Paralytic - Sylvia Plath

Paralytic: Poetry From The Brink

Silvia Plath has always been famous. She was a very open poet who wrote with so much confession, she became almost like a soap opera. Her life was a constant bout with suicide and the readers loved to watch. After one of her first suicide attempts, which is included in The Bell Jar, a novel later written by Plath, she was admitted into McLean Hospital. The poem "Paralytic" more than likely came from her time there. It is a poem about a girl who is placed into a mental institution after attempting to commit suicide.
The poem "Paralytic" goes as follows:
It happens. Will it go on?-
My mind a rock,
No fingers to grip, no tongue,
My god the iron lung

That loves me, pumps
My two
Dust bags in and out,
Will not

Let 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
Whole
On a whole world I cannot touch.
At the white, tight

Drum 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,
A clear
Cellophane I cannot crack.
On my bare back

I smile, a Buddha, all
Wants, desire
Falling from me like rings
Hugging their lights.

The claw
Of the magnolia,
Drunk on its own scents,
Asks nothing of life.

This work is easiest to understand when it is broken down, stanza by stanza. The first question to be asked is: what is Plath talking about when she says "it happens"? I believe that she is talking about life. She has tried to take her own but has not accomplished that task and so it goes on. Plath says that her mind is a rock. This statement has many connotations. Rocks are of course heavy, solid, and hard but I think that she is comparing her mind to a rock more in a sense that it is inanimate and therefore numb, as well as weighted down because of the weight of all of the pressures and disappointments it contains which makes it heavy. Plath continues on to say that she has no fingers or tongue. This could be taken as if she has no one there for her and no one's fingers to grip but I look at it as though she herself is missing them. I think that she feels like she has lost control of herself and her body. It is as though she can't force herself to hold onto anything or speak. Comparing God to an iron lung also gives several connotations. An iron lung would be inflexible, unchanging, and permanent, just as God is all of these things as well as immortal.
In the second stanza, Plath continues her thought. She makes it seem as though God himself is pumping her lungs and therefore forcing her to stay alive. She must not consider this some kind of punishment, since she says that God loves her, she must also realize that he must be doing this for good reason. Comparing her lungs to dust bags is a curious thought, however. It seems as though if a person's lungs are full of dust, they must not breath in any new air. This seems to suggest that her life is very repetitive and there is nothing new for her, or perhaps that she does not want to bring in new air.
The third stanza explains what God is trying to do. He "will not/let me relapse/while the day outside glides by like ticker tape." God will not let her die or relapse into her attempts. Outside there is a sense of happiness which is symbolized by the ticker tape. Ticker tape is normally associated with some kind of celebration which leads the reader to think that if everyone else is happy then she can be too. The night, however, is a different idea all together. It brings violets, a flower that has a purple shade and stays in bloom at night which is rare. Most flowers close up at night but violets continue to thrive without the sun. Tapestries can be taken two different ways. In one sense, Plath could be discussing closed eyelids which are sleeping. In another, she could be talking about eyes of people looking in on her in her room.
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