotional eating" for me. When I am stressed, unhappy, or frustrated...I compulsively "self-medicate" myself with poetry.

This particular poem by Sylvia Plath currently escapes my full understanding. The poem is divided into two parts, and the second part is even more disorienting because it suddenly addresses an old Flemish painting by Bruegel. The connection between death and romantic passion can be seen holding the two parts together, but the final meaning still eludes me.

Two Views Of A Cadaver Room by Sylvia Plath

The day she visited the dissecting room
They had four men laid out, black as burnt turkey,
Already half unstrung. A vinegary fume
Of the death vats clung to them;
The white-smocked boys started working.
The head of his cadaver had caved in,
And she could scarcely make out anything
In that rubble of skull plates and old leather.
A sallow piece of string held it together.

In their jars the snail-nosed babies moon and glow.
He hands her the cut-out heart like a cracked heirloom.

In Brueghel's panorama of smoke and slaughter
Two people only are blind to the carrion army:
He, afloat in the sea of her blue satin
Skirts, sings in the direction
Of her bare shoulder, while she bends,
Finger a leaflet of music, over him,
Both of them deaf to the fiddle in the hands
Of the death's-head shadowing their song.
These Flemish lovers flourish; not for long.

Yet desolation, stalled in paint, spares the little country
Foolish, delicate, in the lower right hand corner.

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