Karl Shapiro

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Through this poem, Karl Shapiro explores the significance of a life despite the creature’s diminutive size, and questions the persona’s own ethical standards. The use of stylistic features such as imagery puts forth the moral dilemma that the persona underwent after killing an insect. Through the eyes of the persona, we as readers are made to ponder over the issue of our own moral standards, by questioning the importance we give to the worth of a life. Furthermore, Shapiro sets the poem in the first-person perspective that allows the readers to empathize and connect to the feelings of the persona on a more personal level.

The poem’s opening is set on a rather arrogant tone, which could imply the persona’s cavalier attitude towards the worth of a life. He “thought nothing at all” at the instinctive moment that he killed the insect. This could be seen as the persona being pretentious, on the premise that insects are considered lesser beings as compared to humans, while being undisturbed by the loss of an insect’s life.

However, the gradual change in the tone that took a melancholic turn portrays the dilemma that he went through after killing it. Shapiro’s usage of vivid imagery through the description of its “gossamer (being) so frail and exquisite” highlights his appreciation of the insect’s beauty, and thus the significance of its life. A stark change in the tone occurs when he exhibits disgust of his own self as he “ scorned the grossness of the thing (he) wrote”. This evinces his self-condemnation after killing the insect. And it’s also rather shocking when he puts down the value of his own work in comparison to the significance of the insect’s life in a sudden manner.

His self-loathing is further emphasized through the imagery and metaphor he employs to describe the insect. The persona feels a wave of remorse as he “sought the little head” and “in (his) heart a fear cried out”, his consciousness does not allow his heart to rest. The reason for such...
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