Thursday, December 12, 2019

In the following essay, I will examine the development of Plaths Example For Students

In the following essay, I will examine the development of Plaths In the following essay, I will examine the development of Plashs poetry through analysis of major themes and imagery found in her description of landscapes, seascapes, and the natural world. By acceptable Sylvia Plashs Psychic Landscapes In the following essay. I will examine the development of Plashs poetry through analysis of major themes and imagery found in her description of landscapes, seascapes, and the natural world. Following the lead of Ted Hughes, critics today tend to read Sylvia Plashs poetry as a unity. Individual poems are best read in the context of the whole oeuvre: motifs, homes and images link poems together and these linkages Illuminate their meaning and heighten their power. It is certainly easy to see that through almost obsessive repetition some elements put their unforgettable mark on the poetry: themes such as the contradictory desires for life and death and the quests for selfless and truth; images like those of color, with red, black and white dominating the palette; and symbols of haunting ambiguity, for example, the moon and the sea. But equally obvious Is the striking development that Plashs work underwent In the course of her brief career as a professional poet. This is perhaps most readily seen in the prosody: from exerting her equilibriums skill at handling demanding verse forms, such as the terra rim and the Belleville, she broke free of the demands of such literary conventions and created a personal verse form which still retained some of the basic elements of her earlier academic style. She turned the three-line stanza of the Belleville into a highly flexible medium. Freed from the prosodic strictness of poems like Medallion, written in 1959, this verse form reappeared in poems composed In the last year of her life In a superbly liberated yet controlled form. Some f her finest and most personal poems are written ;n this medium, for example, Fever 1030, Ariel, Nick and the Candlestick, Lady Lazarus, Mars Song, and the late Sheep in Fog, Child and Contusion. More Important, though, Is the development one can observe In Plashs handling of images and themes, of settings and scenes. My concern in this essay is Plashs use of landscapes as settings. There are indoor settings in her poetry, such as kitchens and bedrooms, hospitals and museums, but the outdoor ones are in overwhelming majority. Plashs use of landscapes and seascapes Is Indeed one of the most harmonistic features of her poetry. They put their mark on a considerable part of a woman and a poet. The seascapes with their crucial relevance for themes like the daughter-father relationship, loss and death, deserve a special and thorough treatment of their own and will have to fall outside the scope of this essay. No reader can fail to note the many items of nature that Plate makes use of as setting and image. Three scholars have paid special attention to this aspect. In her pioneering work, The Poetry of Sylvia Plate: A Study of Themes (1972), Ingrain Mainlander includes analyses of poems set in different landscapes and seascapes that Plate knew; in addition to discussing a group of poems connected to the sea, she deals with the following landscape poems: two poems on the moorland (retardants Crags and Withering Heights); two idylls (terrycloth of Shortchanges Meadows and In Midas Country); and three landscapes as experienced by the traveler (sleep in the Mojave Desert, Stars over the Doreen and Two Campers in Cloud Country). Mainlanders approach is thematic and she makes no attempt to suggest development or continuity concerning this aspect of the poetry. In Jon Restaurants Sylvia Plate: The Poetry of Initiation (1979), in my view still the cost useful book-length critical study, the idea of development is a main concern. He devotes one chapter to Plashs use of landscapes and seascapes, focusing on the transition from early to late poetry as part of his overriding argument: that Plashs poetry enacts a ritual of initiation from symbolic death to rebirth. He pragmatically refrains from placing her poems in extraterrestrial contexts, such as her biography. Edward Butcher, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme in his critical biography, Sylvia Plate: Method and Madness (1976), where he makes no essential preference between the life and the poetry. While he offers many imaginative and perceptive comments on Plashs anthropomorphism of nature, they naturally become subsumed in the telling of the story of the poets life and also, frequently, slightly distorted by Butchers psychoanalytically loaded thesis about the emergence of Sylvia Plate the bitchy goddess. Since the appearance of these three studies Sylvia Plashs Collected Poems has been published (1981) with a securer and more precise dating of the poems than before, and we are now in a better position to deal with the poems chronologically. The Journals of Sylvia Plate (1982) also add to our knowledge of the composition of the poems. Linda W. Wagner-Martins recent biography (198 7) has given us a firm platform to build our critical studies on, by confirming or correcting information provided by previous biographies and memoirs. With the premise that Plashs poetry should be read as a unity I wish to study the development of her use of landscapes throughout her career, paying special attention to the role the landscape plays in the individual poemquantitatively and qualitativelyand to the way the poet creates psychic landscapes out of concrete landscapes Sylvia Plate had seen. With a poetry like Plashs, which is highly subjective and concrete, it is surely a disadvantage to disconnect the poems from the poets life. My use of biography aims at illuminating the poetic process, and my main interest is in the subtle and gradual shift in the poets technique: the process by which her landscapes become