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In this essay I will describe the literary techniques and the use of language used by Sylvia Plath in three of her poems Tulips, Mushrooms and Mirror. These poems are all extended metaphors for vanity and self-image, the stress of everyday life and the family and a metaphor for strength without violence. This technique of extended metaphors is a common literary tradition also used by other poets such as John Donne in “The Flea” and Emily Dickinson in “Funeral” and “Daffodils”. Tulips is a calm peaceful poem written by Plath representing her experience when she was in hospital having an appendectomy operation.
The overall message of the poem is that she prefers life in the hospital to her life as it allows her to shed her responsibility, it is peaceful and calm and it gives her security. Her family give her a bunch of tulips, which represent the outside world, which she despises. These tulips are used as an extended metaphor the strains of family life and the grief that it causes her. Emily Dickinson also uses this technique in the poem Daffodils, where spring is an extended metaphor for growth, life, vitality and vigour, which she despises.
In ‘Tulips’ Plath describes two experiences; the effect that the hospital has on her and the effect the tulips have on her. She likes being in the hospital, she likes the fact that in the hospital she is away from the world, she is secluded and has no worries; “I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions”. In the hospital no one bothers her “The nurses pass they are no trouble”. In the hospital she has shed all her responsibility and all the worries of the outside world, in there she has lost her identity.
Tulips Sylvia Plath Poem
Like Emily Dickinson she cannot bear the energy and liveliness of the outside world. She is comforted by the fact that now unlike any other time instead of interacting with other people all she does is observe everyone else, she is reduced to just being an eye; “They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff”. However even though she has been reduced to this state of near death it still is not good enough “Stupid Pupil, it has to take everything in” This also shows she is angry at being alive.
She has lost all sense of being a person. She does not have to worry about the unpredictability of life. She is happy with being like this, she likes the calm and tranquillity of the hospital “I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly” This word “learning” this suggest a gradual process of learning how to be totally independent and totally self-centred. The hospital to her unlike the outside world is a soothing environment where no one disturbs her and she is totally alone. My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently” again confirming her like for the hospital and the soothing tranquillity of the environment and the fact she is totally self contained. The other side to the poem is the effect that the tulips have on her. The tulips are symbolic of her family and the outside world and the strains it places upon her. She does not like the tulips to her they are everything that places responsibility on her, she says they weigh her down and hurt her.
She claims that they are breathing her air, again more imagery of restriction and the fact that these tulips make her life harder. The tulips are described as being too red, again expressing Plath’s dislike for the tulips. Red is also a very harsh colour on the eyes, which again may suggest that these tulips are making her feel uncomfortable much like the outside world. The tulips are said to appear to float but really weigh her down like her children. Plath says that “she is sick of baggage” again expressing feeling of her dislike for the outside world.
This is backed up by lines such as ” their smiles catch onto my skin little smiling hooks” which suggest that her family never leave her alone and never let go of her. Also in this poem imagery of cargo boats is used to express her feeling of being weighed down by the responsibility of the outside world, “a thirty year old cargo boat stubbornly hanging onto my name and address” which conveys thoughts of dislike for herself, family and her lifestyle. In the last line Plath implies that she knows she is mentally unstable and she is has a problem, “comes from a country far away as health. In the poem “Mirror” Plath expresses her feeling of dislike of society or maybe men. Another poem that is written in the same style, as this one is “Funeral” by Emily Dickinson in which depression is described as being like a long draw out funeral. The mirror describes itself as being precise and prefect, “I am Silver and exact” it also claims to not be judgemental “I have no preconceptions” and “unmisted by love or dislike”. The mirror says “whatever I see I swallow immediately” which suggests it is absorbing and consuming everything.
The mirror’s attitude may represent the arrogances that men and society posses. The mirror really thinks it is very important, “the eye of a little god” suggesting that it is holds power over us. The mirror also makes a comment about how the wall is a part of its heart as the wall is perfect and faultless, unlike humans who “separate us over and over” this suggest he prefers looking at the wall. However this shows the mirror to be a hypocrite as it is judging people it is being bias and passing judgement even though it claims not to.
