A Surprising Read and Analysis of Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

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The Monkey’s Uncle:
A Surprising Read and Analysis of Brueghel’s Two Monkeys”

Szymborska’s poem, “Brueghel’s Two Monkeys,” starts in an odd way. The reader is thrust straight into the scene of an exam, which at first seems all too familiar. However, Szymborska surprises the reader when the voice says what she dreams about as she takes the final exam, “two monkeys, chained to the floor.” This is a very odd image and one that is not easily identifiable to the reader initially. The poem contains two meanings, first in the context of the 1956 workers' riots and student demonstrations that led to the crisis and compromise of October where Poland was taken over by Stalin. These events provide a context for the reading of the poem as a reference to Stalinist oppression. Another meaning for the poem is that it is an ecphartstic poem, a poem about a painting. It stands to reason then that the poem is about the relationship between language and reality. The monkeys could convey signs of anxiety and strain in Szymborska’s art; in that, they are a metaphor for whether or not a poets meaning is expressed accurately. There seems to be multiple meanings articulated and supplemented to by the form and structure of the poem and this is the ground for the further study of, “Brueghel’s Two Monkeys.”

There are three stanzas in the poem; the first one is a quatrain, followed by a couplet and finally a cinquain. The first stanza starts off with iambic pentameter for the first two lines then descends into iambic dimeter for the last two. This perhaps is an expression of how the poem is descending into the world of the unreal: “two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill.” This creates the dream world, and the feet of the poem help the reader fall into that world. There is an extra stress in the first line with the word “This.” The poetist captures the attention of the reader with this stress and helps start the downward fall for the reader. All of the...
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