Sunday, January 25, 2009


Elm by Sylvia Plath

I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:
It is what you fear.
I do not fear it: I have been there.

Is it the sea you hear in me,
Its dissatisfactions?
Or the voice of nothing, that was your madness?

Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it
Listen: these are its hooves: it has gone off, like a horse.

All night I shall gallop thus, impetuously,
Till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf,
Echoing, echoing.

Or shall I bring you the sound of poisons?
This is rain now, this big hush.
And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.
Scorched to the root
My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.

Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.
A wind of such violence
Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek.

The moon, also, is merciless: she would drag me
Cruelly, being barren.
Her radiance scathes me. Or perhaps I have caught her.

I let her go. I let her go
Diminished and flat, as after radical surgery.
How your bad dreams possess and endow me.

I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

Clouds pass and disperse.
Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables?
Is it for such I agitate my heart?

I am incapable of more knowledge.
What is this, this face
So murderous in its strangle of branches? -

Its snaky acids hiss.
It petrifies the will. These are the isolate, slow faults
That kill, that kill, that kill.

“Elm” by Sylvia Plath is one of my favorite poems. I think her use of nature in this poem is incredible effective. She connects images that everyone knows (trees, water, clouds, etc) with emotions that everyone also feels. The beginning line “I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root” shows the depth both physically and emotionally of this poem. Roots stretch deep into the ground just as emotions penetrate every person. This connects the reader to the depth that this woman feels.

The next stanza refers to the turbulent sea and “Its dissatisfactions.” This stanza reminds me of the “to be or not to be” speech in Hamlet because it connects discusses the sea and madness. The second stanza refers to the sound of the sea as dissatisfied. This made me think of the “sea of troubles” in the “to be or not to be” speech. However, she goes on to say that the cause of madness could also be the voice of nothing. Madness is either caused by dissatisfactions or by nothingness according to this poem. The voice of nothingness is just as maddening as the dissatisfactions. This made me once again think of Hamlet and his choice that he either had to deal with the sea of troubles or to enter the unknown nothingness of death. The second stanza introduces the morbidity of this poem and the contemplation of death.

The third stanza addresses love. According to Sylvia Plath, love is intangible, like a shadow, and cannot be attained, like trying to catch a running horse. The forth stanza states that she will go on chasing love but ultimately it is something she will never find. In the fifth stanza she continues to comment on love. Love is frequently compared to a fruit (the fruit of love). Plath begins to use this metaphor and then compares the fruit to arsenic, a deadly poison.

The sixth stanza begins with “I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.” I thought that this was a beautiful and interesting use of imagery. Sunsets are typically thought to be beautiful however they signify the end. This stanza comments on her past relationships and how they have hurt her, “Scorched to the root.” She has obviously been badly hurt by love in the past. The next stanza comments on her inability to be a bystander to this. She “must shriek.”

The eight stanza makes reference to another piece of nature, the moon. The moon is a symbol of the night. To Plath the moon is merciless because she drags her into the night. Night is a common symbol for Plath’s depression and contemplation of suicide. The next stanza starts with “I let her go” this is representative of Plath’s perpetual struggle with depression, mental illness and suicide. Stanza eleven states “I am terrified by this dark thing/ that sleeps in me” once again referring to her suicidal thoughts that she cannot control. During the day it is malignant, meaning it is spreading like a cancer.

In the last stanzas she brings together her contemplation with death and love. She asks, “Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables?” At this part of the poem it becomes clear that part of her madness and depression is based off of her inability to find love. This once again connects with Hamlet because arguably part of his madness was his unreturned love for Ophelia. Just as Shakespeare comments in Hamlet, Sylvia Plath says in “Elm,” in conjunction with other things (like depression or self hatred), love can make you mad enough to kill.

youtube clip about e.e.cummings -

to find the actual form of the poem go to this website:

"i have found what you are like" by E. E. Cummings

i have found what you are like
the rain,

(Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields

easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike

the air in utterable coolness

deeds of green thrilling light
with thinned

newfragile yellows


-in the woods


And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
your kiss

I think this poem is beautiful because of its use of internal and external structure. E. E. Cummings is a master of playing with and manipulating structure.
The beginning of the poem states the point of the poem. “I have found what you are like/the rain.” After that has been stated, the next line opens with a parenthesis, which gives this part the feeling that it is a side note. However, the parenthesis never closes so it becomes an indefinite side note. I think this is a really interesting use of internal structure because he has already stated his point that the subject of the poem is like the rain. The rest of the poem describes the love that he has for the subject of the poem. He also uses parentheses again with “(almost when hugeness will shut/quietly).” He uses this to describe the overwhelming feeling he has when he is with the subject of the poem. Again he manipulates diction by running words together. For example he combines “newfraile,” “stirringof birds,” and “arms;but.” His combination of words rushes the pace of the poem. “Stirringofbirds” creates the same feeling that birds stirring in a tree creates. The internal form of this poem is unique and effective.
I like the use of external form in the poem. The way the lines “-in the woods/which/stutter/and/sing” fall in a way mimicking the falling rain. I also like the way that the last line “your kiss” is emphasized because it is indented. Both the external and the internal structure of this poem are unconventional but interesting and effective.

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