“I only wanted To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. How free it is, you have no idea how freeâ€””
Sylvia Plath longs for freedom, as expressed in the poem ‘Tulips’, not from enslavement or death, but from life and “little smiling hooks” that cling her onto the living, and from the red, vibrant tulips.
The tulips define the opposing white. They represent the outside world, and life, spring and warmth. They distract Plath as she lies on her hospital bed. “I am learning peacefulness”. The violent and invasive tulip-red disrupts her peacefulness from the numbing clinical white. She calls herself “nobody” but the dynamic tulips explode the serene quietness of the hospital room.Order now
There is the suggestion of a traumatized past. White symbolizes negation â€” a “nothing”ness. There is a sense of defeat. She is devoid of all feelings. She is alive but not living. The hallmarks of humanity have deserted her. She wants to reject and renounce everything away. “I have given my name and my day-clothes to the nurses And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to the surgeons.”
She is trying to escape. Her sense of self-esteem is destroyed â€” she has lost her identity and wants to slip into oblivion.
She calls herself a “pebble” â€” something inanimate. The nurses tend to her body as water tends to pebbles â€” they “pass and pass” trying to smooth her wounds. The rhythmic and soothing properties of water etches deeper symbolism into Plath’s narrative process.
“They bring me numbness in their bright needles”. She is in utmost despair. In the loss of herself, she finds tranquility. Inspite of being alive, she wants to embrace death. She wants to be purified and cleansed because she wants to be pure when she embraces death. She feels guilt-ridden when she looks at the photo of her husband and child. She wants to escape but they keep her hooked on.
She perceives herself as a lumbering “thirty-year-old cargo boat” who has been “swabbed” clear of all loving relations. She has shunned all her once precious possessions â€” her teasets, bureaus of linen and books. She feels that her “associations”, turmoil and dirt are being washed away when the doctors clean her with anti-septic before operation. She feels that she is being cleansed and cleaned of her soul when the water is bent over her head. “I am a nun now, I have never been so pure”.
Plath’s melancholy influences her to develop a dark fascination for death and liberation. She is caught between the desire to move towards the absolute freedom and purity that lies in death, and life. “The peacefulness is so big it dazes you”. Her freedom is both wonderful and terrible because the price is high. The woman must give up her family and children, who cling onto her, as well as her possessions. And the ultimate price â€” and reward â€” is death.
Plath further uses personification to an extent where the tulips acquire aural energy â€” she can hear their breathing pierce through the gift paper. They have so mush life in them that they “hurt” her. She can hear them breathe like a newborn “baby” cries. The intense tulip-red “corresponds” to her wounds. Their messages surround her in her room â€” they are a stabbing reminder of the suppressed pain of reality. They “weigh” her down, and do not allow her to escape, in the manner of a “dozen red lead sinkers” round her neck.
Nobody watched her before as she tried to slip into oblivion. Now she is watched throughout the day â€” the tulips are a painful reminder of reality. She looks at herself as a “cut-paper shadow” stuck between the “eye of the sun” and the “eyes of the tulips”. She has wanted to “efface” and obliterate herself but the tulips keep her stuck.
Before the tulips came, the air was “calm” and silent. Now she can see the air break and snap and there is no silence anymore. The air she breathes seems to be coming from the tulips itself. It “snags and eddies” around her the way rivers surround a “sunken rust-red engine”. The tulips catch her attention against the pale whiteness. They ask for commitment, which she does not want to make.
The tulips harm her and they “should be put behind bars like dangerous animals”. Even the calm walls seem to be warning themselves of the “great African cat”. Sylvia Plath is known to allow her nihilistic self take over when she writes her poetry. But here she says that she can feel her heart open and beat again and remind her of her duties. She compares her heart to “red blooms” and flowers of love. Tears run down her eyes and they come from a place as “far away as health” and her well-being.