Sharpio\'s "Auto Wreck": The Theme of Death


Few subjects can be discussed with more insightfulness and curiosity
than death. The unpredictability and grimness of it are conveyed well in Karl
Shapiro\'s poem, "Auto Wreck". The poem starts with a description of an
ambulance rushing to the scene of a crash, and hurriedly gathering up the
victims and rushing them away. The aftermath of the police investigation that
follows leaves the crowd gathered around the scene to explore privately and
individually a range of feelings and emotions about the reality of death.
Shapiro\'s usage of imagery together with figurative language is a key element in
getting the theme of death across to the reader. By bringing the scene of the
accident to life and relaying the emotions of the spectators with language and
several metaphors, the poem gains a realistic and sometimes transcendent effect.
In some places in the poem, the words can easily be taken literally to convey
scenery or an emotion, but they can also be taken so as to make the reader think
about possible higher meanings. The thoughtsexpressed in the poem help to
suggest these other meanings by clearly stating what is being felt by the
speaker and the crowd around the accident. By stating clearly and vividly the
emotions of the scene, it is easy for the reader to identify the theme itself,
and also to identify with it.
In the first stanza, the speaker describes the ambulance arriving on the
scene more so than the actual scene itself. The ambulance is described using
words such as "wings", "dips", and "floating", giving the impression of the
hectic nature of its business at an accident. When the ambulance arrives and
breaks through the crowd, "the doors leap open" to further convey the hurried
state it\'s in. In line 5, as the ambulance passes the beacons and illuminated
clocks, it gives the reader an obvious clue about setting. To take the words\'
meaning further, it can be argued that the illumination of the clocks and the
emptying light in line 8 symbolize life itself as light in an otherwise dark
situation. Also, the allusion to a heart by use of the words "pulsing",
"artery" and "beating" personify the ambulance as the new life giving support of
the victims of the crash. The doors in line 14 being an "afterthought" and
being closed makes the impression that death did actually occur at the scene,
which is grimly described in the second stanza. The words themselves continue to
give clues about the theme in line 11 which reads, "Then the bell, breaking the
hush, tolls once." I saw this line as an allusion to an old expression taken
from poetry for the unpredictablilty of death, "for whom the bell tolls". The
expression emphasizes the fact that no one knows who will be next in line for
fate to meet them in a grim way, and this allusion gives the last two stanzas
more effectiveness when the feelings are expressed by the speaker.
In the second stanza, the actual words are not the main reflection of
the theme of the poem as much as the imagery itself. The reader gets the clue
that the speaker is actually at the scene reacting to it simply by the word "We"
in the first line. When the scene is described there is mention of "pools of
blood" and glass being swept away by seemingly unfeeling policemen, described in
line 16 as "large and composed". The speaker feels deranged walking among these
cops and actually feeling the gravity of the situation, while the police go on
about their business not expressing any remorse. They make notes and hang
lanterns and just do their job. Again, the "pools of blood" is the best example
of imagery reflecting theme by explaining the grimness present at an auto wreck.
The reaction to the wreck and imagery created in this stanza present a good
basis for the feelings expressed in the last stanza.
The reader can identify with the theme of the poem in the last stanza
with the imagery and figurative language both expressing it very clearly. In
lines 22 through 27, the speaker speaks on behalf of the crowd in expressing the
feeling after witnessing death. Through simile ("our throats were tight as
tourniquets") and metaphor ("our feet were bound with splints") the feeling of
shock and timidness to think about the reality of what the wreck really
symbolizes is present. The feeling of timidness turns to a need to express
feelings somehow by the witnesses, so they "speak through