I turn and burn

I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason people don’t understand or dismiss the poetry of Sylvia Plath is because they don’t read it aloud. Really, it’s only when you read it as it’s meant to be read that you can see the pure genius in the word use and the stanza structure. My absolute favourite poem of hers to read out loud is Lady Lazarus –

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it.

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
0 my enemy.
Do I terrify?

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—-
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash —
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—-

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

A poem about suicide and the ghosts of her Jewish childhood. So few words, such amazing impact. The tension she manages to achieve just floors me. The imagery is really quite disturbing, yet, even though it is grotesque in places, it is really quite beautiful. Beautiful grotesque. This poem is like the ultimate of what a wordsmith can achieve, and really, isn’t the ultimate goal when writing to get maximum impact without being verbose?

I think what I identify with in this poem is how terrified she is, yet she is projecting a false bravado. She is verbalising how suicide means she’s strong, and mocking those who question it, yet the fear and terror she feels is palpable. It’s almost like the poem anticipates and manipulates the responses of the person reading it, like she alternately asks for our sympathy and then rebukes us for feeling it.

Anyway, I love it. And I’ve spent tonight reading and pondering Plath instead of reading the 100 + pages of migration notes I need to get out of the way before the course starts on Thursday. God damn!

Still, it’s only 9:30, so I have a good 2 hours before bed to get something done.

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