• April 5th, 2016


Paper, Order, or Assignment Requirements

This is a 900 word essay which interprets the meaning of a poem. Please remember that this is an analytical essay, so it’s important to analyze the work–not show just comprehension of the piece. The student may choose any poem published after the year 1900. Song lyrics are not allowed. Example essay

Smith 4
Ana Smith
Professor Tullis
ENC 1102
2nd December 2015

The Dead Man’s Second Breath

​With aging comes a variety of ailments, some perceived and others far beyond psychosomatic. As one’s life is eclipsed more and more by the shadow of death, the gravity of their existence pulls at the bones, pinches the skin, and begs the poor victim to dig himself a grave and die; however, Marvin Bell’s “The Book of the Dead Man (Vertigo)” suggests what human beings must do: live every day as if you are already dead. By this, it means that no matter the malady or pain, man proves his unique perseverance through his adaptability, long term memory, and—perhaps most astonishing of all—his stubbornness.
​The piece shows that before illness strikes, man must already be living to his fullest. By using the symbolic dead man as an example, the poem begins, “The dead man skipped stones till his arm gave out. / He showed up early to the games and stayed late, he played with / abandon.” This full-throttle approach to life gives an example to the reader, but even more-so, it gives the dead man something to be robbed of.
​Will must be tested, or else man’s perseverance means nothing, so “the first symptom was, having crossed a high bridge, he found he could not go back. / The second, on the hotel’s thirtieth floor he peeked from the balcony and knew / falling.” This first half of the poem presents the challenge to the dead man while simultaneously illustrating how once one falls victim to a chronic condition, they cannot simply “go back.” Man’s journey through mortality is mandatory. After the first and second moments, the man “looked to the constellations and grew / woozy.” The Dead Man is being tested in every altitude—whether he visually moves up or down, his ability to reach to the heights or cross them has been denied.
​However, according to the poem, man cannot be oppressed by his condition. “It wasn’t bad, the new carefulness.” The first strength man possesses is his ability to recognize time. The poem states, “It was a fraction of his lifetime, after all, a shard of what he knew.” With his concept of time, man can utilize memory. “He remembers himself at the edge of a clam boat, working the fork. / He loves to compress the past . . .” Through this, the work illustrates the first line of defense humanity has against its own mortality: its past. Even if what lies in front of humanity is an ever shrinking, never reachable tunnel of light, “The Book of the Dead Man (Vertigo)” suggests that the past will always be bright and enshrined, a place welcoming and reachable to anyone.
​Of course, that is not the only way the poem explains the tools humans possess against the ravaging nature of time. Mankind also has the ability to adapt. “He scaled back, he dialed down, he walked more on the flats.” It’s important, however, to note the poem is not suggesting the man gives up or stops pressing forward. Instead, it states, “The dead man adjusts, he favors his good leg, he squints his best eye to see farther.” The dead man remains in motion. This is not only shown by the actions but by the active verbs and the word “farther.” The poem never says, “He accepts his limited vision.” It instead talks about how he makes himself see onward.
​Finally, and it is crucial to note this, above all else, his stubbornness will continue. He is not freed from his condition simply because he continues forward. Notice how the third-to-last stanza dually represents both his joy and his ailment. “His happiness has been a whirl, it continues, it is dizzying.” The description of his happiness matches the clinical symptoms of vertigo. It does not define him, but the duality of the language shows how the condition has become synonymous with his existence while never defining it. To reflect the quality of stubbornness, notice the dismissive language of “is all” in the last two lines. Without them, the lines “He has to keep his feet on the ground” and “He has to watch the sun and moon from underneath” become commands, doctor’s orders to be followed strictly and with routine. The words “is all,” dramatically separated from the rest of the clause by the use of caesura, dismisses the importance of his limitations. It is an act of perspective, a stubborn one meant to keep the dead man moving onward against his condition.
​No matter what ailment or challenge man is faced with, according to the speaker, he will prevail through his sense of time, adaptability, and—above all else—his perseverance. Aging and mortality are inevitable in this life. The poem never heals the dead man; he simply manages to make life adjustments, integrate his disability into his identity without letting it define him, and refer to the compressed past for unfettered joy. The poem never shies away from chronic illness; however, if man lives as if he is already dead, refusing to collapse from the burden life lays upon him, he might not overcome it, but he will move forward in his journey toward the end.

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