Plath Powerpoint - Ms Faughnan`s Notes

Sylvia Plath
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
• She died tragically on
February 11, 1963.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful--The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
 “Mirror” gives voice to
an inanimate object
 It reflects on a number
of different themes:
The inevitability of old
age & death.
Preoccupation with
A search for identity
Plath’s use of
 Plath regularly uses
inanimate objects with
human qualities.
 In this poem the
mirror speaks for itself
– describing its
relationship with a
particular woman.
Stanza 1
 The mirror expresses
itself in a clear &
direct manner - “I am
silver and exact”
 It reflects things
exactly as they are.
 It does not pre-judge
– it has “no
 The mirror is cold
and emotionless.
 While a person
may be dissatisfied
or even upset by
their mirror image,
the mirror insists “I
am not cruel, only
 When the mirror states
that it immediately
swallows whatever it
sees. We are reminded of
the inexorable (can’t be
stopped) passage of time.
 The image captured by
the mirror at a particular
point in time will never be
exactly the same again.
 The mirror describes how
it spends its days
meditating on the
opposite wall.
 The mirror has been
reflecting this wall – “pink,
with speckles” – for so
long that it feels the wall
is now part of itself. “I
think it is a part of my
 Only darkness and
people “separate” the
mirror from the wall.
Second section
 This section is
concerned with the
relationship with
the woman on
whose bedroom
wall it hangs.
 The mirror declares, “Now I am
a lake”.
The flat surface of a lake is
reflective like a mirror.
However a lake has hidden
depths, so this metaphor also
has connotations of danger.
The woman searches the
depths of the mirror/lake “for
what she really is”.
The woman seems to be
struggling to discover her
identity and find her way in life
 The reference to “tears
and an agitation of
hands” points to the
woman’s inner torment.
 The fact that the mirror “is
important to her”
indicates her insecurity.
 It would seem that she is
deeply troubled by the
ageing process
 Closing lines
 They are particularly dramatic
 The lake metaphor is
developed, with the mirror/lake
describing how the woman has
“drowned a young girl” in its
depths, while watching old age
daily rise towards her “like a
terrible fish”.
 The closing image is startling
and a little disturbing in its
depiction of old age as an ugly
monstrous creature waiting in
the depths for us all
Themes: Mental Anguish
 Like many of Plath’s poems, this depicts mental
turmoil. The woman in the poem is gripped by a
fit of loneliness and despair as she examines
herself in the mirror.
 We get a sense that much of this turmoil arises
from the fact that she has lost her way in life and
has lost her sense of identity.
 She gazes into the mirror attempting to locate
and reconnect with her true self.
 “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,/
Searching my reaches”
Themes: Mental Anguish
 Several of Plath’s poems touch on the
idea of inadequacy and worthlessness.
(Child, The Arrival of the Bee Box etc.)
 The speaker looks at her reflection in
“tears” and turns away to the soft glow of
candles as if she does not like what she
 The woman seems deeply troubled by the
prospect of ageing.
Personal Response Questions
1. “Mirror” has been described as a poem of
images. Pick out three different images from
the poem. In each case state whether or not
you think it is effective.
2. The mirror claims it is “important” to the
woman. In what ways might a mirror be
important to an individual? Consider here
psychological as well as purely practical
3. What do you think the mirror means when it
says “In me she has a drowned a young girl”?
What does the “terrible fish” represent?
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
 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 that 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”.
 The description of the box
suggests a sense of
claustrophobia “There
are no windows …/
Stanzas 1-2
1. Briefly describe the bee box in
your own words.
How would you describe the
speaker’s initial reaction to the
box? Is she surprised, delighted,
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
this is?
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 This sense of claustrophobia is
reinforced by the startling,
surreal imagery that follows.
 Peering in the little grid, the
speaker senses the oppressive
atmosphere within the box,
underlining the sinister
threatening atmosphere: “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
 The simile that compares the
bees to a Roman mob
suggests that she is in awe but
terrified of their collective
power: “it is like a Roman
 The description of their
buzzing as “furious Latin”
suggests their
incomprehensible anger. It is
beyond the poet’s
 The speaker cannot control
them: “I am not a Caesar”.
Stanza 3-4
1. Describe in your own words what the speaker sees
when she puts her eye to the box’s grid?
2. What most unusual image is used to describe the
appearance of the bees inside the box?
3. How can I let them out? Why do you think the
speaker is reluctant to release the bees?
4. Describe the speaker’s reaction to the sound
coming from the bee box. What simile is used to
describe this racket?
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 The speaker shows her more
compassionate 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 contrast
between the confinement of
the box & the freedom of the
natural world.
Stanza 5- 6
1. What does the speaker mean she is not
2. What options does she feel she has
regarding this box that frightens her so
The Arrival of the Bee Box
 By close of poem the
speaker no longer feels
threatened: “they might
ignore me…/I am no
source of honey”.
 Feeling newly
empowered the speaker
decides to exercise her
power in a positive way:
“Tomorrow I will be
sweet God, I will set
them free/The box is
only temporary”.
