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Elm Speaks By Plath Essay Research Paper

Elm Speaks By Plath Essay, Research Paper Sylvia Plath?s ?The Elm Speaks? Dutch elm disease is one of the most devastating shade tree diseases the earth has ever seen. It is a wilt disease

Elm Speaks By Plath Essay, Research Paper

Sylvia Plath?s ?The Elm Speaks? Dutch elm disease is one of the most

devastating shade tree diseases the earth has ever seen. It is a wilt disease

with an extremely high fatality rate. The disease is characterized by gradual

yellowing of the leaves and defoliation. This is caused be a fungus which is

transmitted from diseased trees to healthy trees by insects known as bark

beetles. In the 1962 villanelle ?The Elm Speaks? confessionalist Sylvia

Plath compares her depressed emotional state with Dutch elm disease, which

killed millions of Elm trees around the world. In the fourteen stanza poem

written only one year before her suicide, a bitter Plath cries out with pain.

The theme of depression originates from the loss of love in her marriage to Ted

Hughes. The poem is extremely rich in metaphorical language from beginning to

end. In many ways the poem is designed to fit the definition of a villanelle.

?The Elm Speaks? is a free verse poem with chaotic meter. While living in

London, Sylvia Plath had a massive elm tree in front of he house that became the

subject of this poem. In the first stanza, she mentions her ?great tap

root,? which is the very bottom of the elm?s roots. This line symbolizes

that she has reached the very bottom of her depression. She describes her

depression further in stanza two as a ?sea of dissatisfactions,? ?or the

voice of nothing? meaning it is raging inside of her. At the same time she has

an empty feeling which is driving her mad. Afterwards, in stanza three, she

compares love to a shadow, a dark reflection of someone which is not real and

can not be touched. ?Till your head is a stone, you pillow a little turf?

creates the image of a grave stone in stanza four. ?The sounds of poisons?

in stanza five refers to what Hughes, her husband, has done to her and how it

burns inside of her killing her like ?arsenic?. In stanza six she expresses

that she has been through a lot, but she has always gotten through it. In stanza

seven, however, she admits that she has broken down and can not and will not

take her pain anymore. Next, in stanza eight she describes the moon, which is

normally calming, as merciless, meaning that even the few things in life she

used enjoy are now driving her insane. Similarly, in stanza nine, she talks

about dreams and how they ?possess and endow? her. In other words she feels

as if she is trapped inside an ongoing nightmare. In the tenth stanza she

confesses that she is holding everything in and that nightly it ?flaps out?

which means she cries herself to sleep. She is terrified of her depression and

its effects on her, which she admits in stanza eleven. Next, in stanza twelve

she portrays the ?faces of love? as ?pale irretrievable? saying that one

can never find love, it is out of reach. For the second time in the poem, in

stanza thirteen, she admits that she can not take the pain she is suffering

anymore. Finally in the last stanza, she uses sexual imagery that for the most

part states, the fact that they got together has killed her. The later years of

Plath?s life, when she wrote ?The Elm Speaks?, were very tragic. She

suffered from a vast number of mental illnesses, including being bipolar or

manic depressive. Her moods were constantly up and down, one minute happy the

next sad. Just one year before she wrote this poem she suffered through her

second miscarriage, which was shortly followed by an appendectomy. Through all

of this her husband Ted Hughes abused her both mentally and physically, driving

her deeper into her depression. During these difficult years she wrote Ariel, a

volume of poetry mainly concerning subjects such as injury, victimization,

parasitism, alienation, brutality, war, cannibalism, death in all forms,

torture, murder, suicide, mental illness, and anger. Only one week after Ariel

was completed she viciously committed suicide by putting her head in the oven

after making her children breakfast on the morning of February eleventh, 1963.

In her poetry it is obvious that suicide was something she had been considering

for a long time, becoming an obsession or even an addiction. Throughout ?The

Elm Speaks? Plath generates a basic them of depression. She presents herself

as being the victim of a horrible love relationship that has ruined her. She

uses many different techniques to help create her theme. The first, and most

obvious, is her word choice. She uses words such as fear, madness, poisons,

arsenic, shriek, hiss, and kill. These keep the reader unsettled. The second is

her intensely powerful concluding line, ?That kill, that kill, that kill.?

