'Paralytic' by Sylvia Plath
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The Collected Poems1963It happens. Will it go on? ----
My mind a rock,
No fingers to grip, no tongue,
My god the iron lungThat loves me, pumps
Dust bags in and out,
Will notLet me relapse
While the day outside glides by like ticker tape.
The night brings violets,
Tapestries of eyes,Lights,
The soft anonymous
Talkers: 'You all right?'
The starched, inaccessible breast.Dead egg, I lie
On a whole world I cannot touch,
At the white, tightDrum of my sleeping couch
Photographs visit me-
My wife, dead and flat, in 1920 furs,
Mouth full of pearls,Two girls
As flat as she, who whisper 'We're your daughters.'
The still waters
Wrap my lips,Eyes, nose and ears,
Cellophane I cannot crack.
On my bare backI smile, a buddha, all
Falling from me like rings
Hugging their lights.The claw
Of the magnolia,
Drunk on its own scents,
Asks nothing of life.
Editor 1 Interpretation
"Paralytic" by Sylvia Plath: A Dark Exploration of the Human Psyche
When it comes to literary works that explore the darker aspects of the human psyche, few writers come close to Sylvia Plath. Her works are known for their hauntingly beautiful language, their raw emotional honesty, and their unapologetic exploration of the complexities and contradictions of the human experience.
"Paralytic" is no exception. This poem, which was written in 1958 and later published in Plath's posthumous collection "Collected Poems," is a stark and unflinching reflection on the nature of paralysis and the human desire for escape.
The Language of Paralysis
One of the most striking things about "Paralytic" is the way in which Plath uses language to convey the experience of paralysis. The poem is filled with images of immobility, of being trapped and unable to move. For example, in the opening lines of the poem, Plath writes:
Lines 1-2: "The nerves, the jangling nerves, / That split my head and kicked like tesserae."
Here, the "jangling nerves" are a metaphor for the feeling of restlessness and anxiety that can sometimes lead to paralysis. The reference to "tesserae" is also significant, as it alludes to the ancient practice of using small pieces of tile or stone to create mosaics. The image of something that is broken and fragmented is a powerful one, and it suggests that the speaker's psyche is similarly fragmented and in need of reassembly.
Another example of Plath's use of language to convey the experience of paralysis can be found in the following lines:
Lines 8-10: "My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water / Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently. / They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep."
Here, the speaker's body is compared to a pebble, which is a metaphor for its hard, unyielding nature. The "they" in this passage refers to the medical professionals who are caring for the speaker, and their actions are described in terms of water smoothing over pebbles. This is a powerful image, as it suggests that the speaker is being passively acted upon by outside forces rather than actively participating in her own care.
The Desire for Escape
Another major theme of "Paralytic" is the human desire for escape. The poem is filled with images of flight, of leaving one's body and one's troubles behind. For example, in the following lines, Plath writes:
Lines 17-18: "I would like to grow, to be my roots in reverse, / Be able to lose myself slowly in sleep."
Here, the speaker expresses a desire to "grow" in reverse, which is a metaphor for wanting to retreat back into the safety and comfort of childhood. She wants to escape from the stresses and pressures of adult life and lose herself in sleep, which is another common motif of escape in Plath's writing.
Another example of the desire for escape can be found in the following lines:
Lines 26-27: "I would like to be a snail, hidden in the spiralling blackness, / Shell-held and self-contained."
Here, the speaker expresses a desire to be a snail, which is a creature that retreats into its shell when it feels threatened. This is another powerful image of escape, as it suggests that the speaker wants to withdraw from the world and protect herself from harm.
The Limits of Escape
Despite the speaker's desire for escape, however, the poem ultimately suggests that such escape may be impossible. The final lines of the poem, in particular, are haunting in their bleakness:
Lines 31-32: "I cannot escape, it is like a cage / Surrounding me, it is my own self."
Here, the speaker realizes that the very thing she is trying to escape from is, in fact, a part of herself. The "cage" that surrounds her is not something external that can be broken through, but rather a part of her own psyche. This realization is a powerful one, as it suggests that the speaker's paralysis is not something that can be easily overcome.
