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.
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 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
How would you describe the 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?
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 …
It is the noise generated by the bees that most horrifies the speaker.
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 L atin”
suggests their anger. It is beyond the poet’s understanding. The speaker cannot control them, “I am not a Caesar”.
“How can I let them out?” Why do you think the speaker is reluctant to release the bees?
Describe the speaker’s reaction to the sound coming from the bee box. What simile is used to describe this noise?
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.
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”.
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 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)
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.
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.
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
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.
metaphor – the child represents hope and new beginnings. (spring) “ Little stalk without wrinkle ” metaphor suggests child’s potential to grow & blossom.
What sort of images does the poet consider appropriate for a young child?
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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”.
The flowers are associated with evil
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.
Think about poppies. What colour are they? How would you describe them?
What does the poet compare the poppies to in the first four lines? Why do you think she makes this comparison?
How is the poet’s sense of frustration apparent in the opening lines of the poem?
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.
Lines 5 to 8 describes the flowers violence and unsettling imagery. What does the poet compare the flowers to?
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?
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 ?”
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
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
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.
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’.
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?
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?
What image do you find most effective in the poem? Give reference to the poem.
‘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)
Q.2 (a) Imagine that you are the poet. Write
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)