Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941 Analysis

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Matt Cingari
E 110
February 11, 2010

Sharon Olds’ “Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941” is a very sad and dreary poem. This is because Olds writes about the Battle of Leningrad, a 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II, and the lifelessness that is going on afterwards. Olds’ word choice throughout the poem is very important to the meaning of this poem. The way that she writes about this battle paints a very clear picture in my mind of what she is describing. Many times thorough the poem, Olds compares life and death many times with different comparisons.

Olds starts off the poem by saying: “That winter, the dead could not be buried.”’(1) This creates a sad tone for when the rest of the poem. She then talks about the atmosphere of the aftermath of the battle with words that help you create a very vivid picture in your head of what she is talking about. She says things like “the ground was frozen”(2), “sub-zero air”(5), “dark cloth” (6), and “their pale, gauze, tapered shapes”(9). To me, these descriptive words help me create a visual of what is written down because these words are sad and dark descriptive words.

Olds also says: “So they were covered with something/ and taken on a child’s sled to the cemetery/ in the sub-zero air.”(3-5) When Olds says this it makes me think whether she put the word “child’s” in the poem on purpose. I think she put this in because a child’s sled is used in the winter to have fun; however, Olds says that they are using it as a way to transfer dead bodies to the cemetery. This is because she is comparing life and death by using a sled, which is supposed to be used for fun in the winter, as a transportation device of corpses.

When Olds says “stiff as cocoons that will be split down the center/ when the new life inside is prepared;”(10-11) Again, Olds is comparing life and death by comparing the stiff corpses to cocoons. The ambiguity in this comparison is that the poem says that the cocoon will split down the...
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