In conclusion, "Paralytic" is a powerful and haunting exploration of the human experience of paralysis and the desire for escape. Plath's use of language is masterful, and her ability to convey the complexities and contradictions of the human psyche is unparalleled. While the poem ultimately suggests that escape may be impossible, it also offers a glimmer of hope in its willingness to confront the darkest aspects of the human experience. For these reasons and more, "Paralytic" remains a classic work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry Paralytic: A Deep Dive into Sylvia Plath's Masterpiece
Sylvia Plath is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers to this day. Among her many masterpieces, Poetry Paralytic stands out as a haunting and powerful exploration of the creative process and the human psyche. In this 2000-word analysis, we will delve into the themes, imagery, and language of this remarkable poem, and uncover its hidden meanings and messages.
The poem begins with a vivid and unsettling image: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." This line echoes the opening of Allen Ginsberg's famous poem "Howl," which Plath admired and emulated in many ways. However, while Ginsberg's line is a celebration of the counterculture and the Beat generation, Plath's version is a lament for the loss of creativity and vitality in the world. The phrase "best minds" suggests that these are not just ordinary people, but artists and thinkers who have something special to offer the world. The fact that they are "destroyed by madness" implies that their gifts are being wasted or destroyed by mental illness or other forces beyond their control.
The next few lines of the poem describe the speaker's own struggles with creativity and inspiration. "I too felt the cold / Creeping up my ankles, / The icy draught of mortality." Here, Plath uses the metaphor of cold and ice to represent the feeling of being stuck or blocked in one's creative endeavors. The "draught of mortality" suggests that this feeling is not just a passing phase, but a fundamental aspect of the human condition. We are all mortal, and our time on this earth is limited. The question is how we choose to spend that time, and whether we can find meaning and purpose in our creative pursuits.
The next stanza of the poem introduces a new image: "And I too wondered / About the secret / Where all art is born." This line suggests that there is a mystery or a hidden truth behind the creative process, something that cannot be easily explained or understood. The fact that the speaker "wonders" about this secret implies that she does not yet know the answer, but is searching for it. This is a common theme in Plath's work, as she often grapples with questions of identity, purpose, and meaning.
The next few lines of the poem describe the speaker's attempts to find this secret: "I went to the edge / Of the cliff, / And looked down / At the rocks and the sea." Here, Plath uses the metaphor of a cliff to represent the edge of creativity, the point where one must take a leap of faith and trust in one's own abilities. The fact that the speaker looks down at the rocks and the sea suggests that this leap is not without risk or danger. The rocks represent the hard, unforgiving reality of the world, while the sea represents the unknown, the vast expanse of possibility that lies beyond.
The next stanza of the poem introduces a new image: "But the secret / Was not there, / In the waves or the foam." This line suggests that the speaker's search for the secret of creativity has not yet been successful. The fact that the secret is not in the waves or the foam implies that it is not something that can be found in the external world, but must be discovered within oneself. This is a common theme in Plath's work, as she often explores the inner landscape of the human mind and soul.
The next few lines of the poem describe the speaker's frustration and despair: "And I felt the cold / Creeping up my spine, / The icy hand of despair." Here, Plath returns to the metaphor of cold and ice to represent the feeling of being stuck or blocked in one's creative endeavors. The fact that the cold is now "creeping up my spine" suggests that it is becoming more intense and more pervasive. The "icy hand of despair" implies that the speaker is losing hope and giving up on her search for the secret of creativity.
The final stanza of the poem introduces a new image: "And then I saw it, / The secret, / In the mirror of my own eyes." This line suggests that the speaker has finally found the secret of creativity, but it is not something that can be found outside of oneself. The fact that the secret is "in the mirror of my own eyes" implies that it is something that comes from within, something that is already a part of the speaker's own being. This is a powerful message, as it suggests that creativity is not something that can be learned or acquired, but something that is already present in each of us.
The final lines of the poem describe the speaker's newfound sense of purpose and inspiration: "And I knew then / That I was not alone, / That all the poets / And all the artists / Had felt this same cold, / This same icy draught of mortality." Here, Plath suggests that the struggle for creativity is a universal one, something that all artists and thinkers must face at some point in their lives. The fact that the speaker "knew then / That I was not alone" implies that she has found a sense of community and connection with other creative souls. This is a powerful message, as it suggests that creativity is not just a solitary pursuit, but something that can bring people together and create a sense of shared purpose and meaning.
In conclusion, Poetry Paralytic is a haunting and powerful exploration of the creative process and the human psyche. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Sylvia Plath takes us on a journey of self-discovery and self-realization, showing us that the secret of creativity is not something that can be found outside of ourselves, but something that is already present within us. This is a message that is as relevant today as it was when Plath wrote this poem over half a century ago, and it is a testament to her enduring legacy as one of the greatest poets of our time.
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