Plath’s Dance

December 5, 2010

Before this class, the only Plath poem I had “studied” was “Edge,” and that was back in high school. We did–for lack of a better adjective–a rather reductive reading of it, and then it was over, and I said goodbye to Plath. Until now.

Plath’s creative drive was immense; writing so many excellent poems in  just a short span of time (two years) must have been exhausting, and maybe even exhilarating for her. Or maybe it was just a release of her energy into her craft; maybe it was therapeutic for her. It likely could have been all these things.

Reading and studying Plath’s work this semester has been challenging and rewarding, and for both of these reasons (among many others) she’s been my favorite of  the contemporary poets we’ve examined this semester. I had a hard time deciding which poem of hers I wanted to talk about–it being a close call between the wonderfully strange “Zoo-Keeper’s Wife” and the somewhat vague “The Night Dances.” I’ve decided to talk about the latter.

After reading Helen’s post about her thoughts on “what poetry is,” I knew that there was some element in Plath’s poem “The Night Dances” that made me have one of those moments where i felt that “hand to hand” connection–that particularity and personal union that I felt was deeply ingrained in my conscious emotional experience. It’s not something i can really place my finger on, unless I were to say “oh yea, well I feel that she’s questioning the reason behind her inability to contain another’s spiritual essence within herself.” And in a sense that is what i think this poem is about;  but I also feel that there’s something lost in the translation of that emotion into my words. Plath has translated that feeling a thousand times more successfully than I could translate it in any kind of rhetorical language of my own.

And maybe that’s an essential part of what poetry is. I really agree with what Helen has said in her post. In my interpretation of what she’s arguing, it seems that she’s putting forth that idea that poetry is more about communication than representation. I’m not sure that Mr. Heaney would agree with her, but I certainly do. And why can’t it be both representation–symbolic and otherwise–of some essential human experience, and, a communication of that experience? Maybe one doesn’t necessitate the other, but I don’t think that either is mutually exclusive. I think part of the beauty of poetry is that it stretches the limitations of language’s ability to represent an often abstract and yet worldly human experience in a way that communicates some intangible emotional core (contained within the semantics of that language). Poetry necessitates communication; if nothing is semantically understood (by a reader) within the words the poet uses to translate his or her experience, than nothing is gained. Perhaps a second part of that beauty inherent in poetry is our willingness (perhaps unconsciously) to search for that abstract element of emotional communication.

In a way, my brief analysis of Plath’s poem “The Night Dances” is reductive. I think that by trying to represent my own emotional connection to the poem, I am, in a way, performing (not to use too many engl 295 terms) a representation of a representation, and within that space–between the translation of language, there is some essence of the beauty, and perhaps that beautiful ambiguity in the poem that is lost. I’m opening up a gap. I’ve been trying to think of an analogy to describe what I’m thinking, but I’m struggling. The closest thing I can think of is if Plath’s poem is a chord (as in a combination of musical notes), then my understanding and interpretation of her poem is like pulling apart those notes and playing them at separate times, and in a random order. The same sound wouldn’t be communicated–sure the notes would be essentially the same, but the effect, and the “way” in which you heard them would be different. And there would be an acoustic gap between each of the notes too.

However, just because there is something lost in my written explication (and translation) of the poem, doesn’t mean there is that same loss of beauty in what I feel when I read Plath’s poem. It’s my inability to recreate that emotional communication through language that signifies the loss of the poem’s true “essence;” but by the same token, my desire to express what I feel about the poem proves the beauty of the poem in the first place; it proves that there must be some aspect of the poem’s essence which compels me to want to try and describe my emotional connection to it. In that sense, the poem’s communication has succeeded; it is beautiful because it communicates to me some compelling and abstract emotion that I struggle to put into words.

(sorry, that was a really disorganized jumble of thoughts)

I think that last seven lines of this poem communicated to me this strange and resonant feeling. Plath writes, “Why am I given/These lamps, these planets/ Falling like blessings, like flakes/ Six-sided, white/ On my eyes, my lips, my hair/ Touching and melting./ Nowhere.”

To address the notion of representation, I think Plath’s use of language here represents an the abstract emotion of loss, and a questioning of the fleeting nature of life. Plath has compared these physical things–the snow flakes, lamps, even planets–to the abstract memory of her lover’s “gestures” and her memory of what it feels like to be in love. She writes about these lost feelings when she writes that “The comets/ have such a space to cross,/ Such coldness, forgetfulness.” I find the beauty in this poem lies in both the language’s ability to represent abstract emotion through physical things in the material world, and also in that way the language communicates to me some strange, maybe even unconscious feeling that i too have felt Plath’s question–that I’ve also felt the lamps, planets, and snowflakes falling and melting away, captured in that moment only. I don’t think that poetry’s communication–that “hand reaching out to another hand” feeling–and poetry’s representation through language are mutually exclusive terms. But when it comes down to it, that “hand holding,” that immediacy of connection, comes through most directly in poetry’s ability to use language in a way that communicates to the reader that resonant emotion.

