SYLVIA PLATH

“Now this particular girl

During a ceremonious April walk

With her latest suitor

Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck

By the birds’ irregular babel

And the leaves’ litter.

 

By this tumult afflicted, she

Observed her lover’s gestures unbalance the air,

His gait stray uneven

Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower;

She judged petals in disarray,

The whole season,  sloven.

 

How she longed for winter then! —

Scrupulously austere in its order

Of white and black

Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,

And heart’s frosty discipline

Exact as a snowflake.

 

But here — a burgeoning

Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits

Into vulgar motley —

A treason not to be borne; let idiots

Reel giddy in bedlam spring:

She withdrew neatly.

 

And round her house she set

Such a barricade of barb and check

Against mutinous weather

As no mere insurgent man could hope to break

With curse, fist, threat

Or love, either.”

 

Sylvia Plath (27th October 1932 -11th February 1963) – American poet, novelist and short story writer who untimely ended her prodigious life by committing suicide.

When I first read the poem “Spinster” by Sylvia Plath I was struck by the harshness of expression which hits the heart and mind of the readers with missile precision. I read and re-read the verse and as the number of readings increased so did the interpretive scope. “Spinster” is a multi-layered reflection of the poet’s mind, her vain search for a changeless, unchallenged order in the midst of a natural disorderliness that is intrinsic to creation.


“Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck

By the birds’ irregular babel

And the leaves’ litter.”

It is rather strange and pitiable that the construct of the mind is influenced by our way of looking at things. Thus, the “birds’ babel” becomes intolerably disturbing and the “leaves’ litter” irregular and disruptive which otherwise may form pictures of soothing delight.

“By this tumult afflicted, she

Observed her lover’s gestures unbalance the air,

His gait stray uneven

Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower;

She judged petals in disarray,

The whole season,  sloven.”

 

Sylvia chooses her words with such meticulous ease as though plucking out all the blooms off a bouquet one after the other with unfailing attention so that at the end of the exercise the thorns loom large and prickly sharp heightening the deliberate and sadly successful attempt at abandoning all facets of gaiety that is synonymous with spring, the forcefully rigid endeavour to extinguish the flames of passion that ignite the hearts of the lovers and an equally morbid satisfaction in embracing an all-encompassing barrenness that sucks all colours off the landscape of life.

The phrases “unbalance the air”, “gait stray uneven”, “rank wilderness”, “petals in disarray” and the “whole season, sloven” are suggestive, nay, emphatic of a jaundiced eye which has forgotten to soak in the beauty and brightness of youth and romance.

“How she longed for winter then! —

Scrupulously austere in its order

Of white and black

Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,

And heart’s frosty discipline

Exact as a snowflake.”

A turbulent mind which has decisively turned away from the joyfulness of existence finds quaint solace in the austere array of bleak and blanched hard and cold casement of winter – in its frosty chill the exactitude and restraints of discipline where sentiments are just frivolous weaknesses of vanity, a mere folly to be reined strongly in check. The metaphoric use of snowflakes to underscore the compulsive confinement of human mind has a shuddering impact on readers – can a divine play of season really be indicative of such cold blooded cruelty – a startling thought!

“But here — a burgeoning

Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits

Into vulgar motley —

A treason not to be borne; let idiots

Reel giddy in bedlam spring:

She withdrew neatly.”

There is a fine line of demarcation between renunciation and withdrawal. It is a depraved soul that denies the sunny winks that filter through the closed doors and windows of the heart and mind. Ironically, it is the deprived desires that lead one to believe that liveliness and spirit are displays of vulgar pursuits, “a treason not to be borne” and a proof of idiocy. Again it’s a “bedlam spring” which is almost a condemnation of life, a strangulation of soul and a stark nullification of the Creator Himself. “She withdrew neatly” sets the tone of finality, a conclusive exit to the background.

“And round her house she set

Such a barricade of barb and check

Against mutinous weather

As no mere insurgent man could hope to break

With curse, fist, threat

Or love, either.”

It is here that I am goaded to ponder whether there are definite traces of masochism in denial. The barbed, barricaded domain of celibacy – a forced asylum, a self-imposed state of solitude – itself is a silent reproach, a quiet mutiny, a receding into a shell of self-exorcism which is impermeable, invincible and inviolable.

I wonder whether it is a poetic probe into her own mind that the poetess indulged. An unfortunate manifestation of her emotional instability and inner turmoil which prodded her to versify her disturbed thoughts in such rude and shocking manner that leaves the readers shaken and speechless. Isn’t it odd how turbulent emotions always bring to paper such exquisite creations of perverted beauty of literary worth? It is difficult to dissociate the author from his or her writes. It is difficult to disentangle one’s own self from the mesmeric pull of the almost cunning word craft. Isn’t she talking to herself? Ain’t I perceiving my own self in her pained ponderings?

It is this mysterious tug that is so engaging, so bewitching, so bewildering.

It is impossible to bind Sylvia Plath in one blog. I shall come back with her again and again and again…

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About gc1963

A working woman with interests in reading, writing, music, poetry and fine arts.

6 responses »

  1. Deeptangshu Das says:

    How wonderfully you have analyzed the poem!! As you rightly pointed out “her vain search for a changeless, unchallenged order in the midst of a natural disorderliness that is intrinsic to creation.” This defines Sylvia Plath’s poetry! Sylvia had introduced a new style of poetry! Keep posting!

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  2. Sneha says:

    Dear Geetashree,

    Beautifully astounding words on Sylvia Plath. The way you explain her writing and more specifically; poetry is simply superb. I’d be a great and avid reader of her verse right since I studied American literature in my second year college. I identify, and feel that most women at some level connect with the experiences that she has been through. For starters, she was deeply in this hyper romantic notion of love right through the time she’d been with fellow poet and her husband Ted Hughes. Discrepancies later manifested in their relationship with Hughes settling for another lady. Plath had always been an eccentric woman who listened to her “other side” more often. Infact, when she committed suicide, she had actually kept a doctors number on the side table thinking that she’d be saved; but alas ! it did not happen. If you read John Berryman’s poems, you’d find same traces of sordid confessional ism, albeit from a man. Many of Plaths poems deal with themes of darkness, love, suicide, mother-daughter relationship, feminist thought and ideology but this is obviously not an exhaustive list. Very well written. Keep up the good work !

    Warmly,
    Sneha

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  3. সবুজ মোহাইমিনুল says:

    nice post Geetashree
    it’s my first visit in ur blog……i was just moving my eyes through your posts and i’m simply amazed …..very well writing…..very well writing….plz try to post regularly
    thanks

    Like

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