Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A very public attempt 2

At Understanding Poetry

After all that, I'm stil nowhere close to understanding the lines quoted earlier. Perhaps it is not meant to be understood. Perhaps I'm taking a fork to my dosai. Perhaps it need to be savoured and experienced. Perhaps I just need to try harder. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

Now, the whole point of these posts is to try and get to grips with a form of literature that I struggle with. So please do not attribute motives where no other exists.

And so we persist. Read the following lines and tell me what you see in them. Yes, I have quoted selectively but it is a good indicator (at least to me) of the rest of it. As ever, please do not google for the poet.

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.

Over to you.


Shammi said...

This is better, in that at least I understand the context (somebody in a hospital bed) and the analogies make sense. A lot of modern poetry to me seems to be prosaic observations cut up into short lines at odd points - which apparently then becomes a poem.

Just my opinion.

Like with art, sometimes the things that critics and erudite folks ooh and aah over dont make sense to me.

Falstaff said...

First, you have to read the poem in its entirety. Taking one stanza out of context is deeply unfair.

That said, even by itself, the stanza is exquisite. Let's start with the first three lines. First, it's a wonderful image - it's unlikely you've ever thought of a patient in bed as an eye before, but the minute you read the line you have a vivid mental picture, so that the line is both shocking and accurate. Second, by calling herself an eye Plath simultaneously draws attention to the figure lying in bed and to what that figure is watching - to stare into an eye is to see it staring back and that sense of being both inside and outside is precisely what the larger poem is about. Third, the lines convey both awareness and alienation - the patient-as-eye becomes an observer, a mute witness, cut off from the scene around her, watching as from behind a glass. If you've ever lain in a hospital bed you know that that's exactly how it feels. Fourth, the idea of an eye propped open, forced to observe everything around it, is almost screamingly painful. The ability to shut one's own eyelids, to blink, is a basic, even unconscious right that we take for granted. To lose that right, to be forced to stay open, is to be preternaturally vulnerable and exposed, is to lose all identity. To picture that eye being held open is to feel an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, of helplessness. Which is what Plath is trying to convey. Except that (fifth), the open eye is equally a form of protest, an insistence on seeing; to look something in the eye, to stare it in the face and not blink, is the ultimate form of defiance, so that there is a undercurrent of strength here - the eye is stupid yes, but also perhaps brave. And put together the two qualities - suffering and defiance - suggest a kind of martyrdom, if a small, insignificant one. Sixth, there's just the physical ache of that image; imagine that eye being held open and you imagine an initial frustration that slowly leaks into tiredness and pain. In other words, you imagine the restlessness of a person who lies aching in bed, wishing she could rest but unable to. Seventh, there's the glorious word 'pupil' with its second meaning of student, wonderfully conveying the sense of the patient taking in everything, but (remember 'stupid pupil') learning nothing.

And all of that is just the first three lines. And I've barely scratched the brilliance of this piece. Clive James, in a recent essay in Poetry speaks of Plath in her Ariel phase "working miracles" - and Tulips is nothing short of miraculous.

Anonymous said...

I like this, last one made no sense to me whatsoever. This is probably how I would feel if I was lying in a hospital feeling helpless.

Anonymous said...

I did google the poem, but after I'd left my comment. Now THAT is what I call poetry - something you can empathise with and understand... and admire the way it's been described.

Anonymous said...

This poem seems to narrate something in straightforward tone, with a slight inclination to a metaphoric interpretation. Falstaff has gone into elaborately interesting take on the eyes wide open part. So obviously I have read the comments.

(That reminds me have you seen Eyes Wide Shut, and Fiddler on the Roof, two strangely interesting movies! - completely unrelated to these poems ...)

"That will not shut" feels a little sad, it looks like, the poet prefers to disappear, or is passing time on vague observations or looks at everything is life as meaningless and futile and vague. Feels like a terribly sad, (suicidal and pessimistic) poem. I cant listen to sad songs for some reason even the melodious old Hindi sad songs. Soaked in self-pity surely. There could be days when such poems help us cry better. Not for everyday.

austere said...

I didn't like this one very much at all. Too dry.
Maybe the line about the gulls.