Friday, 31 October 2014

Sylvia Plath's most surprising metaphor

and what it does for the poem where it occurs.


  1. The Applicant

    «First, are you our sort of a person?
    Do you wear
    A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
    A brace or a hook,
    Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

    Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
    How can we give you a thing?
    Stop crying.
    Open your hand.
    Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

    To fill it and willing
    To bring teacups and roll away headaches
    And do whatever you tell it.
    Will you marry it?
    It is guaranteed

    To thumb shut your eyes at the end
    And dissolve of sorrow.»

    I was not able to choose a single metaphor, since any I chose always seemed to be incomplete. Instead, I chose an excerpt of the poem The Applicant, where we can take a small peak inside Plath's mind - without trying to be presumptuous or assume we are able to feel exactly what she felt or meant at that time.

    This particular excerpt stroke me by the black humor and irony in the poets' words as, at same time, there is truth behind them, a melody and a rhythm we cannot overlook. These words, the breaks, the rhythm, they all have a purpose. As we sink into the poem we get trapped in a melody we cannot get out of, or we'll get completely lost and miss the pain of the entanglement with the void.

    It is as if the poet was interviewing someone (therefore the title of the poem, The Applicant), and that someone had no flaws - in the sense of lack of features and sensibility. For the author, someone with no flaws is someone empty, someone who hadn't felt pain is someone incomplete; someone not worthy of receiving anything. This person in particular has an empty hand (someone empty, or with no substance), and she chooses to give him a hand, but a hand this person won't know how to use, except for meaningless acts. This emptiness strikes her as unworthiness, as if people without pain in their lives lack the ability to feel anything of importance. Furthermore, if this person marries (makes a union) with this full of meaning hand - though meaningless to him - at the end, will only dissolve because of the sorrow of not being able to feel - having his eyes closed (forced blindness).

    On the other hand, it can also mean she married this empty applicant, gave him her hand and, at the end, she forcibly shut her eyes trying to be like him ("innocence is bliss"), and ended up dying of sorrow, clogged up with feelings she could no longer express; or by the lack of understanding of those feelings by him.

    This excerpt is the starting point, it is where she chooses an applicant who does not understand her (as her father didn’t), someone with an empty head which she tries to change by giving him a waterproof, shatterproof, bombproof suit, good enough to be buried in. She ends up marrying him as a last resort, changing herself into nothing more than a functional, empty, housewife, who has nothing wrong. Just like an empty shell, the naked empty shell she first interviewed.

  2. “Ceiling without a star.” – “Child”

    Este verso que escolhi é do poema “Child”. Todo o poema interessou-me mas quando chegado ao último verso percebi de como sem este “Ceiling without a star” todo o poema perderia o seu poder.
    “Child” é um poema de uma mãe para o seu filho. Ao longo do poema é muitas vezes mencionado o “clear eye” que a criança tem, uma visão pura do Mundo que o sujeito poético tem como intenções encher “(…) with color and ducks(…)”, dar à criança todos os brinquedos e toda a felicidade que ela possa desejar.
    Existe uma energia positiva ao longo de quase todo o poema, todos os versos repletos de imagens de alegria refletem o Mundo desejado da mãe para o seu filho. Mas é quando o último verso que toda a realidade volta, uma existência perturbadora , ansiosa e triste. O sujeito poético compara a sua vida a um “Ceiling without a star”, o pior que puderia acontecer à vida da criança. Ao imaginar uma vida bela para ele , de repente ela lembrou-se que a vida não é ilimitada , mas sim definida por limites ( “ceiling" ) e dor. Pensa ela muitas vezes que essa dor é causada à criança por ela, o que a deixa insegura e triste.
    Para concluir, acrescento uma informação que acho relevante para a compreensão deste poema. Foi escrito depois do nascimento da segunda criança de Plath, Nicholas. Duas semanas depois ela cometeu suicídio. Este poema acaba por ser um espelho da mente de Plath e da sua condição mental na altura.

  3. My favorite metaphor is in the last stanza of the poem Lady Lazarus:

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

    Here, the theme of resurrection is resumed by the poetic subject who “rises from the ashes”, but what is most interesting is what she does after she resuscitates: “I eat men like air”. For me, there is here a very strong female empowerment implicit in the contrast between me the woman, and them, the “men I eat”: although she was not able to stand for herself while living, death offers her a fresh start and a renewed strength to devour everything which lead to her submission, to her weakness and fragility, to her suffering and dying- she now eats men so easily as she breathes, the world is now at her feet, no fear, no human can stop her. While the whole poem talks of surrendering to the pain, to the impossibility of movement forward, an imposed, consuming stillness before the other who twistedly enjoys her misery as a spectacle (“The peanut-crunching crowd/Shoves in to see/Them unwrap me hand and foot/The big strip tease /Gentlemen, ladies”, the last stanza is one of hope and strength, of movement and control, even if they can only be achieved after the complete destruction of the self. Now that she has died and been in the worst possible place, she has nothing to loose, she has all the power and the strength which come from her own ashes, her own fragments of old self.

  4. When researching Sylvia Plath I came across a collection of her drawings displayed in London in 2011. I wanted to share this discovery and I think this post about Plath's metaphors was the right place.
    I have been reading Plath for many years yet I never knew of these poems, made with pencil, pen and paper, even if not with words.