The Disquieting Muses

October 18, 2010

As I went through the readings for tomorrow’s class, I was really intrigued by Plath’s “The Disquieting Muses” because of the imagery it creates and the emotions it evokes.  A chilling and disheartening poem, I found the juxtaposition of the mother and the three shadowy “Godmothers” to be fascinating.  The speaker is full of resentment, angry about her mother’s absence and the disconnect she feels with her.  To emphasize this, the start of the poem is filled with a number of negative word choices: illbred, disfigured, unsightly, unwisely, unasked.  It appears the speaker is also resentful of her forced replacement – the three “mouthless, eyeless” and “bald” women who “stand their vigil in gowns of stone” (Plath 50).  I’m interpreting these “Godmothers” as not being alive and active at all, but rather the source of anxiety in the speaker.  They are her “muses,” so to speak, and they haunt her with reminders of what her own mother was not capable of doing.

I looked at the notes provided in the back of the book and saw that for this poem, Plath pulled her inspiration (and poem title) from a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, called The Disquieting Muses.  Here is the piece:

As you can see, de Chirico has painted three mannequins draped in white cloth, their shadows and the shadows of other buildings/objects casting across a flat surface.  The painting is incredibly eerie; the mannequins are places in awkward positions and do not have faces.  The lighting is very unsettling in that it is so bright that it casts such sharp contrasting shadows in the background.  To me this leaves a very ghostly feel to the piece – a similar feeling I get from reading Plath’s poem.  In the note at the back of the book, Plath explains how the mannequins “suggest a 20th century version of other sinister trios of women – the Three Fates, the witches in Macbeth, de Quincey’s sisters of madness.”  After looking at this painting and rereading the poem a few times, I really get a sense of surrealism from the Godmothers and their role in this poem.  Their haunting presence is incredibly problematic to the speaker because it seems to be a reminder/the source of frustration in the speaker.

Also, I was trying to find the BBC interview with Plath that is referenced in the back of the book but instead stumbled upon The Poetry Archive page on Plath.  It includes a few of her readings, “The Applicant” (which we’re reading for Thursday) is on there.

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