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Andrew Ho
Ray
American Poetry
17, Dec. 1998
"Two Views of a Cadaver Room"
This poem strikes me first of its title. After reading it, the poem gives me the dark and bright side of love but still I can also sense the gray area between the two. The first stanza is talking about a lady visiting the cadaver room. I think she is going to recognize the dead body of her lover who is one of "four main laid out." Her lover is greatly damaged ("The head of his cadaver . . . string held it together."). The dead babies ironically ("moon and glow") and ominously presents the rampage and overwhelming power of death. "He" in the last line of the first stanza can refer to one of the white-smocked boys or the woman's dead lover. If he is the whit-smocked boy, he represents Death who relentlessly displays the fact of her lover's death to her. If he is her lover, he shows her lover his heart-breaking remorse to her. In the second stanza, the speaker zooms into the corner of the lovers from the panorama of warfare. The theme of second stanza is much clearer because it directly presents the invincible love under the threat of death. We can tell form the painting that the song of love (" He sings in the direction of her.") overpower the elegy played by Death ("Both of them deaf to the fiddleˇK of death.").
The Using dual and dichotomous aspects to mingle and distinguish both elements, the poem deals with the themes of love and death: two themes, two genders, two settings (medical lab / battle zone), two visions (real world {the cadaver room} / illusional world {the painting}), and two views of love and death.
Love and death seem two different elements; however, they are within the hairbreadth. Therefore these two conflicting themes are relevant and compatible in one sense. For example, in the first stanza, the love is death-like ("He hands her the cut-out heart like a cracked heirloom"); In the second stanza, love illuminates momentary within the dark of death ("These Flemish lovers flourish; not for long") and gives a sense of poetic and romantic heroism against death. From the painting, we can tell the contrast between corner of lover and the rest of it. The lover looks so serene and even notice nothing threats around them. That corner of the painting seems separated from the rest of it (" Yet desolation spares the little country.") and that "little country" is the realm of love where death can't invade and conquer ("Both of them deaf to the fiddle . . . of the death's head.") To a certain extent, the two pair of personas in two settings share something in common. First, both of them are under the environment of death. Second, there's a relationship between both of them (view one: he gives her the cut-out heart; view two: he lies in her cloth). Obviously, the second couple is lover but the relation between the first pair of personas is ambiguous. I surmise they are lovers too for two reasons. First, the last sentence in the first stanza implies their relationship because giving heart to something is easily associated with lovers. Secondly, the lovers in second stanza may provide a contrast loving relationship. Therefore, it's reasonable to regard the first pair of personas as lovers. The battle zone of the painting is an extension of the cadaver room for there are also many casualties. Two interrelated settings and visions can present compare and contrast at the same time. I think the second setting and vision provide a hopeful and ideal realm for grotesque and eerie real world. Two views of love and death obviously contrast to each other. In the first view, I think love is assimilated with the traits of death or surrender to the power of death. However in the second view, love, a great power against death, presents rebellious nature and ignores the presence of death. Furthermore, as the title of the painting suggests, "The Triumph of Death" means love which is contrast to that, the prey of death, in the first stanza.
This poem looks formally identical for the eleven lines each; however, they emphasize different aspect of theme. Each stanza is grouped as nine lines and two lines receptively. It gives a sense of separation and disconnection like cut-out heart apart from the body in the first stanza and the separation between the corner of the love and the rest of the painting in the second one. I think the quantify of lines implies the ratio of death and love. In the first stanza, the first nine lines imply the powerful death and the next two lines suggest the fragile and petty little love compared to the forceful death. In the second stanza, the first nine lines refer to the spacious portion of warfare and the next two line refer to the little right-hand corner of the love between the lovers.

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