Stanzas 6-7
1. What does she finally decide to do with
the box?
2. The speaker declares that she will be
‘sweet God’. What does she mean by
 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,
repression and freedom.
This poem is also open to a symbolic
It is a deeply personal poem- repeated use
of ‘I’.
There is use of startling imagery (stanzas
1 and 3)
The poet also makes effective use of
Exam Questions (2003) (OL)
Question 1
What impression of the poet, Sylvia Plath,
do you get from reading this poem? What
words or phrases from the poem especially
help create that impression for you? (20)
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 closet to you own reading of the poem.
Explain your choice, supporting your view by
reference to the words of the poem.
Sample Answers
Read the sample answers to
Question 1 and 2 on your
hand-out ……..
Question 3
a) Imagine you were asked to select music
to accompany a public reading of the
poem. Describe the kind of music you
would choose and explain your choice
b) ‘The box is only temporary’
What do you understand the last line of the
poem to mean? (10)
(Hint: the line has to do with an important
choice faced by the poet)
 Plath expresses her
love for her child
while also revealing
her inner torment.
 Also portrays the dark
depression that
regularly engulfed
(surrounded) the
 Poet addresses her child in
opening line, “Your clear
eye is the one absolutely
beautiful thing” – this
implies that everything else
in speaker’s world is some
way tarnished – hinting at
poet’s troubled mind.
 Plath wants to give her
child beautiful experiences
– she wants to fill her eyes
with “colour and ducks”. –
also evokes child’s sense of
innocence & wonder.
First Encounter ….
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.
 The closing stanza is
contrastingly gloomy.
 She worries about her child
witnessing her emotional
turmoil and being affected by
her anxiety, “Not this
troublous wringing of
 The closing image is utterly
bleak. “This dark ceiling
without a star”.
 The total darkness of the
poet’s depression conveys a
sense of oppression &
 The April snowdrop
metaphor – child is
representative of
hope and new
beginnings. (Spring)
 “Little stalk without
wrinkle” metaphor
suggests child’s
potential to grow &
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).
Theme: Mental Suffering
 This is a short poem about a mother’s
anguish. The poet longs to provide her
child with beautiful experiences but is
unable to do so because of her own
struggle with despair and anguish.
 She ends up feeling guilty and inadequate
as a parent, and the perfection she sees in
her child only adds to her feelings of
Important References: Nature
 The flowers that the poet mentions are interesting
‘April snowdrop, Indian pipe’.
 The April snowdrop is particular beautiful (pure and
white), while the Indian Pipe is less beautiful and is
believed to exist in the darkened forest and feeds on
 Perhaps Plath meant these flowers to represent the
‘child’ versus mother.
A Closer Reading
1. Why do you think the poet uses so much
plant imagery in the poem?
2. What is your personal response to this
Sample Answer: What is your personal response
to this poem?
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
Sample Answer Continued ….
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 gloom. 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.
To Sum Up ….
 The poem deals with the poet’s love for
her child and her own depression.
 The poet uses memorable imagery.
 She uses clear and simple language.
 There is a stark contrast between the joy
and colour of the child’s world and the
despair and darkness that has consumed
the poet.
 What was your reaction after reading the
poem ‘Child’. (10)
 How does the poet show a contrast
between the world of the child and her
own world?(10)
 ‘….this is dark/ Ceiling without a star’.
What do you think the poet means by
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…..
Poppies in July
 The title suggests a joyful
poem about beauty of
nature – this is
deliberately misleading.
 The poem is actually
concerned with the
speaker’s inner turmoil.
 The voice of the poet is
clearly troubled.
 The opening metaphor
sets the tone for the dark
poem that follows, “Little
poppies, little hell
Poppies in July
 The flowers are
associated with evil
 They can be dangerous,
“Do you do no harm?”
 The movement of the
dancing red flowers
resembles that of a
flickering fire.
 The image of the speaker
putting her hands
“among the flames” is
disturbing because it
seems to point to a selfdestructive personality.
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
Poppies in July
 The image of the
‘bloodied’ mouth startles
the reader because it
links the poppies with
physical violence, an
unusual association.
 It is unsettling to see
beautiful flowers being
associated with violence
and bloodshed.
1. Lines 5 to 8 describe 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?
Poppies in July
 The poet speaks
about the drug
produced by them –
 She wishes for the
tranquillising effect of
the drug, “Where are
your opiates, your
nauseous capsules?”
Poppies in July
 The speaker’s
desperation to escape
from her world is so
enormous that she
longs for the drug
even though she
knows it is sickening.
 It seems violence or
sleep are preferable
to her present state,
“If I could bleed or
Poppies in July
Closing Lines
 The speaker expresses
her longing for the
“dulling and stilling”
properties of opium.
 She is exhausted from
watching the energetic
red poppies. The poet
yearns for oblivion, for a
world devoid of colour …
Key Points ….
 A key theme is the speaker’s longing to
escape from the world.
This is an intensely personal poem.
The poem contains shocking imagery.
A dark and despairing mood saturates the
There is a sharp contrast between the
vividness and vitality of the flowers and the
dull, lifeless world for which the speaker
Key Points: 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’.
