The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Autopsy” is a short free-verse poem consisting of ten lines, the majority of which are long and flowing as well as rich and evocative. The remainder—the fifth, seventh, and tenth lines—are economic, almost laconic, and comment on or serve as links to the lines that precede or follow them.

The poem is written in the third person; this not only amplifies the objective, detached perspective that the title implies but also contributes to the analytical tone of the poem. The nostalgic, evocative language which the poet uses to describe the “findings” of the autopsy, however, belies this objectivity, thus creating the tension of the poem; this tension is sustained until the final line, which signals completion and fulfillment.

The poet permits only certain parts of the body to be dissected. Specifically, those parts are related to the senses through which he perceives the sources in the physical world which awaken and aid him in expressing his inner, poetic world.

First, the heart, the seat of all emotions, is examined and found to be permeated with the “gold of the olive root.” The olive traditionally symbolizes peace, immortality, and the Golden Age. For Odysseus Elytis, however, it is emblematic of Greek culture, its fruit having sustained the Greeks, physically as well as economically, through the olive oil trade. It is the quintessential Greek commodity, the “golden” gift of the gods. In the second line, the entrails are...

(The entire section is 605 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most impressive device employed in the poem is the analogy of the autopsy, which the poet develops through a series of extremely effective, related metaphors, all of which reinforce the image of a surgeon performing this act. The analogy of the autopsy reinforces, in turn, the image of ritual sacrifice—the poet as an Adonis figure whose life has been dedicated to the quest for truth and beauty—which is implied in the regeneration indicated in the final line of the poem.

The imagery in this poem is typical of Elytis’s work in two respects: First, it evinces his roots in his native Greek tradition, and second, it reflects his fundamentally surrealist orientation. The Greek heritage, for Elytis, is not merely that of classical Greece. Rather, it encompasses a number of indigenous sources, including pagan mysticism, animism, and nature worship, as well as the Byzantine, Eastern Orthodox, folkloric, epic, and demotic traditions. The Greek tradition is most frequently expressed in Elytis’s poetry, however, through the imagery of the sea. This sea imagery so dominated his early collections that, early in his career, he became known as the “poet of the Aegean.”

For Elytis, the seascape is not only the quintessential icon of Greece but also the only one that can convey the holistic worldview which he embraces, which constantly seeks to reunite man’s physical and spiritual natures. In his poetry, the essence of things resides in the...

(The entire section is 429 words.)