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Devine Demise
essay [ ]
Analysis of "After the Bomb Tests"

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by [lavacaloca ]

2005-01-21  |     | 

In After the Bomb Tests, Jane Cooper utilizes the rhyme scheme to expose the parallels of religious references, man vs. God, and modern warfare. Cooper sheds new light on the old Petrarchian sonnet form, making it a new subject matter. This new subject is the atomic bomb, which leads to a new fear of God as man.
The octave, I believe is the immediate outcome, after the bomb hits Hiroshima. It is the chaos felt by the people and the open defiance of man towards God. The sonnet starts with a simile of the atomic bomb and a cauliflower. The cauliflower is shaped as the mushroom cloud, which was the result of the impact of the atomic bomb. Cooper’s use of verbs in the first quatrain of the octave, “Expands, expands, shoots up again, expands”(67), I believe is used to create emphasis on the massive destruction capacity this bomb has. The allusion that Cooper makes in line two of the first quatrain of how the bomb expands “Into ecclesiastical curves and towers”(67) is fantastic. She compares a cathedral church that towers over a city, to the towering of the atomic bomb over the city Hiroshima. There is a certain religious characteristic pertaining to the bomb, when Cooper compares it with a church (ecclesiastical). Cooper in the first quatrain uses the rhyme scheme to create a general focus on destruction, for example, cauliflower/towers, and expands/hands. If you read these words they can either mean the atomic bomb or in the case of hands, a religious reference. The use of verbs builds the energy of the octave, making the octave more intense. At the end of the first quatrain we see a shift in the syntax, from violent activity created by the impact of the bomb, to reverence or awe at its destruction. I believe this transition helps introduce the second quatrain.
Cooper highlights the distress of the people who are being bombed when she says, “We pray with our cupped hands and empty hands”(67). They are praying to live. They have their hands cupped because they are expecting an answer or a sign of salvation. Instead, they receive ashes, the residue of the destruction. It is the use of irony that amazed me, in this line, they are praying waiting to receive some type of salvation, but instead receive ashes, a symbol of death. I think it is a metaphor of the loss of hope; God has abandoned them, leaving them to fend for themselves against the ashes of their own kind.
There are many parallels between the bomb and religion. In the last words of the rhyme scheme, you can detect the way Cooper uses certain words to create emphasis either on the bomb, religion or both. The keyword that compares them both is fear. Cooper argues about the parallels of fear of God and of the atomic bomb. She makes this clear when she says, “This is the old Hebraic-featured fear”(67). In Hebrew, fear encompasses a wide range of meanings dread, terror, worship, reverence, respect and awe. In ancient times, people would worship God for fear of his wrath. This fear of God comes from the Old Testament, were God is portrayed to be unforgiving and rash. Afterwards, this fear turned into reverence, respect, and awe for God. We can also infer that the word fear can also mean, the fear of the atomic bomb and the disaster it has created. The people may be praying to the bomb as well as to God, they fear it equally. Their lives lay in the hands of God and most specifically the atomic bomb. In the last lines of the octave, there is a culmination.
I believe that when Cooper says “Our crown-on-crown or phallic parody”(67), she is trying to tell us how man is imitating God in what they create and destroy. Crown-on-crown is a way of saying man versus God, because God wears the crown in heaven and man wears it on earth. A battle of who is greater and who has achieved more power over the years. It is man openly defying God and his ability to create or destroy. The bomb is a collective symbol of man, and what he is capable of doing to his own kind. There is a phallic quality to the atomic bomb; it is shaped as a penis. This is a representation or a symbol of the penis and testes as an embodiment of power, going head first against God. The end word parody can be understood as man mocking God and his diminishing power in the eyes of man. There is an inferred sexual connotation in her use of the words shoots up. She is comparing the male ejaculation to the explosion of the bomb. It is the ultimate slap in the face that man could give God, by using the symbol of the organ used for reproduction as a tool for massive destruction and death.
In the sestet, there seems to be a release of the built-up energy of the octave. It is the foreshadowing of what man is capable of as he takes over the roll of God on earth. This sonnet seems to have an apocalyptic tone. It is describing the end of the reign of God on earth and, the beginning of the end of mans control. After the bomb has hit, the sea has risen and engulfed a ship “left in her lap”. There is a personification of the sea; in order to emphasize the destruction of the bomb. It is so powerful that it has disturbed the “galvanized and smooth” sea. I associated the words “the calm before the storm”, with this sonnet. The sea was calm and smooth, until the bomb hit. Thus, creating a storm that galvanized the otherwise tranquil sea.
According to The Oxford American College Dictionary, transfiguration means “a metamorphosis; Christ’s appearance in radiant glory to three of his disciple, and or the Christian feast commemorating this event, observed on August 6”(1481). Cooper uses the word transfiguration in the third line of the sestet. The word is separated by dashes, creating a caesura, this natural break or pause, is more of a revelation or a culmination of thoughts. The word transfiguration is significantly used in order to compare the radiance that shone when Jesus rose again and joined God. The atomic bomb gave off that same radiance and brilliance when it hit. It is the immediacy of God and the immediacy of man. The bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and the Christian feast commemorating the event of Jesus on the mountain is also held on August 6. This is either a coincidence or Cooper knows her religion very well. The line reads “---Transfiguration--- with a half breath”(67). The part where she says “with a half breath” could mean the last breath of the city of Hiroshima. It was not completely destroyed; it still has a last breath of hope. It could also be the last gasp of breath before the bomb hit. The rhyme scheme of the end words of the sestet is calmer than that of the octave. The end words of the sestet do not rhyme but when read together seem to have a flow to them, for example, smooth/ lap/ breath/ sleep/ love/ have. These end words are much more tranquil and less harsh sounding than in the octave. I found it intriguing how only the first four lines of the octave are the only ones that the end words rhyme, the rest of the sonnet is irregular in rhyme. I believe the reason Cooper did this is to enthrall or capture the reader’s attention at the very beginning of her work. She starts off with the traditional rhyme scheme. We acknowledge that the atomic bomb is a sign of modern warfare, “out with the old in with the new”. It is the same with her sonnet, she is making it more modern and her own. In essence she is trying to own her sonnet, much the same way man is trying to own God.
The last two lines of the sestet act as a couplet, “So godhead takes the difficult form of love. / Where is the little myth we used to have?” (67). Instead of that little myth about fearing God, we fear each other. The atomic bomb has instilled fear in man, fear of each other and what we can create. The little myth has left us wishing we could worry about a distant God, instead of the person next to us. The meter of the last line is iambic pentameter, which makes it more important, intense, and a foreshadowing of what is to come if man takes the place of God. I interpret the end of the sonnet to mean that God is on earth in the form of man, in the form of the atomic bomb. Cooper uses the sad events of Hiroshima, modern warfare, religious references and rhyme scheme to create awareness. Man has unwittingly allowed the decay of our moral fiber. Our species is capable of inflicting unexplained horrors on humanity. It is not the fear of God or his wrath that will undermine our existence. It will be the fear we have for each other.

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