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 center bringing new life when it is ready. I think she says this because when she says that when the cocoon splits to start a new life, it could mean that their new life is not here on earth, but in heaven.
Though, the cocoon comparison could also mean that the battle was a turning point in the war. This is because Russia gained momentum against Germany with that victory, which did start a “new life” in the war. “A hand reaching out/ with no sign of peace, wanting to come back” (15-16) is another comparison of life to death. Olds is saying that the lifeless corpse is still making a gesture saying that the dead would return if they could at any price.
She says that those people who died in the battle, the corpses, would do anything “even to the bread make of glue and sawdust, / even to the icy winter, and the siege. ” (18-19) I think that the moral of this poem is that life is precious, and that life should never be taken for granted. I think this is because the whole poem is comparisons between life and death, and because she says that the people who have passed away would do anything possible to come back to life, even under the worst conditions, to be loved, to love, and to be with the people they love.