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Questions about The Moon and the Yew Tree

October 28, 2010

So I’ve been reading Plath’s poem, The Moon and the Yew Tree, and I wanted to do a short analysis of it. Problem is, the poem’s downright tricky, and I have many many many more questions than I have analytical thoughts about it. But I’ll give it a shot anyway. The first thing I did was look up pictures of yew trees on Google images. Surprisingly, nearly half of the first fifteen-to-twenty pictures of yew trees were photos of them in graveyards. This seemed odd; I mean, are graveyards their natural habitat or something?

This prompted some quick Wikipedia research, where I found out in fact they are very commonly found in graveyards and near churches, and that in some ancient traditions, they represent life transcending death. I just picture Plath hanging out around this old church and graveyard at  night, looking up at the yew tree and further to the moon. creepy.

Anyway, so right off the bat it seems there’s a distinct separation made between “the light of the mind” and the “black trees of  the mind.” Plath says “this” (it’s the very first word of the poem), and I think the light she is referring to is the moonlight. But what are we to make of the “blackness and light?” I thought that maybe the “blackness/black” trees might signify the unconscious or unknown part of our minds, whereas the light might signify our conscious minds. But when I get later in the poem, I’m not so sure.

What is clear in the poem, is that there are several religious references made. In the first stanza Plath says “The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God.” So here, Plath compares the grass–almost in a Whitman-esque sense–to people, and that she is God. Maybe she was thinking about the dead who lie underneath the grass and their “griefs” when she said this. In the last line of the first stanza, Plath says that she doesn’t think there is anywhere to get to; maybe this is a reference to the yew tree being a passageway for the souls to transcend to heaven. This would also make sense then with the first line of the next stanza “The moon is no door,” in that Plath is perhaps looking at the yew tree as a sort of passageway, and then she looks higher to the destination of the moon.

The lines in the next stanza about religion concern Christianity and the specific church in the scene. Plath writes “Twice, on a Sunday, the bells startle the sky/–eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection./At the end they soberly bong out their names.” At first, I thought the tongues might be some kind of religious prophets or disciples, probably because of the “names” at the end of the third line; but when i read it again, i changed my mind and i think the tongues are the bells. I really don’t know what to make of the bells having names though, so if anyone has any ideas about that feel free to share.

In the next stanza, the speaker (presumably Plath) is associating her mother with the moon, in addition to the moon being compared to a face. However, the mother “is not like Mary.” I took this to be a comparison to one of  the important Mary’s of Christianity, Mary the mother of Jesus.  Also there is a constant contrast between the colors black and blue in the poem, and the moon and moonlight is consistently associated with blue. The yew tree is mentioned again, and it is associated with the word “gothic.” I decided to see if there were any alternative definitions to the word by looking it up–turns out “gothic” can mean many different things; but regardless of which one of these meanings one chooses, it seems the tree is separated from religion. Later in the Stanza the moonlight shines into the church windows, and either the saints are blue apparitions floating around, or they are the projections of the stain glass windows from the blue light. Again, they are separate from the yew trees, because “the message of the yew trees is blackness–blackness and silence.” SO…

I don’t really know where to go from here. I think there is a portrayal of the yew tree (which was supposed to represent life transcending death) as a silent black entity that perhaps doesn’t fulfill its supposed role as a passageway to heaven. But what about the blue moon? It seems that Plath is both connecting the blue moonlight to the saints (when she describes them as “blue”), but also distancing the moon from the saints when she says “the moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.” We have the moon being personified as a face, and also the stars as having a “face” too. So, maybe she believes the natural world is associated more with humanity than religion? After all the Christian bells “startle the sky.” Yet, they seem to fail “at the end” of their bonging by only saying that they are bells and this is the sound of bells, not of the transcendence of Christianity and the resurrection of the souls. There seems to be this interconnectedness between the landscape, the natural world, and Religion, but yet the moon doesn’t see the rigidness of Christianity because she is wild, and the message of the trees is blackness–that they aren’t this passageway or a transceding image.

Of course,  I keep forgetting that one reading of this could be that this is all an image in Plath’s mind. And in one sense, it is only an image in Plath’s mind.  I think that perhaps what she sees in this landscape reveals to her how she feels inwardly, if that makes any sense. I hesitate to say that Plath has a negative view of religion in this poem, because I don’t think that’s entirely true. But the last image–of the yew trees sending us the message of blackness and silence–suggests that in her mind, religion (or at least Christianty) doesn’t form a spiritual connection to the natural world and perhaps not to Plath’s own inner world either. Does anyone else have any thoughts on the poem?

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Close-up of “Cadaver” Lovers

October 19, 2010

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Plath’s Play

September 4, 2010

Found this cool article that I thought some of you might be interested in.

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Sylvia Plath read “Lady Lazarus”

August 26, 2010

I know this is a little bit early for Plath, but I’ve always loved this poem and this reading of it. I still get chills whenever I hear it. What a creepy video too, right? An interesting choice of visuals. Particularly eerie to me is the original papers where she wrote them–the handwriting and the scribbles.

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Here’s also an interview that I found interesting:

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