Russell Edson

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Can you provide an analysis or insight into Russell Edson's poem, "The Life of Man"?

For breakfast a man must break an egg. Then not all the king's horses and all the king's men can do very much about it. Past perfect the broken egg no longer breaks, a dead man no longer dies... And as he spills the broken egg into a frying pan he murmurs, Ah, well, too bad about Humpty Dumpty...

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Edson uses irony pretty heavily in this poem. He's essentially comparing the simplicity of humanity or mankind with the grandeur of life, or at least what we regard as the grandeur of life. Further, he says that once something is broken, you can't break it further, as illustrated by the lines, "Past perfect the broken egg no longer breaks, a dead man no longer dies..." The key phrase here is "Past perfect." I take this to mean that we are all "past perfect." In other words, we were once perfect, when we were born and there was no sin on our soul and no blemish on our bodies. But soon after that, we are "past" the perfect state and therefore we have begun to die. At the end, Humpty Dumpty was already dead before he fell off the wall, so we needn't worry about him. It's a rather depressing statement, but at the same time, it can give us some wonderful perspective on our lives. We shouldn't try to be perfect, because it is impossible. I think the poem's message is that we need to drive on with our lives and live to the best of our ability, without worrying about "perfection."

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