Sylvia Plath
Poetry
Her Life
• Sylvia was born on
October 27, 1932 in
Newton, Massachusetts.
• She married Ted Hughes
on June 16, 1956
• Sylvia and Ted had two
children Frieda and
Nicholas (1960, 1962)
• 1962: She learned of
Ted’s infidelity and they
separated.
• She died tragically on
February 11, 1963.
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 In 1962, Plath & her
husband decided to
take up bee-keeping.
 This poem describes
the speaker’s unusual
response to the
arrival of a box of
bees.
 It is a poem that can
also be read on a
symbolic level.
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 Poem opens in a
straightforward, narrative-like
manner: “I ordered this, this
clean wood box”.
 The simile describes the box as
being “square as a chair” is
comfortably domestic however,
the metaphor that follow is
strange & unsettling, “I would
say it was the coffin of a
midget/Or a square baby”.
 This image is suggestive of
death , giving the box a
sinister/creepy quality.
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 The speaker has an
ambivalent (unsure)
attitude towards the box,
being both fascinated &
frightened by it “it is
dangerous…And I can’t
keep away from it”.
 Description of the box
suggests a sense of
claustrophobia “There
are no windows …/..no
exit”.
Stanzas 1-2
1. How would you describe the
2.
3.
speaker’s initial reaction to the
box? Is she surprised, delighted,
worried?
Why does the speaker describe
the box as ‘dangerous’?
Though the speaker thinks the box
is ‘dangerous’, she is unable to
‘stay away from it’, why do you
think this is?
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 This sense of claustrophobia is
also clear in the surprising
imagery that follows.
 Looking in the little grid, the
speaker senses the
threatening atmosphere within
the box, “It is dark,
dark…/Black on black.
 A surreal image portrays the
bees as African slaves …
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 It is the noise generated by the
bees that most horrifies the
speaker.
 The simile that compares the
bees to a Roman mob
suggests that she is in awe but
is terrified of their collective
power, “it is like a Roman
mob”.
 The description of their
buzzing as “furious Latin”
suggests their anger. It is
beyond the poet’s
understanding.
 The speaker cannot control
them, “I am not a Caesar”.
Stanza 3-4
1. “How can I let them out?” Why do you think
the speaker is reluctant to release the bees?
2. Describe the speaker’s reaction to the
sound coming from the bee box. What
simile is used to describe this noise?
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 Speaker shows her more
caring side when she wonders
how hungry the bees are.
 Becoming more confident, she
wonders what would happen if
she simply released them, “I
wonder if they would forget
me/If I just undid the locks”.
 There is a sharp difference
between being trapped in the
box and the freedom of the
natural world.
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 By the end of the poem
speaker no longer feels
threatened, “they might
ignore me…/I am no
source of honey”.
 Feeling newly confident
speaker decides to use
her power in a positive
way, “Tomorrow I will be
sweet God, I will set
them free/The box is
only temporary”.
Symbolism
 The bee box may be
regarded as a symbol
of the poet’s mind,
and the angry
threatening bees as
symbols of the dark
destructive aspects of
her personality.
Key points
 Key themes include power and control, a
feeling of being trapped and freedom.
 It is a deeply personal poem- repeated use
of ‘I’.
 There is use of very unusual imagery
(stanzas 1 and 3)
Question 2
The following list of phrases suggests some
of the poet’s attitudes to the bee box:
-She is fascinated by it
-She is annoyed by it
-She feels she has great power over it
Choose the phrase from the above list that
is closest to you own reading of the poem.
Explain your choice, supporting your view by
reference to the words of the poem.
Child
 Plath expresses her
love for her child
while also revealing
her inner torment.
 The poem also
portrays the dark
depression that
regularly surrounded
the poet.
 Poet addresses her child in
opening line, “Your clear
eye is the one absolutely
beautiful thing” – this
shows us that everything
else in speaker’s world is
some way damaged –
hinting at poet’s troubled
mind.
 Plath wants to give her
child beautiful experiences
– she wants to fill her eyes
with “colour and ducks”. –
we get a sense of a child’s
sense of innocence &
wonder.
Child
First encounter
1. The poet considers her child’s eye to be
‘the one absolutely beautiful thing’. What
does she long to offer the child? Make
reference to the poem.
 Closing stanza is extremely
gloomy.
 She worries about her child
witnessing her emotional
anxiety and being affected by
her depression, “Not this
troublous wringing of
hands”.
 The closing image is utterly
bleak, “This dark ceiling
without a star”.
 The total darkness of the
poet’s depression shows a
sense of oppression and being
trapped.
Child
Child
 The April snowdrop
metaphor – the child
represents hope and
new beginnings.
(spring)
 “Little stalk without
wrinkle” metaphor
suggests child’s
potential to grow &
blossom.
A closer look!
1. What sort of images does the poet
consider appropriate for a young child?
2. Do you think the ‘dark/ceiling without a
star’ is a description of an actual room or
a metaphor for the way the poet views
her life?
3. Do you think that the poet expects too
much of herself as a parent? Is her view
of childhood and what a child ought to
receive realistic( truthful) or idealistic
(idea of what reality should be).
Mental Suffering
 This is a short poem about a mother’s
despair. The poet longs to provide her
child with beautiful experiences but is
unable to do so because of her own
struggle with despair and misery.
 She ends up feeling guilty and inadequate
as a parent, and the perfection she sees in
her child only serves to add to her feelings
of inadequacy.
