Lady Lazarus Essay, Research Paper
Death is one of the major themes of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Many of her poems are elaborate explorations of the concept of death. It was also one of her major preoccupations, as can be seen from the documentation of her life.
She attempted suicide at various intervals throughout her life. However, the events in her life were not entirely responsible for each of her three attempts and eventual death. To the outsider her life seemed perfect but over the course of time she had numerous bouts of depression and breakdowns. Her state of mind during these times has been fairly well expressed in her work.
Her poetry with its treatments of death and suicide give her readers a deeper insight on death. Her last poems,written right before she killed herself, give death a sort of cruel allure and her mental anguish is plain to see. It seem as if death is more than just an insistent fixation for her, it is more like a process or treatment. Like and enticing potion that will help her achieve some end.
Lady Lazarus is one of her more famous poems, from a collection entitled Ariel (published posthumously). It is a poem reflecting Plath’s own suicide attempts. Lazarus in the title is a reference to the New Testament. Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. The poem too, is about a sort of female Lazarus who can die and rise again. The woman in the poem, who is also the narrator, is famous for this ability. She speaks of dying over and over again. And how even when her body has begun to decay, she soon comes back to normal, almost as good as new. The comparison of herself to a cat with “nine times to die” indicates that she will not give up till she actually succeeds.
The repeated resurrections have made the woman into a horrifying spectacle. She does not expect a sympathetic response from the “crowd” of spectators that surround her. She does not feel any connection with the people that come to watch her. This is evident from the last stanza where she is describing herself as a mock phoenix, rising “out of the ash” from another failed suicide attempt. She is a myth that people want to marvel at from a distance. She does not feel that they can relate to her. She is a separate being incapable of evoking any compassionate response. She is only a spectacle that people are actually “charged” to get a better look at.
“The second time I meant /To last it out and not come back at all./I rocked shut /As a seashell. /They had to call and call /And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls”
These lines refer to Plath’s own second suicide attempt. She took sleeping pills and locked herself in he basement. She was found and revived after a few days. They again underline her obsession with the process of decay of the human body after death.
One gets the feeling that perhaps Plath resented being saved because the lines “So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr enemy. I am your opus, I am your valuable, The pure gold baby,” are almost mocking. The narrator addresses the doctor/enemy and tells them she’s aware of how valuable she is to them, but she still must keep trying to kill herself. This is evident from the line “I guess you could say I’ve a call.” It is as if some deeper, more powerful self has grabbed control of her and is guiding her to keep trying until she succeeds. It is as important as any call of duty to her.
The woman could perhaps be portraying a secret part of Plath that she could not express to anyone for fear of not being understood. Maybe she did not even want to be understood and was writing simply to purge herself of whatever it was that possessed her.
The poem also compares the woman to a concentration camp victim. In the lines “A cake of soap, A wedding ring, a gold filling,” Plath is referring to Jews and how their corpses were scavenged for anything of use. She’s indicating that even after death the people surrounding her will be of the dispassionate spectator type, only interested in making use of her material belongings. They will have no personal interest in her. The same way they did not when she was alive.
The language Plath uses in the poem is rhythmic and lyrical. It is almost as if the voice of the narrator reaches out to the reader. The poem comes directly form the narrator and she is characterized by what she is saying. Her morbid fascination with death and how to attain it flow from the poem as if in speech. It makes it easier for one to comprehend death, and that the will to die can be a hidden desire in man himself.