‘Poppies in July’ Analysis

H/t Poppies in July image. ‘Little poppies…little…hell flames, Do you do…no harm?’ The repetition of ‘little’ and the addressing of the question to the poppies give the voice in the poem a natural feeling. The words in the quote are everyday words and are mainly monosyllables. The first line has three beats; the second has two. In the quoted example … indicates the end of a beat. The beat varies a lot in this poem and extends to five and six beat lines: ‘Flickering…like that…wrinkly…and clear red…like the skin…of a mouth’. The varied beat shows the erratic nature of Plath’s emotions.”
Written: 1962. Shortly after Plath confirmed Ted’s affair.

Rhyme & Tone: Everyday speech. Vile, vivid and numb. Seven irregular un-rhyming two line couplets followed by a single line.

Imagery: Image of fire.

Metaphors, similes, apostrophe

Themes: Struggles (failed relationship), Inspiration (exhausted), Depression (drugs).

Poetic Techniques: Apostrophe: speaker addresses a dead or absent person, or inanimate object.

The poem begins with a nice image of summer flowers, yet the end of the first line suggests something sinister and dangerous. When compared with her earlier images of fire and light bringing forth inspiration we can draw some parallels but note the evil tone of ‘little hell flames’. Yet these fiery flowers do no harm to Plath as she says ‘I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.’ Even if Plath is able to touch these poppies, as she first said, they would do her no harm; she is not affected by the flowers in any way. For Plath to put her hands among these flames suggest self-harm, this notion will ultimately lead to her suicide.

She goes on to say that it is exhausting for Plath to look at these poppies, ‘A mouth just bloodied. Little bloody skirts!’ Plath has finally caught on to Ted Hughes’ cheating and perhaps this line is a dig at her husband, the ‘skirts’ he had been chasing has tarnished his mouth. Yet we must also look to the possibility of physical abuse, and not from Plath as it is rare for someone to bloody one’s own mouth in about of self-abuse. Perhaps Plath had confronted Hughes about his affairs and this resulted in a slap across the face, however this is purely suppositional.

Poppies have been known to harvest effects that come from some drugs; “Opium, or opïum is a narcotic analgesic drug which is obtained from the unripe seed pods of the opium poppy.” Wiki  Note Plath’s following statements and we can be sure she knew of these effects also: ‘…fumes that I cannot touch…nauseous capsules…sleep…dulling and stilling…” It seems as though Plath is longing for this almost comatose state that she can derive from the poppy. [H/t JenniSparks]

She asks for the ‘opiates’ and longs to ‘bleed, or sleep’ and the next line‘If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!’ suggests an intimacy that she desires with something so hurtful. She is sick of life and tired of love and Hughes, in the end everything is colourless – she longs for the poppies to take her away from this world and it looks as though suicide is imminent. H/t poppies image

It is important to note Plath’s usage of the exclamation mark: in line two it reveals her fascination with the poppies; she is repulsed in line eight and in desperation in line ten, finally an intense longing in lines eleven and twelve.

  • Her final thoughts on life are present throughout
  • Note the contrast in the first images and the final images
  • Relationship with Hughes Like

“Poppies in July” is a short poem written in free verse. Its fifteen lines are divided into eight stanzas. The first seven stanzas are couplets, and the eighth consists of a single line. The title presents an image of natural life at its most intense—at the height of summer. It evokes a pastoral landscape and suggests happiness, if not joy or passion. The title is ironic, however, because the poem is not a hymn to nature but a hallucinatory projection of the landscape of the speaker’s mind and emotions.”

Sylvia Plath begins the poem innocently,…

“We know from her many references to ‘red’ and ‘blood-red’ (“the blood-jet is poetry”) that Sylvia Plath associated this colour with dynamic life forces, creative forces, even violent forces–released from restriction or confinement. In the last lines of “Ariel,” her arrow-self, having been released from”dead stringencies,” “flies / Into the red/ Eye, the cauldron of morning.” It is the red sun-cauldron of rebirth, of transfiguration.

Before that yearned-for release, however, a different voice speaks, on many occasions. It is the voice of the passive woman, submitting to her psychic and even physical confinement, despairing of ever achieving the release of her imagination and creative power. She beholds the symbols of vitality, like the red tulips in her hospital room, and she bemoans her own powerlessness, her own dullness. At times she can only imagine psychic freedom by transforming herself by being dead:”

Sylvia Plath Forum: Poppies In July



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