Lady Lazarus

March 9, 2006 at 12:31 am 3 comments

Sylvia Plath

Listen (Plath reads)

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
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—–

Yes, yes Herr Professor
It is I.
Can you deny

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, I may be Japanese,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

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
Beware
Beware.

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

This recording was made for the British Council only days after the poem was written and is slightly longer than the version published posthumously in the collection ‘Ariel’.

Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” is not what it first appears to be, a straightforward poem about suicide. The poem is a reaction to the oppressive patriarchy of the early sixties, a culture that did not welcome or support her. Plath absorbed the social cues and customs that alienated her, and explored and reacted to them in her writing. Plath’s later poems, which include “Lady Lazarus,” reveal her feelings of resentment that grew from being trapped in this cyclical and oppressive atmosphere, and the feeling of being blocked and prevented from truly achieving. In “Lady Lazarus,” Plath’s autobiographical account of her suicide, she expresses her anger at these restrictions while exploring themes of confinement, repression, and how it feels to live as a woman artist in a male-dominated society. She uses simile and cryptic historical allusions as a way of distancing herself from her inner being, and the disjointed structure of the poem shows seething emotions that are desperately fighting their way to the surface. – and more from the one guide the galaxy swears by, the h2g2.

A brief biography.

[blackmamba]

Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Sylvia Plath. Tags: .

The Weary Blues somewhere i have never travelled

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rachel  |  August 23, 2006 at 3:58 am

    In what ways did the culture “not welcome or support her”. In her own lifetime Plath was widely known and published. I’m not denying the sexism of the times but Plath, coming from a priviledged background,and attending some of the best universities doesn’t seem to me to have been professionally affected by it.She sufferered from mental illness-this is what chiefly oppressed her. She was a divided self, – divided between wanting to appear as “normal”. and the wild, angry self that was at the core of her. But it was her own personality that drove her to try to be more than perfect in everything she set out to do. She dreamed of having a “perfect” marriage and babies as well as being successful in her professional life but when her marriage fell apart she was unable to cope.

    Reply
  • 2. blackmamba  |  August 24, 2006 at 1:32 am

    Rachel, thanks for the comment.  I am no expert on Plath and both your account and the one from h2g2 I have quoted seem like fair arguments, though approached from different perspectives.

    I have to agree that there seems to be not enough of a reason for her to feel oppressed, given her background. But the mind is a interesting piece of machinery – you believe what you want – so it might be so that her depression and subsequent suicide were not caused by “real” reasons but more by her mental state. But those were her feelings and that is what is comes out so vividly and darkly in her poetry.

    Reply
  • 3. falstaff  |  August 24, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    my two bits:

    Rachel, while I agree entirely that much of Plath’s misery was self-induced, I’m not sure there’s necessarily a contradiction between ‘personal’ vs. ‘cultural’ trauma. The unrealistic expectations that you suggest Plath placed on herself were at least partly a product of the sexism of her times and her social milieu, and there’s certainly reason to believe (based on this poem for instance, or remember ‘Daddy’) that Plath channeled the suffering of others into her work, combining it with her own dark moods to create some incredible poetry. This sort of exaggerated, almost pathological empathy may be a symptom of mental illness, but that doesn’t make the wellsprings of anti-patriarchal outrage she was tapping into any less real. The fact that she personally had many advantages means little – a consciousness of social injustice can be more generalised (surely you’re not suggesting that people with advantaged backgrounds aren’t capable of feeling the suffering of those less fortunate than them). Nor would Plath be the first or only writer to draw upon a more general suffering to create works that are both deeply personal but also relevant to a larger culture – if anything, the ability to relate to deprivation you don’t personally experience may be an important part of creative genius.

    Reply

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