“Sylvia’s death”- By Anne Sexton

Sylvia Plath

Cover of Sylvia Plath

Anne Sexton

for Sylvia Plath

O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,
with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,
with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,
(Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about raising potatoes
and keeping bees?)
what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?
Thief —
how did you crawl into,
crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,
the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,
the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,
the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,
the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?
(In Boston
the dying
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)
O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,
how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy
to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,
and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,
and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides
and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,
(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)
And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,
what is your death
but an old belonging,
a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?
(O friend,
while the moon’s bad,
and the king’s gone,
and the queen’s at her wit’s end
the bar fly ought to sing!)
O tiny mother,
you too!
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!

 

Between the two of them,Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton had cooked up a grand scheme of death, a taking away of  own life. Death seemed such a romantic thing. The scheme has been hatched in a car journey”that ride home with our boy”. Sylvia ditched Anne who took her raising potatoes and keeping bees seriously and waited for the drummer boy to beat on her eyelids.In the meantime ,Sylvia went alone into the death, death which Anne wanted so much for herself.Death both of them agreed they outgrew,the one they wore on their skinny breasts.

 

But what can the bar fly do but sing? Now that the king is gone and the moon is bad. Death was not a new thing for Sylvia, just a mole dropped from one of her poems.
I love this death poem, that talks of death , so handsome and so reluctant to terrorize. Our own handsome boy  who we drink to. The one they talked of so many times, talked of analysts and cures,downing three extra martinis in  Boston.
Death for the women is not a terror but a smooth talking  young boy, a sleepy drummer who beat an old story on their
 eyes. How they waited for a sadist death who would make it such a terrible affair! Contrary to their expectation he turned out to be such a soft spoken guy!
Not a tightly constructed poem, the stanzas overflow into each other and the images overlap. But the subject of death is not serious business for the poet who pretends that the friend’s death was only to be expected and was the best thing to take place. Wasn’t it what they had planned all these years? But the funny thing was how Sylvia upstaged her friend by crawling into death alone. Death is a creepy  thing but to crawl into the death was being one up on death.
Interesting  images/usages are
O tiny mother, you too!
(Caesar’s accusation to Brutus:Sylvia has betrayed Anne by stealing a march on her)
A mother of two children :meteors wandering loose in a tiny playroom
( meteors wandering loose in a play room is a nice image)
“with your mouth into the sheet/
into the roof beam,into the dumb prayer”
(The way the mouth is shut up under the sheet,gaping at the roof beam,into a dumb prayer)
In Boston, the dying ride in cabs
(dying ride)
I see now that we store him up
year after year,old suicides
and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt
(Old suicides are preserved in salt and their news leaves a terrible taste like salt)
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“Iris”-A poem by William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

Cover of William Carlos Williams

A burst of Iris so that
come down for
breakfast

we searched through the
rooms for
that

sweetest odor and at
first could not
find its

source then a blue as
of the sea
struck

Irises

Irises (Photo credit: dottieg2007)

startling us from among
those trumpeting
petals

I like the enjambments and the doing away with the syntax. Word after word builds up the expectation of the burst of Iris , its fragrance taking the reader through the rooms,(from the upstairs:come down for breakfast), trying to trace its source.The lines have no break and spill into the next, throwing grammar and punctuation to the winds. Iris is a blue flower between the color of blue and violet, of sword-shaped leaves.It has energy that bursts on your conscious like the blue sea that suddenly emerges from behind the trees, startling the wayfarer who is not prepared for its emerging.

The deliberate syntactical awkwardness mystifies the existence of the flower, which is first felt only through the odor and by the time we come to the last but one stanza we come upon the flower visually:

1) We began with the expectation of a “burst” of Iris, an explosion of color and energy, a violence associated with the color between purple and blue
2) We come down for breakfast and search through the rooms for the source ,tracing the sweetest odor to its source
3)Then, a blue as of the sea “struck”.Notice the violence of the words ‘struck”,”startling”,”trumpeting“(associated with war)
4)The “trumpeting” petals are a visual metaphor invoking the likeness of the petals to the shape of a trumpet.At the same time the trumpet is an auditory experience from a war scene ,in which the victor trumpets his glory.

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That the night come By W.B.Yeats

 

 

She lived in storm and strife,
Her soul had such desire
For what proud death may bring
That it could not endure
The common good of life,
But lived as ’twere a king
That packed his marriage day
With banneret and pennon,
Trumpet and kettledrum,
And the outrageous cannon,
To bundle time away
That the night come.

An inevitable comparison of the poem is with the so called metaphysical poetry of John Donne and his school where the treatment of a metaphor is almost similar. The similes there compare a concrete thing with an abstract one or an abstract one with another abstract one..

Here an abstract idea of a soul with a desire for what death may bring is compared to another abstract idea of a king who packed his marriage day with a lot of pomp and sound.She lived in storm and strife and her soul is filled with a desire for what proud death may bring with the result she could not endure the common good of life. Just like the king who filled his marriage day with a lot of sound and fury ,signifying nothing. That included the outrageous cannon.

Why does she do this,neglecting the common good of life? Just to bundle time away/ that the night come.

Interesting words/usages are “proud death”(remember ,death be not proud!), “storm and strife” (storm is external,strife internal), “endure” (surprising usage, not in the sense of put up with but to go through (dure) the experience without its affecting us),“the common good of life” (one does not endure the common good of life but here one merely goes through it-the common good is what others perceive as good),”packed” (the king filled his marriage day with a lot of sound and fury), “the outrageous cannon” (outrageous because the marriage day is celebrated as if it was the marriage ceremony celebrated with music and fireworks-imagine an old king doing this),“bundle time away “ (an exquisite image within the image-In death one gathers up time in a bundle and puts it away preparing for the night’s coming)

Patterns -A poem by Amy Lowell (from Men, Women and Ghosts, 1916)

English: Daffodils at Brodie Blocks of Daffodi...

English: Daffodils at Brodie Blocks of Daffodils in the walled garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday sen’night.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

 
The poem has struck me as a very modern poem,not a piece of nineteenth century war poetry it is usually classed under.It is not about the war but about the power of an individual to choose ,an act of free will to get away from “patterns”.There are patterns everywhere in our cultural attitudes, societal mores that restrict us within the confines of the patterns. Like the heavily brocaded dress of a lady that stifles the female body on a hot summer day. Like the patterned garden that grows according to the landscaping given to it.Not like the daffodils and squills freely waving in the breeze.There is a pattern everywhere and all life must proceed within its pre-designed structure.

Gentlemen must go to war and fight anonymous Dukes in Flanders and footmen must come with a letter from a messenger with a curt message about Lord Hartwell who died in action Thursday sen’ night. That is the pattern it follows. Any answer? The footman should ask and No, she should say but should be polite enough to ask to see that the messenger takes some refreshment.

The letter should be put in the lady’s bosom for a tearful reading in the shade of the lime tree.Just near the place in the bosom where a lime flower had dropped.That is how the pattern is.

Is there nobody to break the pattern? He who was willing to break the pattern is now dead. The heavily decorated Colonel would have embraced her softness duly protected by his big brass buttons but that is a pattern nevertheless.He therefore fell into another pattern called war.The man who would loose her in her heavily brocaded dress is lost to another pattern.

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