This is another similarity between the mirror, men and society. In this part of the poem Plath uses balanced calculated lines to add to the mirrors sense of confidence. In the second stanza the object of the poem turns from a mirror into a lake. A lake unlike a mirror distorts images and is not as clear. The women looking into this lake is said to be “searching my reaches for what she really is” suggesting she would rather look at what she would look like rather than what she really looks like hence why she might be looking in a lake. Then she turns back to those liars, the candles and the moon. ” More imagery of distortion as moonlight and candlelight both change a person’s image and that person look better. Showing that this woman does not want to see the reality of her looks. The mirror then exclaims that “she rewards me with tears and agitation of hands. ” This illustrates that the woman does not like her own image as she is distressed by it. But it also shows that the mirror enjoys her distress “rewards me” and therefore is being cruel and hypocritical again like men and society.
The mirror then says “I am important to her” showing its arrogance and the woman obsession with self image. In the last two lines the mirror says ” In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises towards her day after day, like a terrible fish” this is the biggest illustration of the mirror’s hypocrisy in the poem, describing her ugly and old. This is the first case of enjambment in the poem showing emotion in a way and again making the mirror imperfect. The rest of the poem has end-stopped lines; this gives a very matter of fact tone.
The poem is about the obsession with image and how much we rely on our looks in today’s society, therefore making the mirror almost indispensable to us. Another poem by Sylvia Plath that uses an extended metaphor is mushrooms. In this poem mushrooms seem to represent the quiet people that just keep themselves to themselves and get on with life. Mushrooms themselves are very insignificant organisms but they are very successful and can live and survive in all sorts of environments. The poem starts of peacefully “Overnight, very whitely, discreetly, very quietly” conveying a passive, quiet atmosphere.
Our toes, our noses take hold on the loam, acquire the air” the mushroom are getting what they want but not by force or violence, they are gradually pulling themselves up. “Nobody sees us, stops us, betrays us; the small grains may room. ” They are starting to sound much more powerful, they are just going unnoticed but they are still achieving what they want to achieve. This stanza re-enforces the idea of the mushrooms being passive ” The small grains make room” there is no violence described here so it suggests that others get out the way on their own accord, they is not forceful persuasion involved.
In the next stanza there is more emphasis on power without violence shown by the oxymoron “soft fists insist on”. There is no need to force or threaten they get what they want anyway. This stanza also illustrates the fact that they move everything in their path out of the way “heaving the needles” this also shows strength. In the next stanza the sense of unity is brought in once again ” Our hammers, our rams” which makes them even stronger as they are all working together to achieve the one common goal. They are silent but deadly they get exactly what they want.
This sense of unity and strength by numbers is brought up later in the poem by the exclamation “So many of us! So many of us! ” which also suggests excitement and power, it increases the tone of aggression. The use of two exclamation marks and the repetition makes it sound like an aggressive, sinister chant. Later in the poem the mushrooms convey the fact that they are not needy and they do not need to rely on others, they are givers not takers “Diet on water, on crumbs of shadow” not asking for anything more “asking for little or nothing”.
In the next stanza the mushrooms display their usefulness and their passiveness “we are shelves, we are tables, we are meek, we are edible,” These are objects that make life a lot easy. These are objects, which we rely on so much, but go unacknowledged. In the Last two stanzas the tone becomes more aggressive and harsher, “nudgers and shovers” this shows that some force has to be used but not a lot. “Our kind Multiples: We Shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot’s in the door. ” This illustrates unity, hidden power and strength.
The last two lines are very matter of fact end stopped lines there is no disputing what they are saying. It is very short, sharp, harsh and very sinister and the mushrooms or quiet people believe it is right. The mushrooms could also represent minority groups or women. The tone of the poem becomes more aggressive throughout. When deployed, extended metaphors can powerfully convey emotions in an emblematic way. They are used to dramatise and sensationalise things to add to the atmosphere of the poem, demonstrated especially in ‘Mushrooms’. Plath uses extended metaphors well, to express feelings of inferiority and depression.
Both ‘Tulips’ and ‘Funeral’ by Emily Dickinson turn beautiful and radiant things such as ‘flowers’ into something distressing and suicidal – the tulips are ‘too red’ and she ‘dared not meet the daffodils. ‘ It is interesting to note that Plath criticises the tulips for being ‘too red,’ Dickinson is afraid to go near the beautiful and perfect daffodils as they magnify her imperfections. Extended metaphors are one of the only literary techniques that make the poem extensively open to interpretation, thus, broadening the significance of the poem and powerfully put across feelings, making this technique remarkably effectual and assertive.