Key Points: Language
 Try to include these notes on language
in any answer you give on Plath.
For example: ‘The dark and despairing
mood of the poet is made very clear
through her use of metaphor. The
comparison between the poppies and
“little hell flames” showed me that ……’
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.
OL Exam Style Questions
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)
(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)
(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)
Morning Song
 A deeply personal
 It describes Plath’s
feelings following the
birth of Frieda, her
first child.
Morning Song
 The poem describes the
poet’s response to the
birth of her child.
 The parents’ love set the
child’s life in motion and
the poet likens the
creation of life to the
winding of a watch:
“Love set you going like
a fat gold watch.”
Morning Song
The parents express their joy and
enthusiasm at the birth. They “magnify” the
arrival of the child and “echo” each other’s
What kind of world is the child born into?
 However, the world into which the child is born
seems cold and unsympathetic.
 It is unceremoniously greeted with a slap on the
 The room is unhomely and lacking in warmth … “a
drafty museum”.
 There is a sense that the world is coldly indifferent to
the child’s existence. The world seems quite
How is the child described?
 The child is described as a “new
statue”, perhaps because it is to
be observed and commented
on, yet this comparison is
lacking in tenderness and
warmth. (Metaphor)
 The child is also described as
very vulnerable. The poet refers
to its “nakedness” and its “bald
How do the parents respond to
the birth?
 The child’s birth unsettles the parents and
they are unsure how to act … “we stand
round blankly as walls.” (Simile)
 The child’s vulnerability and need for
protection makes them feel nervous and
insecure: “your nakedness/Shadows our
How do the parents respond to
the birth?
 The poet seems unsure about her
relationship with the child. She does not
feel like she has bonded with the baby.
 She says she can no more be considered
the mother of the child than a cloud can be
considered the mother of the rain that it
creates, which forms a mirror-like pool
upon the ground.
 “I am no more your mother/ Than the
cloud that distills a mirror” (Simile)
A change in atmosphere ….
 In the second half of the
poem, the poet is at home
with the child. The child is
asleep in a room decorated
with “pink roses”. The
atmosphere is much warmer
and safer than the opening
of the poem.
 The child seems happy and
safe, breathing softly and
rhythmically. Its gentle
breath is likened to that of a
A change in atmosphere ….
 The moment that the child
begins to cry, the poet gets up to
feed it. Her tiredness is evident
when she says that she
“stumbles from bed”.
 Yet in spite of this she rushes to
feed her child, comparing herself
to a cow that needs to be
milked. This description of
herself as “cow-heavy”
introduces a light-heartedness to
the poem that wasn’t present at
the start.
Theme: Femininity and Motherhood
 The poem shows how being a mother can be a
difficult experience.
 When the child is born the poet experiences
doubts and uncertainties about her role as a
 She does not know how to respond to the birth. She
and her husband stand “blankly”
 She feels less secure now that she has a child. She
no longer has only herself to take care of, her needs
are overshadowed by the child’s vulnerability.
 She initially feels distant from the child. She likens
herself to a cloud that has shed its rain and no longer
bears a connection to what it once carried.
Theme: Femininity and Motherhood
 However, when the poet is at home with the
child, she begins to feel more at ease and
comfortable about her role as a mother.
 The description of her rising in the night to
feed the child is tender and loving. It suggests
she is not as troubled by doubt and
 Like “Child”, “Morning Song” suggests that
motherhood is not a straightforwardly joyous
and natural experience. The responsibility that
comes with the role can be overwhelming and
daunting and it is very easy to feel inadequate
 However, unlike “Child”, this poem ends on a
positive and uplifting note with the description
of the child’s notes rising “like balloons”
 There are several unusual similes and metaphors in the
 The child is compared to a “fat gold watch”. The fact
that the watch is gold shows that the child is valuable.
However, it is quite a cold and mechanical
comparison, hinting at the poet’s struggle to come to
terms with her new role.
 She also describes the child as a “new statue”. This is
a very cold and lifeless comparison to make with a
baby. It suggest the poet’s feeling of detachment from
the child.
 She also compares her connection to the child to that
of the connection between a cloud and the rain it has
shed. Again, this comparison highlights the poet’s
struggle to feel a bond with her child.
 Some of the similes and metaphors are more
She and her husband “stand round blankly as
She likens the opening of the child’s mouth as
it begins to feed to that of a cat – “clean as a
She compares the sound of the child
breathing to the sound of a distant sea, and
suggests that it is as faint and gentle as a
Personal Response Questions
1. How did you respond to the poem’s description
of the birth of a child in the first three stanzas?
Did you appreciate the honesty and lack of
2. The first word of the poem is “Love”. Do you
think that this is a poem about parental love
and affection?
3. Consider how “Morning Song” and “Child”
expose the terrible anxieties that can come with
the responsibility of being a parent. How do the
two poems compare?
Fear, ageing
on; rising
Arrival of
the Bee
and freedom
despair and
in July
Fear and
Dark and
Misleading title
and birth
baby’s cry
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