increasingly psychic and at the end fragmented. Sylvia Plate evidently looked upon herself as a city person (in spite of her documented love of the sea). Amidst the beautiful scenery at an artists colony in upstate New York she complained: l do rather miss Boston and dont think I could ever settle for living far from a big city full of museums and theaters. Nevertheless she seldom used the cities and towns where she lived, more or less permanently, as settings in poems. Cambridge, England; Northampton, Massachusetts; Boston and London, these places made little impact on the poetry as cityscapes. When she draws on such settings, she usually lets her persona move from the streets and buildings to parks or gardens or surrounding fields. When she remembers Cambridge, she sees meadows and fields outside the town, as in Watercolors of Shortchanges Meadows (1959). Of Northampton she commemorates above all a park with frog pond, fountain, shrubbery and flowers, as in Frog Autumn and Childs Park Stones, both written in 1958. Where the town of Northampton itself does figure, in Owl (1958), it is as a frivolous contrast to harshly elemental nature. Commenting on an actual experience in the summer of 1958 such as described in this poem, she noted: Visions of violence. The animal world seems to me more and more intriguing. One of the rare poems with a London setting is Parliament Hill Fields (1961), but typically the scene has a rural touch. It is set on Hempstead Heath). Inspiredand sometimes proddedby her husband who was versed in country things, Sylvia Plate the city person turned to nature for topics and scenery. Shortly after having met Ted Hughes in the spring of 1956 she confided to her mother: l cannot stop writing poems! They come from the vocabulary of woods and animals and earth that Ted is teaching me. Prodded or inspired, Plate drew on her personal experiences of different places and landscapes as raw material for many of the poems. One might actually plot locations and stages of her life on the map of her work. Among the poems that open her career as a professional poether debut can conveniently be set to 1956we can find scenes from her stay in England and her travels on the Continent. Later there will be scenes from New England and other parts of the United States and Canada. After her return to England in 1959 she set many of the poems in Devon and a few in London. Ones immediate reaction to Plashs outdoor scenery is that the persona never seems to be quite at home in nature. Descriptions of nature will most often register feelings of estrangement, fear and the like. This is true even of poems commemorating travel experiences in happy odds, such as camping in a California desert (sleep in the Mojave Desert) or by a Canadian lake (two Campers in Cloud Country), poems written in 1960. Plashs depictions of places and landscapes reveal her interest in pictorial art. She music, when I go to some other art form. We know of this interest in art, American and European, and the inspiration she derived from specific paintings resulting in, for example, the poems Jackhammers (1957) and Hading, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies (1958), both modeled on paintings by Henry Rousseau, and Sculptor (1958), dedicated to her friend Leonard Basking. Her own efforts as a draftswoman establish a link between her verbal gifts and her graphic talents. Some of her drawings have been reproduced; The Christian Science Monitor (November 5 and 6, 1956) illustrated her reports about a summer visit to Ovenbird in Spain with a couple of strictly realistic sketches by her hand: sardine boats pulled up on a beach; a corner of a peasant market; and trees and houses clinging on to steep sea cliffs. Poetry Anthology EssayThus in Private Ground the grasses / Unload their grief in the protagonists shoes, and in The Manor Garden items from nature are used to parallel and explain the growth of a fetus in a human body. It is not enough for Plate in these poems to call forth a human mood or attitude from a fairly detailed, more or less realistic picture of objects and scenes in nature; now she will more readily metaphoric natural suffice to hint at a parallel or an origin in nature. Early in 1959 Plate had made clear what she wished to achieve in her nature poems. After finishing Watercolors of Shortchanges Meadowsa memory of the Cambridge surroundingsshe noted: Wrote a Shortchanges poem of pure description. I must get philosophy in. As every reader knows, Plate was wrong about this poem: in her picture of a seemingly idyllic landscape, cruelty and violence are lurking beneath the smooth appearance. The realistic scenery is distorted, not in the direction of the ugly and the grotesque, but in the direction of nursery-plate prettiness. The philosophy is apparent: terror and violence in the shape of an owl swooping down on an inoffensive water rat are at the heart of creation. Melville had said the same thing in Mob Dick when he let Shame reflect on the tiger heart that pants beneath the oceans skin. Plashs most ambitious piece of writing done at the artists colony was the sequence Poem for a Birthday. Making notes for it she acknowledged the influence of Theodore Rotten. The greenhouse on the estate must have been a special link to him; it was a mine of subjects. Her tentative plans for the poem were these: To be a dwelling on madhouse, nature: meanings of tools, greenhouses, florists shops, tunnels, vivid and disjointed. An adventure. Never over. Developing, Rebirth, Despair. Old women. Block it out. Her ambition was to be true to own weirdnesss. Starting as an end-of-autumn poem it immediately turns into a seemingly random search for the origins and processes of the self; the landscape disappears, and forays into the past take over. The poem comes full circle by ending with a hope of birth into a new life. Poem for a Birthday is an indication of the direction Plashs poetry was to take from now on: toward greater use of free associations and