The Vacuum- Howard Nemerov


The house is quiet now

 [The vacuum cleaner is not being used anymore, so the house it quiet]

The vacuum cleaner sulks in the corner closet

[Sulks: to be in a mood. But in here it means that the vacuum is again not being used]

Its bag limp, as a stopped lung, its mouth

[Bag: the material bag that collects the dust.  

Limp: lacking rigidity. ‘The bag as a lung’ is a simile]

Grinning into the floor, maybe at my

[The bottom of the vacuum there is an opening that looks like a mouth.

‘Mouth grinning’ is a metaphor]

Slovenly life, my dog-dead youth

[Slovenly: Stinky and messy. His youth is as dead as a dog. In other words he is old]


I’ve lived this was long enough [again old]

But when my old woman died, her soul

[Refers to his wife]

Went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear

[He believes the vacuum cleaner possesses his wife’s soul]

To see the bag, swell like a belly, eating the dust

[Swell: expand, get filled. He doesn’t wan to see the vacuum working.]

And the woolen mice, and begin to howl

[Woolen mice: Large dust balls.  When the vacuum works it makes this loud noise like howling]


Because there is old filth everywhere

[The place is consumed with dirt]

She used to crawl in the corner and under the stairs

[Crawl: walking on hands, knees and toes

In other words, she cleaned everything!]

I know now how life is cheap as dirt

[Is a simile for: life has no meaning now he lost his wife]

And still the hungry, angry heart

[Hungry cause he miss and long for her, and he’s angry at the loss. When you loose something often you are angry]

Hangs on and howls, biting at air

[His heart howling and biting, is a metaphor. When he says bites the air he’s thinking of the vacuum since it does that too]


Tone: Anger


Subject:  The vacuum cleaner


Theme  His wife as a vacuum cleaner


Poet:  Howard Nemrov


Speaker: The husband of the dead wife


A little Description of the poem:  this man was married to a woman who loved cleaning. He’s not young anymore when his wife dies, leaving the house as dirty, messy and filthy as ever. Despite the mess, he doesn’t want the vacuum cleaner to start working because it reminds him of his wife’s energetic life. So he keeps it not working in a corner closet, to represent the stillness of his wife’s death. He gives the vacuum cleaner a lot of human characteristics to gain this prospect.


Style of poem: It has 3 versus, and the lines don’t rhyme. It’s a mixture of personification, similes and metaphors.