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Tulips by Sylvia Plath
Transcript of Tulips by Sylvia Plath
Lisa P. Argument
The speaker, a patient at a hospital, is currently undergoing a battle between life and death and responsibility and freedom, both of which are represented by color and flower imagery. Stanza 1
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Excitable: the tulips stir up too much; solitude is preferred
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
white- color imagery and symbol; represents peace, death, and freedom for the speaker
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
light- heavenly light
hands- seems separate from herself; detached, for she does not own her own body
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
explosions- life, passion; the speaker does not feel as if he/ she is a part of it anymore
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
name, day-clothes, history
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
body- symbolic of her responsibilities in the world and her life Stanza 2
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
They prop her head up; she is not capable of doing so herself.
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Wanting to shut eyes = wanting to die
Something is keeping the patient from dying; not pleasant.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
Noticing every detail surrounding her
Play on words: eye and student, but student has irony
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
White caps resemble seagulls in both color and shape
Seagulls come and go similarly to nurses
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
Very vague, no individuality.
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
All the nurses look the same, she feels isolated. Stanza 3
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
Body-pebble: her body is insignificant and run over; the nurses make this person placid with their medicine
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep
Bright-light imagery; white light; looks forward to the needles
Sleep and numbness: the eternal sleep; death
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage
This person has lost him/herself along with all of the baggage
Baggage-metaphor for responsibilities of life
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
Leather case- represents work and responsibility and life
Simile for evil in the patient's eyes; black contrasting with the white
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
Husband and child: smiles are metaphorical for hooks; they grab her back into life and responsibility Stanza 5
I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted
Flowers: metaphorical for passion, life, and responsibility to her family; the speaker did not wish for such things
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
Lying with hands turned up, emptiness: dying is not a bad act, life is bad, for death can give one freedom
How free it is, you have no idea how free -
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
Literal statement of death, for the dead have closed upon the peacefulness: death is shown to be sacred
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
Irony: Speaker states that the "peacefulness" asks nothing of you. In reality, it asks you for the biggest thing: your life
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
Biblical allusion: Communion tablet represents a sense of holiness for the speaker Stanza 7
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
Watching- the speaker felt none of the pressure of life, but now with the tulips in the room, there is a feeling of responsibility that is so undesired
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Personification- the tulips turning to the speaker is representative of them pulling her away from the light, for the window is slowly thinning
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Speaker- is flat and ridiculous because she no longer has any vibrancy or life; she is merely a shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
eyes: metaphorical for the responsibilities which she cannot escape from
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
She has tried to deny herself the oxygen by effacing herself, but it is still needed, for she is still alive
The tulips are eating this, and make her painfully aware that she is still on earth Stanza 9
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
Symbol for death being shoved away with life taking its place
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
Simile comparing tulips that will disrupt the sanctity by bringing it life
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Now the red is spreading onto her and she is coming back to life
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
Officially showing that she is starting to come back to life with her responsibilities.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
She is not completely dead or alive; the sea is far away and is a symbol of her freedom and death Stanza 4
I have let things slip, a thirty-year~old cargo boat
metaphor for patient; boat is meant to carry items, just as a mother is to carry responsibilities
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Swab the deck, sterilized for surgery; away from family photo
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
On her way to surgery in a hospital gown
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Life flashes before her: images of growing up
Possessions are slipping away
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
boat is sinking; when people are sedated, referred as "going under"
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
relinquishes materialistic belongings; "none" Stanza 6
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Wakes up from surgery; tulips disrupt her trance and are unwanted, violating her and making her feel uncomfortable
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Personification of tulips: breathing and compared to a baby
Paradox: babies represent life, yet life is seemingly unwanted when described as "awful"
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
Her wound matches the shade of the tulips
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down
Irony: calls red tulips subtle in a room of white
Paradox: they seem to float, but weigh her down; life brings her closer to death
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
"red lead" has internal rhyme
sinkers are pulling her down by the neck, indication that she is suffocating Stanza 8
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Arrival of tulips changed the surroundings
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Links back to the "explosion" in line 5
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine
Eddies: water moving in a circular motion; whirlpools eddy
Repetition: tulips are submerged in the water
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
Having to commit to the tulips disrupts her empty and free world; snapping her back into reality Title & Structure
Tulips give off a positive connotation of life and love. However, in the poem it is depicted as unwanted.
"Tulips" consists of 9-stanzas with 7 verses each, inconsistency of lines correlates with the instability of the patient. By Sylvia Plath