Thesis For Auto Wreck By Karl Shapiro
After a two-year sojourn at the University of Chicago, Shapiro joined the faculty at the University of California at Davis, where he still teaches.
Its quick soft silver bell beating, beating, And down the dark one ruby flare Pulsing out red light like an artery, The ambulance at top speed floating down Past beacons and illuminated clocks Wings in a heavy curve, dips down, And brakes speed, entering the crowd.
In 1935 Shapiro published a volume of verses which won him a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.
He attended the university for two years but took no degree.
While he was serving in the South Pacific as a medical corps clerk, poems from his collection Person, Place and Thing were published in Poetry magazine and were awarded the Levinson Prize.In 1956 he accepted a professorship in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska; additionally, he was editor of the journal Prairie Schooner until 1966, when he resigned both positions over a disagreement with administration and journal staff.Divorced from his first wife in 1967, he married Teri Kovach that same year.The connection between this poem and war poetry is clear: the focus in human fragility and on the shattering effect violence has on reason, are frequent themes when contemplating war.Shapiro takes this sensibility and puts it into a domestic setting, a situation that most Americans would be familiar with from their own experiences.The “tolling” of the bell implies church bells, whose tolling is commonly an announcement of death.This is confirmed in line 12’s reference to a “terrible cargo,” and in the way the doors are closed only as “an afterthought,” implying that there is no need for gentleness and care with the patients in the ambulance, implying that they are dead.This is in direct contrast to the first line’s gentle, alliterative phrase of a “soft silver bell beating.”The ominous tone continues as an analogy is drawn between the flare and a part of the human body—an artery pulsing out red light, or blood, would be an artery cut open.The ambulance is seen as quick and efficient, almost otherworldly in the way that it “floats down.” Line 5 has two instances of the poem’s symbolic use of light: the beacons and the illuminated clocks represent the rationality of the human world that this auto wreck intrudes upon.He had a life-long belief that he was destined to be a poet and despite his conviction in the 1930s that an Anglo-Saxon name would facilitate publication of his work, he decided to keep his family name.This decision, he believed, reinforced his identity as a Jew and provided a theme for subsequent poems.