This simple, four stanza poem was written by Eva Picková, a twelve-year-old girl. In the poem, she discusses the impact of typhus on the ghetto that she and her friends and family were forced to live in. The poem touches on themes of life and death, as well as suffering and perseverance. It also alludes to the broader and even more chilling aspects of the Holocaust.
Summary of Fear
The poem details the impact of typhus on her community as those she cares for suffering and die around her. The lines clearly convey her terrified tone and the fear that she experiences on a daily basis. In the third stanza, she considers whether or not it would be better to die than to continue on this way but quickly changes her mind. She decides instead that she wants to, and her friends and family need to, live to make the world better.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Fear
‘Fear’ by Eva Picková is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains were transacted from the original language of the poet, Czech, into English. This means that any rhyme scheme and most of the rhyme scheme found in the translated version was not what the poet intended. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t literary devices to take note of.
Literary Devices in Fear
Picková makes use of several literary devices in ‘Fear’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, personification, and repetition. The latter is seen through the use and reuse of words or images within a piece of poetry.
In this case, there are examples of anaphora in ‘Fear’. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “Today” at the beginning of line one of stanza one and line one of stanza two or, “We want to” which begins the last two lines of the poem.
A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this poem, there is a metaphor in the depiction of death as wielding an “icy scythe”. This brings up images of the traditional grim reaper. In this world she is inhabiting, death is a violent, ever-present, grim reaper.
This technique is enhanced by the use of personification. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. For example, in the third line when the speaker says that “An evil sickness spread a terror in its wake,” as though the sickness is choosing to spread the terror.
Analysis of Fear
Stanzas One and Two
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
In the first two stanzas of ‘Fear’, the young speaker describes the terror and fear that inhabits the ghetto that she and her family have been forced into. There is a new “fear” in the ghetto today, one that is quick to close its grip on anyone around her. It is personified through the image of death as a grim reaper, bringing with it a sickness that decimates the population. Children are not spared, they “choke and die” just like anyone else. This line also informs the reader that the sickness everyone is suffering from is typhus.
The next lines convey the speaker’s fear during this time period clearly. She refers to “a father’s heartbeat” and the movements of “mothers”. She doesn’t say “my father” or “my mother” which could mean that this child is without either.
Stanzas Three and Four
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.
In the third stanza of ‘Fear’, the speaker notes that she is living on while her friends die. There’s nothing she can do about it and is at the point where despite her young age, only 12 years old, she is wondering if death is preferable to living in the ghetto any longer. This is a thought that passes quickly from her mind as she determines that “we want to live”. It is not just herself that she’s speaking for but her friends and family. She wants to survive this place and this time and work to create a better world. The last two lines are a good example of repetition is the use and reuse of the phrase “We want to”. This asserts her position clearly and forcefully. She knows what she wants and is determined now to live to see it.