Poetry analysis: Tulips, by Sylvia Plath by Radhamani Sarma

Poetry analysis: Tulips, by Sylvia Plath

by Radhamani Sarma

Sylvia Plath’s Tulips (1932-1963).
Sylvia Plath, the eminent British woman poet was born in the year 1932 in
Massachusetts ,unfortunately her life was cut short (committed suicide),
when she was hardly thirty, the author of immortal piece Bell Jar’, got
married to Ted Hughes, wrote wonderful poems during her short span
of life. This poem Tulips’ written after a miscarriage when she was
hospitalized, accroding to sources, is replete with myriad poetical nuances,
imagery and untold pathetic sentiments.
The opening lines adumbrate a contrast in the technique of presentation,
Contrast between the season i.e., winter,when it is ice- cold and the tulip,
the cup shaped flowers during spring, excitable flowers which stand
against the anticipated tranquility as a result of last flicker of life;
slowly the dying poet understands to be patient, serene, and peaceful,
the atmosphere of quietude, pitted against her corroding heart;
Sylvia plath is not only preparing her mind but also the readers for the
final days after gloom, by telling how she even has donated her clothes
and belongings.

“The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons”.

The imagery such as Tulips and whiteness and the snowing white
reveal that the dying poet visualizes another world of transformation,
already she is nobody’,’ I have nothing to do with explosions’
what do these explosions mean? Does she mean to bombshells
and war cries? or does she refer to her bouts of angry feelings
and pangs of depression? What ever my be the situation, she
has renounced everything and her body in the hands of the
surgeons awaiting the final call . Sylvia plath is at once pathetic
and placid, her lying on “this bed, these hands” brings us an
immediacy of situation. When I read these lines I was made
to believe that I was almost in the presence of hospitalized Plath.

In a minute way she has recorded in a true to depiction, how the
hospital functioning, how her head was positioned and how the
Nurses passing and ” doing thing in their way “and the imagery
drawn is so realistic that one remembers it forever.
” The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.”

In a high poetic vision, with a note of ease, she uses the term pass
and “they pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps” a very
beautiful visual imagery indeed.
In the next paragraph, she refers in a step by step way of how her
body is subjected to numbness and how is sick of life and she is
like a baggage; The comparison of her body, herself lying in the bed
seen in the white walls of her room to that of pebbles being tended to
is remarkable. In another way it is a psychological treatment, as
smoothening as the white pebbles are, preparing her mind for a
transformation into next world
“My body is a pebble to them; they tend it as water
tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.”
In a mood of empathy and affection for her husband and child
projecting out of the family photo she gets a smile of them
perhaps smiles reflective of sadness, a sign of leaving them,
a premonition that she has to bid adieu to them from the bond.
” My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.”
In the next stanza, she becomes a nun after renunciating all her
Cherished belongings “sink out of sight” and now she is irredeemably
Sinking. “Her thirty years of life is like a cargo boat “she let slip.
How can anyone expect amore poignant imagery than this! The last
Phase of her life, the irredeemable sinking boat and the resurgent water
Surrounding her neck all these drive home a picterque identity.
“I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.”
In her subconscious mind there is an awareness that give an emphatic
Inkling to her that her days are numbered, hence with no attachment
She lets go this boat, this body, this living.

In the following paragraph the dying poet mentions she wants freedom and peacefulness, absolute, no flowers, why should she mention no flowers.
The flower imagery mentions no more blossoming only withering stage,(of her life).
The passage reaches a poignant point, when she wants no flowers but
Only peacefulness which is a gem, rare jewel of” trinkets”. The lines reveal
the agony of dying soul, the welcome release from this bondage, this
In a sudden ironic twist, the poetess, distances the red flowers that
Seem to breathe, life. She wants them to negate her life, on the contrary
the red tulip symbolize spring of jollity, passion and rejuvenation of life.
The repeated color of red throughout this stanza reveals that at once the
throbbing passion and in the last stanza the same red turns out to be
her enemy. Outside it is snowing white, inside the white walls with the
lights on, staring on her, and the red tulips” upsetting me with their
sudden tongues and color” create a highly evocative contrasting vision.

“Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I hve no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.”
The loneliness she undergoes in the hospital, with her silent
friends ( tulips) who watch her, she
out of empathy, placed
herself in a “cut-paper shadow, position, bewails no face,
already effaced herself. In a final contrast she opines that the
tulips kill her slowly” eat my oxygen”.
The setting being the hospital, the action veers round the tulips,
the window, the dying poet’s feeling of incarceration, now the
tulips veering around the air like “a loud noise”and the once upon
calm air now,
“Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention “..
The opening stanza she mentions that “it is winter here” and in
the concluding stanza , a warming sensation is felt and
“The walls also, seem to be warming themselves”. Sylvia Plath
is all admiration, anger, for the red tulips, their blossom is her final day.
“The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes”
The open close functions out of love for her and there is a note
of warmth in the final paragraph and concludes with the salt water
as the sea which she tastes
“The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.” It could be construed
as the twist in the stanza for a sudden feeling of warmth and love
for life which is beyond perception.

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