Sunday, July 11, 2004

A Further Look: Sylvia Plath

So, I've explained my love of those poets who I feel close to both in spirit and mentality. I'd like to now take you down the journey of Sylvia's own words. Here is the printed poem Lady Lazarus from her Ariel collection.


I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it----

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Sylvia compares her own suffering to that of the Jewish people in the Holocaust. She feels the pain deeply and shows it with poetic power here.

Peel off the napkin
0 my enemy.
Do I terrify?----

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

She sees herself a decaying shell of a human, empty and hallow. It is a deep depression that causes this feeling, usually spurred by a great loss or isolation, both of which she had been enduring.

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

Sylvia is known to have attempted suicide at least 2 times prior to her successful suicide in 1963. One was committed under her family home's porch and the poison were sleeping pills. Having taken too many, her body rejected the pills. The only scar she bared from this was a small scar on her cheek from scrapping herself on the pavement when pulled out. This scar is prevalent in her legend, Ted mentioning often in reference to her as well. The other attempt was when she tried to drown herself in the sea. She was washed ashore. Sylvia did go through electric shock treatment after the first two attempts to no avail.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

She sees herself as a spectacle to others, a type of sideshow act. She again reveals how low her self esteem has become.

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Here are the two attempts described above.

Is an art, like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

These are some of the most simple and true words written by Sylvia Plath. She looks at death as just another form of expression, not as the reality that it is. This is common psychology for a suicidal person.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

She is feeling trapped, walled up. She feels this makes the suicide easier to achieve, which sadly it did.

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart----
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

Here's another allusion back to the Holocaust metaphor. She feels electric, excited even at the prospect of a new challenge. Sylvia was a well-known perfectionist and hated to see the failure of any of her works, including suicide (again seeing it as a work of art).

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

I think she talks to a combination of men here. Ted is surely one of them, but her former lover/teacher Richard Sasson and her father seem to play a role as well.

Ash, ash ---
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there----

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia rises like a phoenix, born again out of fire and ash as this mythic bird is. She is bitter at the male sex. She shows them great contempt.


This is sadly Sylvia's most telling poem, I believe (I would rate Daddy as the second most autobiographical). Take my interreptation as you will, or make one yourself. But, let no man say Sylvia's poems were trivial.

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