Exam Question
What is your personal response
to this poem?
Helpful starts!
 After reading the poem……….
 I believe the poet is trying to convey…..
 I believe the poet displays a….
 It is clear from the poem………..
 There is a stark contrast between……
 I feel Plath is trying to highlight…….
 I think the poet is trying to suggest…..
Sample Answer:
Child is one of the last poems Plath wrote before taking her
own life and the poem showed me that she has lost confidence
in herself as a mother.
She believes she is unable to create the kind of joyful world
she would like for her child. She wants to fill her child’s eye with
‘the zoo of the new’. In my opinion, this phrase brilliantly
emphasises how simple and exciting life can be. However,
Plath is unable to do this because she is filled with anguish and
despair. She doesn’t want her child’s ‘clear eye’ to witness her
pain. This feeling of helplessness made me feel very sad.
The poet believes she is incapable of being a good mother.
I think it is an unhappy poem that shows the love and desires of
a mother for her child but how her failure to fill the child’s world
with ‘colour and ducks’ adds to her misery. Feeling guilty and
inadequate as a parent the poet’s world has become a ‘dark
ceiling without a star.’ While I found the poem quite upsetting, it
helped me to understand the depression Plath was dealing
with.
Key themes
 The poet’s love for her child and her own
depression.
 The poet uses memorable imagery.
 Use clear, simple language.
 There is a stark contrast between the joy
and colour of the child’s world and the
poet’s despair and darkness has
consumes the poet.
Poppies in July
 Title suggests joyful
poem about beauty of
nature – misleading.
 Poem concerned about
speaker’s inner turmoil.
 The voice of the poet is
clearly troubled.
 Opening metaphor sets
the tone for the dark
poem that follows, “Little
poppies, little hell
flames”.
Poppies in July
 The flowers are
associated with evil
“hell”.
 They can be dangerous,
“Do you do no harm?”
 Movement of the dancing
red flowers resembles
that of a flickering fire.
 Image of speaker putting
her hands “among the
flames” is disturbing
because it seems to point
to a self-destructive
tendency.
First encounter
1. Think about poppies. What colour are
they? How would you describe them?
2. What does the poet compare the poppies
to in the first four lines? Why do you think
she makes this comparison?
3. How is the poet’s sense of frustration
apparent in the opening lines of the
poem?
Poppies in July
 The image of the
‘bloodied’ mouth
startles the reader in
its linking of the
poppies with physical
violence.
 Unsettling to see
beautiful flowers
being associated with
violence & bloodshed.
First look
1. Lines 5 to 8 describes the flowers
violence and unsettling imagery. What
does the poet compare the flowers to?
2. How would you describe the imagery of
the first eight lines? What does the poet’s
choice of imagery suggest about the state
of mind? How do you thin the poet is
feeling?
Poppies in July
 The poet speaks
about the drug
(opium) produced by
them.
 She wishes for the
tranquillising effect of
the drug, “Where are
your opiates, your
nauseous capsules?”
Poppies in July
 The speaker is so
desperate to escape
from her world that
she longs for the drug
even though she
knows it is sickening.
 It seems that violence
or sleep are
preferable to her
present state, “If I
could bleed or
sleep”.
Poppies in July
Closing Lines
 Speaker expresses her
longing for the “dulling
and stilling” properties of
opium.
 Exhausted from watching
the energetic red
poppies, she yearns for
oblivion (forgetfulness),
for a world devoid of
colour (“colourless,
colourless”)
Key points
 A key theme is the speaker’s longing to




escape from the world.
This is an intensely personal poem.
The poem contains startling imagery.
A dark, despairing mood saturates the
poem.
There is a sharp contrast between the
vividness and vitality (liveliness) of the
flowers and the dull, lifeless world for
which the speaker longs.
Language
 The poet uses two metaphor and a simile
to describe the poppies:
- She uses a metaphor when she compares
them to ‘little hell flames’ and when she
compares the to ‘little bloody skirts!’
- She uses a simile when she says they are
‘like the skin of a mouth’.
- The poet use of repetition also suggests
her mental agitation. ‘little’, ‘colourless’,
‘capsule’, and ‘bloody’.
A closer reading lines 9-15
1. Think about the words ‘opiates’, ‘Dulling’,
‘stilling’ and ‘colourless’. What do you
think they have in common? What sort of
condition does the poet long for?
2. The poet suggests that she is living in a
‘glass capsule’. What do you think she
means by this? Is it a metaphor for her
state of mind?
3. What image do you find most effective in
the poem? Give reference to the poem.
Exam Style Question
Q.1 (a) ‘If I could bleed or sleep!’. If the speaker is
neither bleeding nor sleeping, what kind of existence
is she experiencing? Explain your answer.
(10)
(b) What does the reference to ‘this glass capsule’
say to you about how the speaker views her life?
(10)
(c) ‘If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!’ In
your opinion, what longing is expressed in this line?
(10)
Exam Style Question
Q.2 (a) Imagine that you are the poet. Write two diary
entries that give your reaction to the poem a long time after
you first wrote it. (20)
OR
(b)Which of the following statements is closest to your own
feelings for the speaker of this poem?
 I admire the speaker
 I feel sorry for the speaker
 I am fascinated by the speaker (20)
OR
(c) The poem Poppies in July has little to do with actual
poppies and much more to do with the mind that is thinking
about them. Give your response to this statement. (20)
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Plath Powerpoint (Ordinary Level)