READING THE POETRY OF SYLVIA PLATH CAN BE A DISTURBING EXPERIENCE.
I agree with the above statement as for me reading Plath's poetry was quite disturbing. The best poems to explain this experience are “Black Rook in Rainy Weather,” “Finisterre,” “Morning Song,” “Child” and of course, “Poppies in July”. There are poems that aren’t quite as depressing, such as “Pheasant”, but certainly an unsettled atmosphere dominates throughout Plath’s work.
The theme explored in “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” is the lack of inspiration and the depression that arises therefore. Plath is in a state of desperation, she describes her life as a “season of fatigue” (part of the poems psychic landscape) with “brief respites from fear of total neutrality.” Her life is empty as she perceives it, to the extent that the most banal things may serve inspiration to her tormented mind: “A minor light may still lean incandescent out of kitchen table or chair as if a celestial burning took possession of the most obtuse objects now and then…” It is comforting to realise that Plath is able to find inspiration in this, but the poem is simply permeated with her pain and fear of losing all motivation: everything is black, it is raining and the background setting seems dull. It is a fairly routine situation in which most people have probably found themselves at some stage. Therefore, it is likely to that readers can relate to it, but its only effect could be to provoke bad memories and make one feel uncomfortable. It is crucial that the reader attempts to exclude the thoughts of her tragic death and almost permanent state of severe depression when reading her work in order to give it a chance. However, it seems to just stare at you from the page. Also knowing that, all her work acquires a sinister context, which is indeed disturbing: if a person to bright and talented couldn't find a solution to her inner problems – what about the rest of us?
“Finisterre” is an imaginative masterpiece. But the themes that feature in it are very important too. Sylvia Plath is emphasising the failure of organised religion and therefore rejects the beneficial qualities of the hope that religion normally provides. To take away one’s last hope is deeply unsettling. The poet describes a grand statue of Our Lady of the Shipwrecked to whom a sailor is praying and also a peasant who came to pray. However, according to Plath, Our Lady “doesn’t hear what the sailor or the peasant is saying, she is in love with the beautiful forlmelessness of the sea.” The dismissal of hope is harsh, those who are meant to care - don't, according to Plath. What is one left with after one loses hope? Some other poets known for their gloomy outlook, like T.S. Eliot who also submerges the readers in the bleakness of reality, offered us hope in religion, but Plath failed to find refuge even in that. It is as if this is not only land’s end but it is also the end of hope, faith and all good things. She does, however, attempt to provide an alternative. The last line “These are our crepes. Eat them before they blow cold” calls the reader to make the most of the present moment but not think too deeply about life – this is emphasised by the very simple language used here. This may seem to come as a solution, but to me personally this conveys an even worse disturbance- running from the truth because it is so intolerable. As I said, the images in “Finisterre” are amazing. The cascade of rocks is describes as “fingers knuckled and rheumatic cramped on nothing,” rocks “hide their grudges under the water,” the waves are the “faces of the drowned,” the mist is made up of the souls of dead people. Everything described here is nothing, dead, or about to die, just like those seemingly doomed flowers at the edge of the cliff.
This poem kills any hope in the reader and, therefore, I believe it is very disturbing.
“Morning Song” offers us an insight into the relationship of a mother and a newborn baby. There are elements of joy in it, but even the arrival of a baby is full of negative emotions for the poet.
The baby is described as a “new statue in a drafty museum…” Why is a baby, whose life just started described as a statue? A statue is something withdrawn, distant, it even echoes the statue of “Finisterre.” A newborn is non of those things, but that is how Plath sees it. The museum is drafty. To most of us a museum is a collection of distinct pieces but to her life again appears through the prism of depression. This is nothing new to a Plath's reader but it is a new level of emotional disturbance when not even a new life, the birth of her own child was able to support her mood.
The feeling of distance is further developed through an image: “I’m not more your mother than the cloud that distils as mirror to reflect its own slow effacement at the wind’s hoard.” Paradoxically, Plath focuses on her own feelings of the lack of attention to herself: the cloud is the mother, who gives birth to a puddle – the baby, and the baby is similar to the mother, and therefore, her reflection. Probably Plath felt disconnected from the baby and felt that her own role is now diminished. I think that this is quite unnatural, although understandable. However, such a description of motherhood is disconcerting.
“Child” and “Poppies in July” are explicitly disturbing. In “Child” Plath feels unable to fulfil her dream of granting her children a happy life: “pool in which images should be grand and classical, not this troublesome wringing of hands, this dark ceiling without a star.” This is frightfully upsetting. The reader can just sense the pain and disappointment, feelings of failure and despair that the poet must be experiencing.
But “Poppies is July” is just immersed in her pain, or even the lack of it. The state she describes is profoundly terrifying. It exhausts her to watch poppies flickering, yet she masochistically continues to carefully observe them. She is not just depressed now. We are seeing a rather neurotic and paranoid attitude here which alternates with complete emotional obtundation. She perceives them as “hell flames,” she wishes for pain or death: “if I could bleed or sleep.” She is at a point where the mind is so shocked ant tired that it cannot even feel: “but colourless. Colourless.” I think this is the most honest and strongest description of excruciating, suffocating emotional crisis that I have ever read.
Overall, Plath’s poetry is full of ideas, mesmerising images, honest and deep thoughts with no sugar-coating. Almost all of these are destructively negative, which makes her poetry disturbing. She callously rejects hope, cruelly picks out the worst aspects in everything, her soul aches is fear of loss of those rare transient moments of inspiration that kept her alive.