Anne Sexton’s poem, “After Auschwitz,” struck me as a piece of writing that was, at first, difficult to interpret. There is no evident rhyming scheme, or sentences that clearly express what the poem is about. However, Sexton does incorporate the use of metaphorical and repetitive language.
One of the earliest lines reads, “Each day/ each Nazi/ took, at 8:00 AM, a baby/ and sautéed him for breakfast/ in his frying pan.” (Lines 4-8) One of the easiest things to note is the use of past tense verbiage such as “took” and “sautéed” which indicates the events in the poem occurred after the era of Jewish concentration and death camps as the title suggests. In regards to metaphors, something thing that seemed odd about this line was the reference to sautéing a baby in a frying pan. I interpreted this in relation to the thousands of Jews executed daily in the gas chambers established in the camps. By 1943, Auschwitz had eight gas chambers that, when in full operational use, disposed of over 4,000 corpses daily. One website that provided with the information on the gas chambers described them as ovens. Although not the same as a frying pan, in regards to “sautéing,” an oven is a device used to cook, though typically not when speaking about people.
One question I asked, however, was, “Why a baby?” Much like an infant, the Jews were often helpless in defending themselves against the misfortunes that befell them. An infant is a young person dependent upon another to care for them in every aspect of its life. The Jews succumbed to this juvenile state because their lives became dependent on the Nazis. I interpreted Sexton’s use of possibly using a baby as a way to describe the Jews because while they were in the camps, each area of their life was in control by another being: what they ate, what clothes they wore, and even whether they lived or died. Like the metaphorical baby in the frying pan, “each day” Jews burned in the “oven.”
Additionally, I inquired about the narrative tone. Evidence of the tone resonates in the very first line where the author uses the word “anger.” The theme of “anger” repeats itself in the lines that read, “Man is evil/ I say aloud. / Man is a flower/ that should be burnt…” (Lines 11-13) Because of the mention of Nazis in the beginning of the poem, I interpreted “man” as either being Nazis themselves, or possibly mankind as a whole since there is language in the poem specifying this. Words such as “evil” and “burnt” carry connotations that relate to “anger” because they reference that whatever the intended “man” is, because it is “evil,” it deserves to perish.
Another interesting aspect regarding the same lines is that there appears to be a contrast. A line further along the poem that resonates the same structure reads, “Man….is not a temple but an outhouse, I say aloud.” (Lines 21-25) A “flower,” “bird,” and “temple” are all things typically regarded as beautiful, majestic, or sacred. However, each is in conjunction with...