The Vacuum is a poem by Howard Nemerov that focuses on the central theme of loneliness caused by the death of a loved one. However, Nemerov took a very different twist in writing the poem, mainly because its entire structure is composed of puns that tend to reference the word “vacuum” in two ways – the space the wife of the speaker left when she died and the appliance, the vacuum cleaner, she once frequently used when she was living. Given such a rather sad yet creative expression, Nemerov was able to vividly embody the emotions of the speaker, who is missing his wife so badly and at the same time struggling to use the vacuum cleaner for cleaning since it reminds him of her. An interesting angle to the poem, however, is the fact that Nemerov wrote it with somewhat the due recognition that at the time, women were primarily known as housekeepers. In that case, there is therefore an understanding that with the lamentation of the speaker comes his reluctance of using the vacuum cleaner – not just because doing so reminds him of her, but because it is simply not the job of a man like him to do so (Graduate Proseminar).
The Leap is a poem by James Dickey that, like The Vacuum, also centered on the theme of loneliness caused by the death of a loved one, albeit the speaker articulated himself in a way that evidences his trauma. Dickey used the word “leap” as the subject of his puns, which he came to mean in two ways – the way in which Jane McNaughton Hill once dominated the playground during her seventh grade by her jumping power and the manner of her eventual death as she dived from a building and down to a parked taxi. There is strong evidence that the speaker is lamenting the fact that he was not able to create anything that could have urged Jane to stay away from jumping, not least because of the fact that he once admired her and that the person who came to love her in his place betrayed her to her death. Dickey also talked about a paper ring the speaker once made for Jane, with its papery material inadequate in strength to enable her to cling on to life (Murray 27-29).
Foremost of the figures of speech used in both the poems of Nemerov and Dickey is the use of symbols. Nemerov, for his poem, emphasized on the use of the word “vacuum,” which referred to both the loss of the wife of the speaker and the appliance – vacuum cleaner. One may initially claim that the vacuum being referred to by the speaker is the vacuum cleaner, but the clever reason as to why Nemerov did not add the word “cleaner” to the title of his poem is the fact that he meant to embody the sense of loss of the speaker. At the same time, the vacuum cleaner symbolized the status of women at the time the poem was written as just housewives – the fact that the speaker did not want to use it means that in doing so, he is both missing his wife and defying the conventions of society that refers to expectations given to him (Graduate Proseminar).
The symbols used by Dickey in his poem, the word “leap” and the paper ring, all emphasize on the sorrow of the speaker in losing Jane. “Leap” is emphasized as the act that Jane does best in the playground during the seventh grade, and at the same time as the act that lead her to her death; the paper ring made by the speaker for his admiration to her was also used to allude to his lamentation of not creating something, in a figurative sense, that is stronger than it that could have saved her from killing herself (Murray 27-29).
Another theme that has been present in both the poems of Nemerov and Dickey is the use of cultural context. Again, it is noteworthy to focus on the fact that Nemerov used the vacuum cleaner to symbolize the status of women at the time he wrote his poem. Despite the lamentation of the speaker, Nemerov was somewhat able to place comic relief on his poem through his reluctance on using it, as seen in the way he said that when his wife died, “her soul went into the vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear to see the bag swell like a belly, eating the dust.” In other words, the speaker also laments as well that with the death of his wife, he has no one else left to clean the house for him using the vacuum cleaner, as he finds it simply unacceptable to use it on his own, given the gendered concept of cleaning that is prevalent during his time (Graduate Proseminar).
The cultural context of the poem of Dickey also alludes to the archaic view of women as tomboyish when engaged in sports. Jane, whose sportiness captivated the speaker, was generally regarded as a tomboy right until she turned up in a dress for a dance. It is evident that Dickey presented Jane as a more ideal figure with her more womanly image, given the transition of her tomboyish appearance from the beginning up to the time when she grew up, when she became more womanly. One could also think that such also became a source of frustration on the part of Jane, given that she was not able to fulfill her athletic potential when she was in the seventh grade upon growing up, in which she ended up killing herself by leaping off the window of a building upon learning of the betrayal that befell her (Murray 27-29).
“Close Reading of Howard Nemerov’s ‘The Vacuum.’” Graduate Proseminar: Course Website for English 500. n.d. Graduate Proseminar. 10 December 2014. <http://npproseminar.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/close-reading-of-howard-nemerov%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cthe-vacuum%E2%80%9D/>
Murray, Sandra. “Modern Poetry in the Classroom: Lines and Spaces: James Dickey’s ‘The Leap.’” The English Journal 81.1 (1992): 27-29. Print.
This Book Review on "The Vacuum by Howard Nemerov and The Leap by James Dickey Literature Review" was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Please send request the removal if you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on EduPRO.