- Death & Transfiguration and Theme of Death in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry
Sylvia Plath deals multi dimensions themes in her poetry but she worked mostly on the theme of death. The Theme of Death in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry is very much dominant which suppresses all other themes The Theme of Death in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry is only one of the themes that cause discomfort and even pain to the modern reader. Like Emily Dickinson, who has written hundreds of poems on the themes of death, Sylvia has also returned at least a dozen poems where death and transfiguration are the major themes. And, of course, there are minor thematic references to death in quite a few more poems. But this does not mean that one should try to point to any resemblance between Emily and Sylvia with respect to their approaches to death. Both happen to have lived in different periods with different impulses to impinge psyches. And, of course, they happen to have had different emotional constitutions, academic training and environments.
Dilating on the theme of death equates Sylvia with the few other poets who had from New England, viz, Bradstreet, Edward Tailor and, of course, Emily. Sylvia’s obsession with death, her mode of treating this subject, strikes the moderns more than the discussion of death in others does. In modern Western societies, death and dying are deemed Taboo subjects. Life should attract us more than death. One comes into this world only once, and talking about death does nothing but spoil man’s little joys and pleasure of living. The individuals seem worried about the future, and death, particularly suicide denies winning the blessing of future years. The moderns think about and plan the feature. That is probably why even when Sylvia talks of merging in the sun or the Cosmos, in order to accomplish greater awareness of the reality that the universe is, the modern deems her mentally sick. Sylvia has the courage to confront Taboo subjects like death and suicide just as D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Henry Miller had the guts to talk about the represented sexuality of their time.
None would deny the fact that the greatest of all worries that have haunted mankind since time immemorial, is death. The idea of that haunts most man, as has been rightly pointed out by Bertrand Russell in “The Conquest of Happiness”, and make them unhappy. The Braver souls among humans wish to know what happens to man after death. The curiosity, at times, becomes too overwhelming to suppress and many embrace death in a bid to know the nature of life in the hereafter. But, Sylvia Plath is not only an educated modern but also a brilliant artist, blessed with tremendous imagination and perception. In poems like ‘Edge and I am Vertical, “death is an act of self-destruction which helps the reader focus his attention on the persona’s pain and suffering. The following quotation from Edge makes it clear her bare feet seem to be saying, we have come so far, it is over. This demonstrates that the speaker’s constant endurance of pain has ended and, the description of bare feet signifies her vulnerability due to lack of production, perhaps from society. This poem is often regarded by critics as an instance of death Instinct which Sigmond Freud refers to, especially as self-destruction. In Edge and I am vertical, the persons are attempting to make a statement, and are confronted with rejection from society. This is effectively portrayed in I Am Vertical
When the trees and flowers have been stewing their cool odors I walk among them but none of them are noticing.
This quotation suggests that society enforces its attitude on individuals. This results in social restraint and lake of independence. In The Edge, we read that the moon has nothing to be said about, employing that persona’s death will leave others unaffected such utterances point to the egotistical nature of the people around.
The yearning for death is not simply an escape from the severities of life. An escape from life means an escape that could lead to the persona seeking something greater. In Edge, the persona strives for perfection which she finds through death. She says” She has folded them back into her body as petals of a Rose close.”The rose is often depicted as having qualities of beauty and purity which the persona longs for. The woman is perfected and her dead body wears a smile of accomplishment, demonstrating a sense of finality and Justice has been achieved. A similar attitude is found in I am vertical, where the persona says” I want the one’s world’s longevity and the other’s daring”referring to a tree and a flower, respectively. The words also communicate the speaker’s desire for what she does not have. More importantly, the persona hopes that acceptance and recognition will result from her death. This is apparent in
” I shall be useful when I lie down then ,the trees may touche me one and the flowers have time for me” .
There is, thus, a suggestion in Plath’s poetry that the persona lacks satisfaction in her life and looks to death as a means of fulfilment and a new beginning. The idea of death as a means of rebirth and regeneration is an element which makes Plath’s poetry so different. The use of the word sky in I am Vertical portrays death as an elevated state of spirituality and fulfilment. She ponders over death as a means to an end and the end is Greater awareness. Now what that greater awareness is going to be like, and which is to be experienced through self-destruction, is anybody’s guess. The intellectuals, particularly those who are artistically inclined, keep raking their brains in order to be able to figure out the nature of the experience of death, and also what death is likely to bring in its wake. Some of man’s rational acts may seem irrational too many. But poets like Plath Sexton and Berryman speak to the represented voice of death in humans. It certainly does not in an employee that one should begin to consider death as a means of escape are as a means of achieving greater awareness. Sylvia seems to be at her best when she contemplates death keeping firmly grounded in this world. Life here and now offers a kind of transcendence. Sylvia has certainly left us a lot of work that emphasizes continuity, those who exist today have passed through to the past as well as to the future. She affirms human community and her poetry, at least a considerable part of it, bears ample witness to the fact that communal links, be they agonizing are soothing nature, result in wonderful work of poetry that informs one about the nature of life in this world.
Now what makes Sylvia think about death? Is it simply the desire to escape? Is it that she finds life too full of insurmountable odds to cope with? Thinking about death and using it as a theme in her poetry may partly be the result of her predicament. But this does not seem to be the whole truth.
In Daddy, she makes it clear that the death of her father has been a source of mental torture. She is going to kill Daddy metaphorically, thought once and for all. She does not want to be haunted by Daddy. Whether or not she succeeded in doing so, is a big question. She held her father partly responsible for her misery because he ignored his disease and died earlier. She thinks that he could have lived longer, had he consulted the doctors earlier. His death to her was a sort of suicide. She never quite managed to forget it.
In one of her Journals, she talks of killing her mother, believing her to be cruel beyond measure. Since she cannot muster the guts to kill somebody else, she tries to kill herself at the age of 18. This a stage when this attempted suicide may be considered means of escape. But the second attempt, she makes to eliminate herself, which turns out to be successful, seems partly the result of her anguish and partly the result of her desire to experience awareness resistance experience cosmic awareness. Persistent sinus infection and some professional disappointments may have served as an inducement. Besides, Ted Hughe’s affair with Ame Sexton serves as a great shock. But do these disappointments become the cause of her suicide? She wrote Ariel almost a week before her death. Ariel seems to be the culmination of being, in this world and embodies the desire to merge into a bigger, stronger and much more potent being than her own. By looking inward, in a bid to know more about the reality of being, by peeping inside her own being, she seems to have felt the need to efface the individual specific, being or identity. This is probably necessary to experience the perceptions of a greater being. She seems to have been overcome by the curiosity to experience that which is beyond the perception of the individual specific being. The theme of Death, there reaches its culmination in “Ariel” and puts on a new complex and multidimensional hue. Going by ‘Ariel “her death is not simply the result of the desire to escape, Death is embraced in order to be able to have a new experience of being ARIEL is, thus, a journey towards awareness.
In short, in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry, the theme of death can be shown from various perspectives. Death comes up sometimes, self-awareness, sometimes journey to the world of awareness
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