The Ambiguity of Death
Since the creation of man, certain primal urges have been imprinted into the human beings psyche. Out of many of those the instinct of death is included, probably stemming from the necessity of killing to obtain ones food. The instinct of death remains today and has been changed, adapted, suppressed and exemplified. In “A Formal Application” the ironic theory of applying death as a way of life is portrayed through a mans act of killing a bird. The poem flows through the practice, planning and execution of a common bird. The climax of the poem comes when he refers to his act of violence as an “Audubon Crucifix”. Through various examples in history he validates this unnecessary crucifix. “A Formal Application” rejoins the human race by immortalizing the importance of death.
The structure of the poem is separated into three sections containing three stanzas each. There is no apparent rhyme scheme making it a free verse and prose piece. The setting is outside, most likely close to the speakers house, and surrounded by forest and wildlife. It takes place in the mid 1900s and probably in the spring-time. This piece is compiled of nine triplets separated into three sections. The first section of three triplets starts with the speaker honing his knife throwing skills.
In the first section the speaker starts his training. By this practice he automatically tells us that he wants for this action to happen perfectly.By perfecting his skills he confirms to us the importance of this act to him. In the first stanza he begins to learn how to inflict pain with his knife by throwing it. He molds a kitchen utensil into a fatal weapon by enhancing his throwing skills. The second stanza shows his progression from merely throwing the knife, to hitting a target. The last stanza involves him targeting a moving object. This indicates he will be inflicting harm on a living thing with his weapon of choice
With his means of weaponry defined we learn he still needs not only a moving target but a living one. The next section of triplets signifies his planning and enticing of his prey. In the first stanza he starts to weave his lesson of deception by “teaching” the birds. By tricking the birds into thinking he is a source of food, he gains the necessary element of surprise he needs for his later crucifixion. The second and the third stanza the speaker concentrates on gaining the trust and confidence of the birds by luring them with bread crumbs. With his preys confidence gained he is ready to strike.
The authors insight is speckled throughout the last three stanzas. Initially, he states “I shall coordinate conditioned reflex”. This is the first indication of his reasoning behind this blatant disregard of living things. By developing his learned trait of killing he now feels he has “qualified” as the Modern Man. The second stanza offers a grotesque description of the murder. Then the speaker confirms his infatuation with gaining superiority through death by naming this killing the “Audubon Crucifix”. This name contains the word crucifix because, according to the popular belief, the only death that brought life to this earth was when Jesus Christ was crucified. Religious connotations are involved in the name because by justifying and validating his violent act he can feel like a “Modern Man”. In the third stanza he goes even further in an attempt to relate his somewhat small scale kill to the few major slaughters of our history. First, with the word pious he again relates to religion by referring to his title as holy. Then he adds three examples of dramatic violence. The first of which is Arbeit Macht Frei, an ironic motto for the holocaust meaning work brings freedom. In the concentration camps prisoners were worked so brutaly, almost all of them died, therefore death becomes freedom. This idea supports the speakers application of life by saying death is the only freedom and by killing you are given the power to grant that freedom. The last two examples are the Enola Gay and the Molotov Cocktail. The Enloa Gay is the plane that dropped the atom bomb on Japan. This again relates one of the greatest massacres in the history of the world to his mere rebellious violence.
Through the speakers violent actions he feels superior to others despite his justifications being much more significant then his own act. He creates a paradox by validating his “Audubon Crucifix” with some of the greatest killings in the world. The speaker most likely wants to experience more of this power which supports mans primal urge for superiority. Some of the human race, including the speaker, can feel superiority through the desecration of others. When these people kill, they feel the ultimate power. The common paradox throughout the poem is life comes from death and death is necessary to life.Death is just another formal application of life.