Tulips by Sylvia Plath
Tulips by Sylvia Plath Tulips, by Sylvia Plath seems to be a poetic expression of depression. The speaker who I assume is Plath is describing the psychological effects after a surgical procedure,which I feel is the time when sadly Plath miscarried her baby. The poem was written through her own view in a hospital room, where the reader is given an insight to the inner thoughts of a woman who has gone through a terrible ordeal, and the objects around her which influence her mentality. The poem follows Plath’s admission into hospital and the heart-rendering account of her attempt to recover.
There are nine stanzas in the poem, each with five lines, there is no evident rhyme pattern and there is little structure to the poem, although the lack of organization in each stanza seems to be a reflection of the confusion and the loss of control that Plath feels, the only structure shared between the stanzas is the abundance of punctuation, creating a slow rhythm throughout the poem, although Plath uses alliteration to increase fluency in parts of the poem, “plastic-pillowed”, “water went” and “light lies on white walls”.
Plaths tone is serene throughout the poem, however there is a sarcastic tone when she says “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here”. The tone of the poem starts out as depressed and bleak then changes into more dynamic and hopeful and the imagery more surreal: “the mouth of some great African cat”. In the first two stanzas, Plath talks about the situation and her surroundings, whereas the rest of the stanzas reveal her feelings.
The most symbolic item in the poem is the tulips, their colour is the first contrast brought to light, they are red and they clash with the white room, they drink in her oxygen and fill the room with life, she describes how nice it had been before the tulips came in and robbed her peaceful isolation. Their redness reminded her of her wound and the tulips lightly breathing through their white swaddling reminds her of the baby she has lost. In the end the flowers win and begin to overtake the dull whiteness that Plath once found so peaceful. the walls, also, seem to be warming themselves. Another contrast to the red tulips is Plath’s use of white as a symbol. The imagery described in the first two stanzas is all white, meaning the absence of colour, which is figurative for the lack of life. “How white everything is”, “white walls”, “white lids”, “white caps”, she is propped between the white pillow and the white sheet, white is clean and pure and the contrast between the white, sterile surroundings and the red of the tulips is too distracting.
Plath uses colour imagery to manifest the themes of life, the red of the tulips is symbolic for life, the colour of blood, and tulips are associated with spring which is a contrast to the winter outside. It is customary to send flowers to a funeral or when somebody dies, they symbolise a tribute to the life of the one who has died, “I didn’t want flowers” she did not want to be reminded that her baby would never have a life for her to pay tribute to, the tulips were an intrusion on her grief and since they were given as a loving gesture, she looks at them in contempt. “Nobody watched me before, now I am watched. ”
Plath includes several references to water, “my body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water tends to the pebbles it must run over. ” “Water went. ” “The way a river snags and eddies. ” The water is symbolic of the tears she has shed over her loss. The interactions between Plath and the nurses are portrayed as cold and impersonal, they do not regard her as an individual, her body is compared to a “pebble”, an inanimate object with no identity. There is no communication between the nurses and Plath, they simply deliver her medication: “they bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep”, they come to relieve her pain.
She seems to relate most things back to her illness, using similes to compare her overnight case to a black pill box. “They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations”, this could be an indication of what depression does to a person, it robs them of joy In life that comes from loving associations. Even her own family are a cruel reminder of what she has lost: “My husband and child smiling out of the family photo; Their smilies catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks. ” although Plath has no desire for life it is her family and the tulips that are keeping her from letting go, retaining her from sinking.
She wants to be free to just be, but the tulips remind her that she has people who love and need her Electroshock treatment, recovery from a suicide attempt and miscarriage were only a few of the times Sylvia Plath was hospitalised. Plath was diagnosed with a combination of severe depression, acute insomnia and bipolar disorder (Griffin) the time she spent in hospital and her mental illness are reflected in her poetry. Plath’s description of the hospital setting may be a reflection of her own experiences when hospitalised, this would explain why she is so detached from the medical staff.
The entire point of the poem is simply how these flowers show her that she can never truly be free from her pain, There will always be something there to remind her of it, sadly we all know the outcome of Sylvia Plaths life and how sad it seems today that Sylvia Plath had to face her mental illness at a time when no one knew the truth about how to treat it. This poem reflects the same depth, grief and creativity that was expressed within the life of Sylvia Plath, and because of her beautiful mind we are left with the gifts she left behind, and Tulips is one of them.