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Moving Toward The Destination: an Analysis of Stephen Vizinczey "Elephant"

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Life and death are two sides of a coin that all humans must face. Life is a beginning, but its destination that we all human share, is death which is inevitable. The trip from life to death, is sometimes long and can be, rapturous and arduous one. Nonetheless, no one has an idea of when they will reach their destination, but we all know that it is ineluctable. It gives us a reason to live. As night follows day, summer follows winter, adulthood follows childhood, so as death follows life. Stephen Vizinczey’s poem “Elephant” is about the relationship between unimpassioned life and death. Subtly, it reveals how this life slowly but surely leads humans to their ultimate reality i.e. death.

Initially, the poem suggests that the inauguration of human journey is life which is very unexciting and unrelenting. The speaker uses reality as symbol of life and describes, “it’s hard to see around it a bulky, lordly, plodding beast with boundless patience, unimpassioned beating paths unswervingly maintaining inexorably-implacable momentum”. The “Elephant” is the focus of attention of the title. The speaker compares life with the characteristics of an “Elephant” and uses personification. It is hard to see around Elephant because of its bulky body and so as life because of heavy stress and burdens. The world “lordly” in line 4 reflects that life is characteristic of God or god gifted. In the first verse, the speaker considers life as very quiet, slow and unpleasant by using concrete diction like “plodding”, “boundless”, “unimpassioned”, “unswervingly”, “inexorably”. The word “inexorably” and “unswervingly” rhyme internally with each other which conveys that these words are carrying much burden of the poem on them. Symbolically, the poem suggests that it is very difficult to see past the present life as it moves with unlimited patience without stopping and turning aside from its way to death. By separating poem into stanzas and giving it a strophic structure with enjambment, the poet clarifies that this poem is about a continuous journey with each verse starting at a new subject. Absence of characters indicates that this is a lyric poem.

The second quatrain, the speaker explains that everyone is convicted to death, fortunately or unfortunately. The speaker says, “Then, let us not flog reality but respect where respect is due one might as well beat one’s head against walls or stub toes on a stone to refute it”. As the life is ongoing and unstoppable from its path, why people criticize and refute it? This is the point; poet is trying to make in this stanza. Humans develop different feelings to mind when they think about death and most of the time, they develop fear in their mind. But everyone knows that it will come to all of us, whether we deny or accept it. The words “beat”, “stub” suggests a negativity that speaker expresses as an idea of criticism and disapproving the truth of life, which is unnecessary. The speaker uses the word “respect” in line 10 connotes to acceptance of death or respecting it and explains that we should accept the reality of life.

The poem turns in the third stanza, expressing the idea of speaker reaching his destination. The speaker says, “Alternatively, I hear a voice chime, pachyderm is but one of a number of myriad species, each genus unique-might not it be thus with reality?”. The first two verses explain life and the third stanza divides the life from death. The word “alternatively” in line 13 suggests that the speaker is talking about option other than life. “Pachyderm” and “chime” denote to a large mammal with thick skin and nails and sound indicating time respectively, in context of that he means he hears a sound of a mammal which is one of those unlimited species, that indicates that his time to die has come. Hence, this time to die will come to each gene, as no genes are unique to life.

The poem shifts in the final quatrain, explaining the presence of good nature in human that we are not aware of, and can help us on the day of judgement. The speaker says with uncertainty, “Perhaps there is one that resembles with mouse that scurries unseen through the walls of your house too quick to be noted, too cunning to snare you don’t really know if it’s really there ambiguous, but with facets abundant to rival the breadth of the elephant”. The “mouse” connote with the little good hope in human heart which is not easy to see and consider by human. This stanza suggests that humanity is uncertain of their valuable nature unless they direct themselves to the good deeds and can live eternally. However, in order to compete with cruel beast, Elephant, which means life, and to overcome dreadful death, humans must consider good and evil aspects of life.

Ultimately, the poem suggests that death is the last step, we all can truly be certain about our journey on earth. The idea of death is inevitable for everyone, and it will always be same for every individual. People can not refute it as they have no power on it, what they can do is to spend their life well. There are many different stages of life from which people move out and move on and away, but there will always be bitter or sweet endings for stages of life- death is one of those endings. It depends on us what type of ending we want. We should have positive thoughts at the time of dying. By clearing out all the evil thoughts, we can have a peaceful; death. Today will never return, so enjoy every moment of life as it were our last. Therefore, everyone on this planet must die, before our journey ends, can we live properly?

Work Cited

  1. Vizinczey, Stephen. ‘Elephant.’ W49 Magazine ,Sept 2012: Vol.15; p.26.

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