The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Open Casket” is a free-verse poem in which the poet describes and moves through various California landscapes. The identity of the speaker is muted, and the personal pronoun Sandra McPherson uses is the plural “we,” which de-emphasizes the individual in the scene and focuses the reader’s attention on the landscape itself.

Although the title suggests a funeral at which there is an “open casket” viewing of the deceased, the poem itself seems to go off in a different direction, depicting vacation entertainments, rural landscapes seen from a bus, a field trip for school-children, and other diversions. The school trip, in particular, suggests that the sights in the poem are seen from the viewpoint of a child.

The tone of voice in the poem is calm and understated, conveying a cool sweetness that contrasts ironically with other statements about the poor, going “back where we belong,” or overpopulation, “Certainly too many people.”

The first stanza begins with the sort of recommendation one might find in a travel brochure, describing as it does a ride in a “glass-bottomed boat,” a tourist attraction in Monterey Bay near the town of Pacific Grove, on the California coast. The onlooker marvels at how clearly she can view the sea anemones and other underwater life. Presumably, this boat trip takes place on a vacation excursion.

The following, indented stanzas turn by association to other trips, or...

(The entire section is 561 words.)