Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Auto Wreck” reveals what its author considers to be the terrible secret of modern life: the creeping indifference toward technological determinism, the simple violence of machine against human being in which everyone participates by failing to be troubled or moved by such disasters as automobile wrecks. Humanity sees but does not see; what is inherently unnatural or antihuman—traveling at high speeds in mechanical monsters that threaten both drivers and pedestrians—becomes the commonplace, the expected, and the normal.

One witnesses horrors and quickly dismisses them as part of the world one inhabits, a world that no one can control or understand fully: “We speak through sickly smiles and warn/ With the stubborn saw of common sense.” Were one to understand it, the poet surmises, one would be even more horrified; hence, the better alternative is to register the horrific as the “official version” of an otherwise unbroken line of human catastrophes. It is not evil that should surprise one, but good; not failure, but success; not ugliness, but beauty; not revenge, but mercy; not despair, but hope.

The world of “Auto Wreck” is thus a sinister realm of everydayness. The details of horror are intensified by the images the poet chooses to portray his readers’ response to that horror. Their “throats are tourniquets,” their feet, “bound with splint,” the badge of initiation into the labyrinth of stunned adulthood.


(The entire section is 419 words.)