Tulips

Tulips

 by Sylvia Plath

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

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.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

Summary of Tulips

  • Popularity of “Tulips”: This poem was written by Sylvia Plath, a renowned American poet, and novelist. It was first published in 1965 in her poem’s collection, ‘Tulips’ is a famous lyrical poem for its thematic strand of capturing the impressions of an ill woman. The poem demonstrates the feelings of the speaker who wants to liberate herself from the clutches of stress and strained life. The poem also deals with the phenomenon of escapism and death.
  • “Tulips” As a Representative of Desire: The poem is written from the perspective of an unfortunate and perhaps a terminally ill woman who wants to isolate herself permanently from the world. She seeks comfort within the four walls of the hospital. At the outset, she details her experiences at the hospital and how the hospital staff is treating her. As a patient, she gives all her possessions to the nurses, her history to the anesthetist and physically surrenders herself to the doctors. Later, when she lays in the four walls of the hospital, longing for a permanent escape when she sees red tulips. Thus, in her void state, the blood red tulips smash away the tranquility and calmness around and open a window of new hope. Also, their arrival reminds her of her worldly associations, where she does not want to turn anymore.
  • Major Themes in “Tulips”: Death, escapism, and imagination versus reality are the major themes of the poem. The speaker draws a vivid picture of the life she wants to enjoy. She does not want to be part of the explosive world anymore. Instead, she desires silence and to be surrounded within the white walls of the hospital. But, the arrival of tulips disturbs her state of mind and makes her stand amid time and reality.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Tulips”

Literary devices are tools the writers use to enhance their texts and to allow the readers to interpret the lines in multiple ways. Sylvia Plath has also employed some literary devices in this poem to express her ideas. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /a/ in “And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes” and the sound of /e/ in “A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck”.
  2. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break, instead, moves over the next line. For example,

“And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.”

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /m/ and /l/ in “The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves”.
  2. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, the word ‘pass’ is repeated in the second stanza of the poem to emphasize the action.

“The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps.”

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /b/ in “Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss” and the sound of /th/ in “They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down”.
  2. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me, “The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals” and “Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips.”
  3. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. “Tulips” are the symbol of hope and recovery, while “rust-red engine” symbolizes aging and life.
  4. Simile: Simile is used to compare a person and object with something else to make the meanings clear. For example, in 38th line Lightly, through their white swaddling, like an awful baby’ the poet compares tulips with “an awful baby’. In the 52nd line “Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise” the poet compares the arrival of tulips with a loud noise.
  5. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to non-human things. For example, “The vivid tulips eat my oxygen”; “they hurt me” and “Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe”.
  6. Parallelism: Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that is grammatically same, or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter. For example, “Coming and going” is paralleling “breathe by breath.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Tulips”

Poetic Devices refer to those techniques a poet uses to bring uniqueness in his text. The analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are nine stanzas in this poem, and all are equal in length with seven lines each. Seven line stanza is called septet.
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.

Quotes to be Used

The below verses can be used to make the people realize about the experiences of people who are physically weak, terminally ill or weak at heart.

“The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.”