Plath style of poetry was confessional as well as autobiographical. Often focusing on topics that were taboo at the time like mental illness and suicide. Plath herself suffered from depression most of her life and used her own experiences as inspiration for her writing. Throughout the years, her work attracted the attention of a multitude of readers, who saw in her verses an attempt to express her despair, violent emotion, and obsession with death.
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‘Lady Lazarus’ is a poem from Plath’s book, Ariel. It tells the story of Plath’s suicide attempt using the story of Lazarus. A story from the bible, four days after his death, Lazarus of Bethany was raised from the dead by Jesus, still bound in his grave clothes. The title is almost certainly an appropriation of this Lazarus, given the poem’s reference to grave clothes and given that Plath was saved from her first suicide attempt.
Plath also talks about her inability to successfully end her life. She says; “And like the cat I have nine times to die. This is number three”. Plath’s depressed worldview alters even the concept of having nine lives into the awful fact that a cat suffers death nine times.
“I may be skin and bone”, is a reference to Plath’s appearance. As her depression consumed her, she lost weight and began to appear as the she was only ‘skin and bone’. She begins to start deliberately striping herself of humanity throughout the poem, as though to say she no longer even feels human.
A clear orientation of Plath’s multiple suicide attempts, ‘Lady Lazarus’ connection between life and death creates a tale that weaves her own story into a new one. Plath’s first suicide attempt was in 1953, when she crawled under her house and took an overdose of her mothers sleeping pills. In 1961, Plath had a car accident which she later admitted to being a suicide attempt. These attempts to end her life were a reminder of her own broken self. A tortured soul, with the ability to turn her pain into a clear emotional power. Plath eventually passed away in 1963 when she stuck her head in her gas oven.
Plath’s husband; Ted Hughes, was also a poet and children’s writer. They married in 1956, and their relationship was difficult for the both of them. Plath’s struggle with depression impacted both of of them and as a result, lead to Hughes having an affair with their friend, Assia Wevill.
After Plath’s death in 1963, a distraught Hughes found her poems and felt that he should have them published in 1965, under the title of ‘Ariel’. Hughes own collection of poems, ‘Birthday Letters’, published in 1998, tells hughes story of being with Plath, and the hardships they both encountered.
Fever is Hughes tale of trying to look after Plath and the struggles that came with doing so. In the poem, Hughes talks about how looking after Plath stressed his patience for their relationship. The poem is the evolution of their relationship. He goes from being the caregiver to the “stone man.” We can recognise fear from him here.
How the fluctuation and fragility of her condition frightened him. He manages to make himself seem a little victimized, the constant care-giver whom “hour by hour” had to stay and nurse someone to health.
Hughes also refers to Plath’s own poems. “The burning woman” is a direct reference to her poem Lady Lazarus. In which she refers to herself like a phoenix, “Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.” When Hughes makes the connection between Plath’s poems and his own, he is telling the reader he still cared about her even after she passed away. Fever being a way to express his feelings and views involving Plath’s health issues.
‘A Birthday Present’ is one of the poems published in ‘Ariel’ by Plath. The poem is from the first-person perspective of an unnamed female narrator (most likely Plath herself), who sets about asking what kind of present they are about to be given for their birthday. However we find very early into the poem that this is not about a typical birthday present. Instead, there are ghostly and ghastly apparitions: “Is this the one I am too appear for, is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar? Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus, adhering to rules, to rules, to rules. Is this the one for the annunciation? My god, what a laugh!”
In these lines, the voice transforms to the gift itself which mocks Plath, the recipient of the gift. The gift notes that Plath has black eye-pits and a scar (with an association of fatigue and violence) and that she is confined by social restraints of the 1960’s (having to comply “to rules, to rules, to rules”). In a literal sense, we see the image of a woman baking, perhaps even measuring flour to bake a birthday cake, while on the metaphorical level we see a woman suffering under the confines of domesticity (i.e. cutting off the “surplus” of life and conforming to a role dictated by society). The last two lines indicate contempt on the part about the gift, perhaps at the woman’s conformity.
‘Red’ is Hughes last poem in his collection of poems, Birthday Letters. In it, Hughes adapts Plath’s style of utilising colours to represent various feelings and ideas. Hughes uses colours like ‘red’ and ‘blue’ to describe Plath’s view of life and character from the day they got married, to living in their house, to their separation and Plath’s eventual death. In the beginning of ‘Red’, it defines Plath’s Favorite colour as an entity that is almost everywhere in her entire life. Early in their marriage Plath wrote to her mother claiming “I am so suggestible to colours…I’m sure a red carpet would keep me forever optimistic”. In line 4, ‘blood-red’ may have create a certain image caused in life that can be related to violence or conflict between Plath and Hughes.
Life and death signifies nothing important for her to continue life and seems to live in remembrance in her deceased family members in line 7.