Sylvia Plath


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Showing 1 - 10 of 13 annotations associated with Plath, Sylvia

Two Views of a Cadaver Room

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Jan-23-2013
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is divided into two formally identical halves of eleven lines each. The first part describes a visit to a "dissecting room," a Gross Anatomy laboratory. The female visitor dispassionately observes the four male cadavers, "already half unstrung" by dissection, and the students, "white-smocked boys," who work on them. She observes the fetuses in bottles, "snail-nosed babies," which are given a kind of power and fascination absent from the cadavers. Finally, "he," one of the students, hands her the "cut-out heart" of his cadaver.

This disturbing valentine is indirectly elaborated on in the second half of the poem, which describes Brueghel’s painting The Triumph of Death (1562), a "panorama of smoke and slaughter." The speaker focuses on a pair of lovers who, in the lower right corner of the painting, seem entirely unaware of the horrors around them. Enclosed by their love, they form a "little country," admittedly "foolish" and "delicate," but spared from encroaching death--if not by love itself, then at least by the arresting effect of art’s image, for desolation is "stalled in paint."

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Childless Woman

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker, the "childless woman" of the poem, describes the way infertility has rendered her body aimless and horrible. Her womb, like a dried-out plant, "rattles its pod." Her body is a knot, lines turned back on themselves instead of leading to the future, making it unnatural, "Ungodly as a child’s shriek." All her body can produce is the blood of menstruation, which signifies her own death, and a surreal and horrifying landscape "gleaming with the mouths of corpses." (18 lines)

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Tulips

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this nine-stanza, sixty-three line poem, the speaker articulates her process of recovery from surgery in terms of the image of "excitable" tulips that interrupt her "winter" sojourn in the hospital where she has "given [her] name and [her] day-clothes up to the nurses / And [her] history to the anesthetist and [her] body to the surgeons." The images in the poem link one stanza to the other (the nurses like "gulls," her body "a pebble," her family "little smiling hooks," herself "a thirty-year-old cargo boat").

The image of the eye appears throughout the poem as well. The speaker is herself the pupil of a huge eye whose lids are the pillow and the sheet; in another stanza she finds herself existing between the "eye of the sun" and the "eyes of the tulips," herself without a face, but beginning to see beyond her own pain.

The speaker has wanted only quiet and emptiness and is agitated by the presence of the tulips, whose "redness talks to [her] wound" and "weigh [her] down" as she is being "watched" and nearly suffocated ("The vivid tulips eat my oxygen") by them. The tulips, dangerous as "some great African cat," remind the speaker of her heart, a "bowl" that blooms red "out of sheer love of me," and realizes that the tulips call her, ultimately, back to "a country far away as health."

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Face Lift

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Coulehan, Jack
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

After a face lift operation, the protagonist tells the poet, "I’m all right." She describes her voyage into anesthesia, where "Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard . . . . " Afterward, after the dressings come off, she sees that she has grown backwards, "I’m twenty, / Broody and in long skirts on my first husband’s sofa . . . . " "Old sock-face" is gone--no loss! She wakes, "swaddled in gauze, / Pink and smooth as a baby."

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Lady Lazarus

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita
Chen, Irene
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A 30 year-old woman describes with chilling power her three suicide attempts. She compares herself to a cat with nine lives and to a concentration camp victim; yet "dying / is an art . . . / I do it exceptionally well." The doctors/men that save her are the enemy, and she warns them to "beware."

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Three Women

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: May-31-1999
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is a long poem, subtitled "A Poem for Three Voices," and originally written for radio broadcast. It consists of three intertwining interior monologues, contextualized by a dramatic setting: "A Maternity Ward and round about." The three women of the title are patients, and each describes a different experience.

The First Voice is a (presumably) married woman who gives birth and takes her baby home during the course of the poem. The Second, a secretary, has a miscarriage, not her first, and the Third, a college student, gives birth after an unwanted pregnancy, and gives the baby up for adoption.

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Heavy Women

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-08-1998
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem, spoken by an outside observer, produces an idealized image of pregnancy, of "heavy women" in a state of serene satisfaction with their state, "beautifully smug / As Venus," while in "each weighty stomach" a secret is developing in the dark: "the small, new heart." These pregnant women, though, are suspiciously unreal. Plath likens them to works of art, Madonnas attended by cherubs in Renaissance paintings. As ideals, these women "step among the archetypes" of motherhood.

By invoking these archetypes, especially in the pregnant women's hoods of "Mary-blue," Plath also hints at the pain associated with all motherhood: "the axle of winter" which "grinds round," and which will bring the star, and the wise men, and also the likelihood of suffering and loss. While the calm pregnant women are far away from it now, as they wait, Plath implicitly warns that pregnancy is a temporary state and that what follows is irrevocable and can be terrible. (21 lines)

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Barren Woman

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-03-1998
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker, the "barren woman" of the poem, describes her state as empty. She likens herself to a deserted space, a "museum without statues," at its center a fountain which, rather than issuing life, recycles its water, which "sinks back into itself." She imagines herself as a mother, but recognizes that "nothing can happen." The only one who pays attention is the moon, silently but ineffectually trying to soothe her. (10 lines)

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Old Ladies' Home

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Sep-15-1997
Belling, Catherine
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem's omniscient speaker describes the inhabitants of an "Old Ladies' Home" with bleak and dehumanizing detachment. In the first of the three seven-line stanzas, the fragile elderly women appear "like beetles" who "creep out" of the institution's buildings for the day. Their habits and relationships are observed in the second stanza: knitting, and children who are "distant and cold as photos," with "grandchildren nobody knows."

Presaging the arrival of death in the last stanza, the ladies wear black, "sharded" in it, but even the "best black fabric" is stained red and green by age. In the evening they are called in by the nurses, "ghosts" who "hustle them off the lawn" to their beds, which resemble coffins, and where Death waits.

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The Bell Jar

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Feb-17-1997
Schaffer, Amanda
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this autobiographical novel, Plath's protagonist, Esther Greenwood, sinks into a profound depression during the summer after her third year of college. Esther spends the month of June interning at a ladies' fashion magazine in Manhattan, but despite her initial expectations, is uninterested in the work and increasingly unsure of her own prospects.

Esther grows disenchanted with her traditional-minded boyfriend, Buddy Willard, a medical student who “had won a prize for persuading the most relatives of dead people to have their dead ones cut up, whether they needed it or not . . . . ” Returning home to a New England suburb, Esther also discovers that she's been rejected from a Harvard summer school fiction course. Her relationship with her mother is painfully strained.

Suddenly, Esther finds herself unable to sleep or read or concentrate. She undergoes a few unsuccessful sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr. Gordon, as well as terrifying electroshock therapy. She becomes increasingly depressed, thinks obsessively about suicide, then attempts to kill herself by crawling into the cellar and taking a bottle of sleeping pills: "red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down." Esther vomits, however, and so, does not die. She is taken to a city hospital and then, through the financial intervention of a benefactor, to a private psychiatric institution.

There, Esther begins gradually to recover. She enjoys the pleasant country-club surroundings and develops a closeness with her analytically-oriented psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan. Esther also undergoes a more successful regimen of shock therapy, after which she feels the "bell jar" of depression lifting.

The stigma of attempted suicide and hospitalization seems to free Esther to behave less traditionally; defiantly, she loses her virginity to a man she's met on the steps of Harvard's Widener Library. At the novel's end, Esther is preparing to leave the psychiatric hospital and is describing herself, optimistically, as transformed.

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