Poetry Analysis: The Vacuum
The Vacuum by Howard Nemerov talks about a widower and his late wife, and how he uses the vacuum as a symbol for her death. The poem expresses deep sorrow and sadness that derive from the loneliness of the speaker, after his other half’s passing away. Nemerov attempts to take his readers on a grief-stricken journey, by strategically employing figurative language (mainly personification, metaphor, simile, and alliteration), fractured rhyme schemes and turns in stanza breaks in the poem.
The poem itself has many examples of personification all throughout the stanzas, suggesting that the speaker highly connects the vacuum to his wife and her demise, as well as to his ordeal after losing her; “the vacuum cleaner sulks in the closet” (line 2), “Because there is old filth everywhere/She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair” (lines 11-12), “its mouth/grinning into the floor, maybe at my slovenly life, my dog-dead youth” (lines 3-4) and “biting at air” (line 15).
The first type of personification refers to the vacuum showing attributes of a human being, who “sulks”. It can be assumed that since the death of his wife, the vacuum is no longer being used, and now sits in the corner closet. Also, this type of personification can be seen as a reflection of the speaker’s sadness, showing that he, too, is sulking of her demise. In relation to that, the second example of personification reflects the emptiness of the speaker and how his wife’s absence can be felt through the vacuum. “She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair” suggests that his wife actively used the vacuum to perform housecleaning when she was still alive. With her demise, it can be seen that the speaker did not take up the cleaning role of his wife, thus “there is old filth everywhere”.
The third example of personification is made in relation to the vacuum being perceived as a figure of death, who is mocking the speaker. Since his wife has died, it seems as if