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“Two Views of a Cadaver Room” is a poem written by Sylvia Plath. It is a dark poem that presents the poet’s views on cadavers, that is, corpses.
About the Poet:
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was a prominent American poet. She is known for her confessional mode of writing in her poetry. Famous works of hers include ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’, ‘Tulips’, and ‘Daddy’.
This poem is divided into 2 stanzas consisting of 11 lines each. It is written from a third-person point of view.
Analysis and Summary:
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.
The stanza begins with the poet elaborating on her visit to the “dissecting room”. She proceeds to describe the corpses of the four men there, how they were charred and the “vinegary” stench of death that accompanied them. She then details the students who started working on the bodies. The poet concludes the stanza with further descriptions of their work with the “rubble of skull plates”, “A sallow piece of string”, “jars” with “snail-nosed babies” and “cut out hearts”.
Here, the poet is observed to jump straight to the point. She describes the postmortem that took place there using vivid imagery in a highly clinical and grotesque manner. The tone can be noted to describe the process in an almost detached manner, seemingly minimising the horrific images presented.
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.
In this stanza, the poem delves into “Brueghel’s” portrayal of “smoke and slaughter” in the painting “Triumph of Death” of Flemish Renaissance. Here, two blind people are said to be unaware of the “carrion army” or skeletal army. Both of them appear to be lost in their own world, deaf to the approaching army. The poet muses that these “Flemish lovers” will “flourish” but “not for long”. The poet concludes by stating that she finds a dark sort of humour in this desolate painting in them.
In stark contrast to the analytic first view of cadavers, the poet presents an artistic view here. The difference between science and art can be perceived here, even on a grim subject such as corpses– while the first is cold and impersonal, the second is imaginative and almost hopeful– in the second, the lovers act as a symbol of hope amidst destruction and death.
This is a thought-provoking poem. The poet ponders the idea of death through the lens of science and art