Juxtaposition of fragments of scenes and objects, experiences lived and imagined, feelings and Houghton harbored. Sylvia Plashs life and surroundings in Devon, where she lived from September 1961 to December the following year, provided rich material for poetry. Court Green, the thatch-roofed house the Hughes had bought, sat in a two-acre plot with a great lawn, in spring overflowing with daffodils, with an apple orchard and other trees that found their way into the poems. The settings of the poems she wrote in Devon are very varied. Several are set indoors, for instance, in a hospital (the Surgeon at 2 a. M. , Three Women), a kitchen (an Appearance, The Detective, Losses, Cut, Mars Song), an office (the Applicant), or an unspecified interior (the Other, Words heard, by accident, over the phone, Kindness). These interiors are never described; they are often to be inferred by a situation traumatized or an action going on, such as cooking a Sunday dinner or being served tea. Action and character play the greater role. The trees and flowers of the Court Green garden appear in several poems, such as Among the Narcissism, Poppies in July and Poppies in October, all from 1962. But in these poems too there is much more story or incident than description. Eternal for poetry at this transitional stage in her career. Written in October 1961 this was the first poem for which she drew on her immediate Devon surroundings. As we see from Ted Hughes comments, she still needed an occasional prodding to find a topic: The yew tree stands in a churchyard to the west of the house in Devon, and visible from Asps bedroom window. On this occasion, the full moon, Just before dawn, was setting behind this yew tree and her husband assigned her to write a verse exercise about it. This nature poem is marked by the metaphorical mode already in the opening line: This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. Using a phrase from an earlier poem (private Ground) the poet creates a transition to the garden landscape by anthropomorphism nature: The grasses unload their grief on my feet as if I were God. The light of the mind does not help. The speaker complains: l simply cannot see where there is to get to. Following the upright lines of the yew tree, the speakers eyes seek the mother moon. Yew tree and church, o ne planted in the earth but striving toward heaven, the other bringing the message of heaven to earth, have nothing to give the speaker. She faces her real self: it is not the Church with its mixture of far reaching authority (the booming bells), its holiness stiffened by convention (the sculptured or painted saints floating above the heads of the churchgoers) and its somewhat sentimentalists sweetness (the mild Virgin), it is not these she can identify with: she is the daughter of the wild female moon with her dark and dangerous power. Plate herself evidently read this poem slightly differently. Introducing it in a BBC program she said that a yew tree she had once put into a poem began, with astounding egotism, to manage and order the whole affair. It was not a yew tree by a church on a road past a house in a town where a certain woman lived And so on, as it might have been in a novel. Oh no. It stood squarely in the middle of my poem, manipulating its dark shades, the voices in the churchyard, the clouds, the birds, the tender melancholy with which I contemplated iteverything! I couldnt subdue it. And, in the end, my poem was a poem about a yew tree. The yew tree was Just too proud to be a passing black mark in a novel. As I have indicated, another reading of the poem highlights the moon as the one who is taking over the scene. The yew tree appears again in Little Fugue, written in 1962, but only as an introductory image bringing in a contrast through its blackness counterpoised with whiteness in the concrete form of a cloud (the yews black fingers wag; / Cold clouds go over). Black and white do not merge, Just as the blind do not receive the message of the deaf and dumb. These counterpoising absences prefigure the main theme of the fugue: the speaker-daughters despair at not being able to reach her dead father: Gothic and barbarous he was a yew hedge of orders. Now he sees nothing, and the beaker is lame in the memory. The fugue ends by finally Joining the two items from naturethe black yew tree and the pale cloudas images of a marriage between The Devon milieu is the scene also for Among the Narcissism. Here an ailing old neighbor is the main subject, the flowers attending upon him like a flock of children. Another poem with a Devon setting is Pheasant. It is a scene in the drama of tensions in a marri age, of suspicions, hurt, Jealousy and anger, which was begun in Zoo Keepers Wife and continued in Elm, The Rabbit Catcher, Event, Poppies in July and Poppies in October. Two poems written in the last month Sylvia Plate spent in Devon, Letter in November and Winter Trees, testify to the almost uncanny equilibriums she was capable of by now in realizing highly different topics, scenes, moods, as it would seem from one moment to the next. Anger at deception (the Couriers), longing for spiritual rebirth (getting There), tender anguish at a childs future (the Night Dances), revulsion at death (death Co. ) and fascination with the dynamics of motion and life (areas), naked hatred and contempt (the Fearful), these are some of the emotions embodied n the November poems. Letter in November is set in the Court Green garden. It is unusual for Plate at this stage in her career in that it contains a fairly detailed picture of the scenery. The letter is addressed to an unspecified receiver (perhaps a child) apostrophe as love. It describes, in a relaxed tone, details of a well-known garden which in this moment of seasonal transition is shifting color and form as if by some kind of magic that a child would understand. The speakers boots squelch realistically in the wet masses of fallen leaves.

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