Anne Sexton's Reflection: After Auschwitz

Categories: Anne Sexton

In Anne Sexton's poem "After Auschwitz," the speaker grapples with the profound impact of visiting a concentration camp. The verses delve into the atrocities committed by humans against one another during this dark period. The predominant tone in the poem is one of anger, gradually shifting towards darkness, and culminating in a poignant sadness. Sexton strategically employs syntax, imagery, and detail to convey these complex emotions and to shed light on the horrors of Auschwitz.

Anger Unveiled: The Power of Syntax

The prevailing tone of anger in the poem is effectively communicated through Sexton's masterful use of syntax.

Short, abrupt sentences dominate the narrative, creating an immediate and intense emotional impact. From the very first line, the speaker declares, "Anger," setting the tone for the entire poem. This brevity and directness reflect the speaker's profound indignation. For instance, lines 4 and 5 exemplify this technique: "Each day," "each Nazi." The short, forceful sentences evoke a sense of disgust, as if the speaker is vehemently spitting out the words, emphasizing the repetitive and relentless nature of the inhumane actions.

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The utilization of syntax becomes a powerful tool to mirror the speaker's escalating anger, portraying the continued mistreatment of humanity. Each terse sentence serves as a verbal punch, compelling readers to confront the harsh reality of ongoing atrocities.

Imagery: The Escalation from Anger to Darkness

Sexton employs vivid imagery to intensify the angry tone, gradually transitioning towards a darker emotional spectrum. The speaker's anger crescendos in lines 26-29, where the imagery becomes particularly impactful. The mention of a man raising his teacup, coupled with the vehement line, "Let man never again raise his teacup," reveals the speaker's fury.

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The innocent act of sipping tea becomes a symbol of indifference in the face of human suffering. The speaker envisions a man casually enjoying a beverage while atrocities persist elsewhere, heightening the sense of moral outrage.

Another striking image appears in lines 19 and 20: "And death looks on with a casual eye, and scratches his anus." This macabre portrayal transforms death into a disinterested observer within the concentration camp. The casualness of scratching his anus while witnessing human suffering evokes a surreal and disturbing scene. As the imagery transitions, so does the tone, shifting from anger to a somber sadness. Sexton masterfully uses these images to evoke a visceral response from the reader, forcing them to confront the horror of Auschwitz.

Detail: A Sudden Shift to Sadness

Detail becomes a crucial element in the poem's emotional trajectory, leading to a sudden shift from dark anger to profound sadness. In the final two lines, the tone unexpectedly transforms: "I beg the lord not to hear." This plea reveals the speaker's self-awareness and remorse. The speaker grapples with the realization that she, too, momentarily contemplated similar atrocities as the Nazis. The detail of the speaker begging the lord not to hear underscores the internal conflict and the acknowledgment of the darkness within. This shift adds complexity to the emotional landscape of the poem, revealing the internal struggle between anger and a more nuanced sadness.

This detail becomes significant in unraveling the poem's deeper layers, portraying the speaker's complex emotional response to the Holocaust. It highlights the internal conflict and self-awareness, contributing to the overall impact of the poem.

Impact and Universal Relevance

The tone's effect is profound, serving as a stark reminder of the appalling treatment endured by humans in Auschwitz. Sexton's carefully crafted language prompts readers to confront the historical reality of the Holocaust, evoking anger and sadness. This emotional impact is crucial, as it forces readers to grapple with the uncomfortable truth of human cruelty.

While the poem specifically addresses Auschwitz, its universal theme delves into the broader question of how humanity could perpetrate and allow such atrocities. Sexton's work stands as a testament to the emotional toll of remembering the Holocaust, challenging readers to reflect on the darkness within human history. The poem becomes a vehicle for contemplating the enduring consequences of such brutality and the importance of acknowledging and confronting it.

Conclusion: A Poetic Exploration of Human Darkness

In conclusion, Anne Sexton's "After Auschwitz" unfolds as a poignant reflection on the aftermath of visiting a concentration camp. The carefully curated tone, facilitated through syntax, imagery, and detail, guides readers through a spectrum of emotions – from anger and darkness to a melancholic sadness. The poem not only bears witness to the specific horrors of Auschwitz but also prompts contemplation of humanity's capacity for cruelty.

By delving into the emotional complexity of the Holocaust, Sexton's poem transcends its historical context, inviting readers to grapple with the broader implications of human darkness. The enduring relevance of "After Auschwitz" lies in its ability to elicit visceral responses, challenging individuals to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and fostering a collective commitment to empathy, understanding, and the pursuit of a more compassionate world.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Anne Sexton's Reflection: After Auschwitz. (2016, Aug 03). Retrieved from

Anne Sexton's Reflection: After Auschwitz essay
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