This helps to establish theme because it is the very last thing the reader

reads, therefore it withholds in the mind. Lastly, throughout the poem she makes

undefined references to suicide or death. The first, in line eleven, ?Till

your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf? creates an image of a grave.

Later, in stanza five, ?the sounds of poisons? and ?arsenic? give the

reader the idea of both murder and suicide. Finally, the first line of stanza

thirteen, ?I am incapable of more knowledge? can be interpreted that she can

not take her life anymore. This gives the reader the impression that she may be

considering suicide. Because of these things, the themes of depression and fury

are wonderfully captured giving the reader a good sense of Plath?s anger. The

entire poem is filled with elaborate metaphorical language. The most important

is the metaphor of the elm tree. A strong, beautiful tree, suddenly killed by

Dutch elm disease, which began to spread wildly in London during the early

1960?s. In this metaphor Plath, the strong elm tree, dies in London in 1963,

is internally killed by Hughes, the Dutch elm disease. A smaller metaphor, in

stanza three, uses a horse, which stands for manliness, or Hughes, and hooves

running away, or Hughes leaving her. Also, in stanzas six and seven she gives

the image of a storm which is a metaphor for the anger toward Hughes which is

storming inside of her. Later, in stanza ten she is ?inhabited by a cry?,

the cry signifies the her need for love. Afterwards, in stanza eleven the

?dark thing? she is afraid of represents the need for love she feels inside.

Lastly, the ?knowledge? she has become ?incapable of? in stanza thirteen

symbolizes that she can no longer stand the pain she has learned to accept. The

metaphors Plath uses throughout the poem help to create a clear image of the

hurt she feels within. ?The Elm Speaks? fits many of the characteristics of

a villanelle. A villanelle is a type of poem having only two strategically

placed inner rhymes. This poem has one at the beginning and one at the end. The

first are fear and hear in the third and fourth line, and the second will and

kill are in lines forty-one and forty-two. When the words she chose are put

together; fear, hear, will, and kill, they generate the idea that the fear you

are hearing in her will kill her. This makes it clear that they are very

carefully chosen and placed. Also, villanelle stanzas are always tercets, which

is true throughout this poem. Finally, in most villanelles, the first and third

line in each stanza have the same number of syllables. In ?The Elm Speaks?

this is only true in three of the stanzas. First, in stanza seven they each have

eleven syllables. Second, in stanza thirteen, each consists of ten syllables. At

the end, in the fourteenth stanza each line contains only six syllables. The

meter in the poem from the first line to the last is completely chaotic, which

can be seen in the following: 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, its 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 irretrievable? 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. The chaos in the meter may

signify the disruption she is feeling within herself. ?The Elm Speaks? is a

free verse poem having very little rhyme, consisting of many assonance and

consonance. The only rhyme throughout the poem, as stated before, are the two

inner rhymes, fear, hear, will, and kill. From beginning to end, the poem

contains massive amounts of assonance. The most obvious are the O?s. Each

stanza consists of a least seven or eight O?s including the many sets of

double O?s. Also, E?s are very common in each stanza, containing as many as

7 E?s. The most common consonance are the many N?s and S?s. Each stanza

has an average of as many as eight S?s and N?s. Other than these few

patterns, the poem is a completely free verse poem. In conclusion, Plath

masterfully expresses her feeling of hurt, do to the painfully hard years she

was struggling through. Because of this, her themes of depression and anger jump

out at the reader. Also, the beautifully written metaphorical language helps to

establish the theme. Many of the traits in this free verse poem make it a

villanelle. In the fourteen stanza poem ?The Elm Speaks? Sylvia Plath

wonderfully achieves her comparison with the elm tree, which also suffered

during the time of Dutch elm disease, which it eventually died from. ?The Elm

Speaks? 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, its 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

irretrievable? 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.

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