Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
- Lady Lazarus extends the Holocaust metaphor even further here. She imagines that in this, her third death, she has been burned alive in a concentration camp crematorium.
- She imagines a Nazi looking through the crematorium after it has burned its victims; there's only "ash, ash." There is no flesh or bone.
- There are few remnants of the human beings burned alive inside: just a wedding ring and a gold filling. The Nazis used to turn whatever remains they could find into soap (we can't help but experience revulsion over here), and Lady L imagines that the Nazi sees the future soap he will make out of these ashes and traces of human bodies. Ugh.
- Lady Lazarus's tone here starts to change. Earlier in the poem, she seemed pretty powerless. Everyone was watching her, or so she imagined. But now that she's dead, she imagines herself in a position of power. Instead of being watched by Nazis, she herself is watching the Nazis poke around in the crematorium. She is the seer, not the object to be seen.
- And she seems to be building to a crescendo in these lines; she says "beware / beware"—as if she is about to warn the Nazis of something. Plus, Herr Doktor has transformed into Herr God, Herr Lucifer. In other words, she's comparing this doctor to both God and the devil—all male figures who seem to have power over her in some way. At least for now.
- These bewares, by the way, may be a reference to Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan," which features the lines "And all who heard should see them there, / And all should cry, Beware! Beware! / His flashing eyes, his floating hair!"
- Lady Lazarus just might be comparing herself to Kubla Khan—the wild man with flashing eyes—in this famous Romantic poem.
- The speaker's voice is taking on some serious strength here. She's straight-up warning God and the devil. What exactly does she have planned?
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
- This is what we've been waiting for: Lady Lazarus rises again. Boom goes the dynamite. Take that, Herr Doktor.
- She imagines that she's been burnt to death by the Nazis, but here she resurrects. She stays true to her name. But unlike the Lazarus in the Bible, she doesn't need Jesus (or anyone) to make her resurrection happen. She does it all on her own.
- She may share her name with Lazarus the Bible character, but here, Lady L seems a lot more like the phoenix, a mythical bird that bursts into flames and then is reborn out of its ashes.
- And then, once she has resurrected, what does she do? She "eat[s] men like air." Does this mean that she eats men as if they were nothing, like air is nothing? Do they taste like nothing to her? Does she eat only unsubstantial men? Does this line refer to men and only men, or does it encompass women, too (as in, mankind)?
- And why does she eat these men? Is she hungry? (Probably not.) Is this her way of gaining power and control? Is this a way for her to control the meaning of her own death? Perhaps she refuses to be killed by the Nazis again in her next life, and vows to take control of her death and plan it her way.
- There are lots of ambiguities at the end of this poem, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation, so get cracking, folks.
- But if we at Shmoop just had to tell you our most favorite interpretation, we'd tell you this: in this poem, death offers Lady L the possibility of control—and that control is what Lady Lazarus is really looking for.
- But hey, Shmoopers, just keep in mind that Lady Lazarus is a mentally ill, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad role model.
- If you want to roll with her, roll with her awesome rhymes and images; leave death at the door.