Hi again! At the moment I am really passionate about the poetry of Sylvia Plath (who I mention quite a lot ;)) and Carol Ann Duffy. I am mesmerised by the words in Plath’s writing, her poetry is just so beautiful and I cannot imagine what she would have been able to create had she not died at the age of 30.
I also recently studied some of Duffy’s poetry, and I find her poetry, although often a little too aggressive, makes me feel really strong and powerful as a woman. Plath’s poetry does the same, especially her poem ‘Lady Lazarus’ and it cannot be denied that strong women writers should be celebrated! Reading any of these poems aloud gives me a real buzz and I hope that, by reading this post and picking up a copy of Plath or Duffy’s poetry, you too will feel empowered.
I have picked out two poems from each of these brilliant authors to discuss! I thought it was a bit much to write out the whole poems (and I’m just not that committed) but I’ve included some of my favourite and, what I think are, the most empowering lines! 🙂 All these poems appear in the anthologies ‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy and ‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath.
‘Lady Lazarus’ by Sylvia Plath
This poem is absolutely brilliant, to read it out loud gives me a real thrill and buzz. Plath’s poems are often difficult to understand and they can be interpreted in so many different ways. I would say (after asking my mum!) ‘Lady Lazarus’ is about a woman who cannot die and who is destined to come back alive again and again, like the Lazarus from the Bible, who I believe was some kind of zombie.
“And I a smiling woman/ I am only thirty. / And like the cat I have nine times to die.”
Throughout the poem, I get the impression that this poem in many ways reflects Plath’s own life, as there are continual references to death and suicide and it is a known fact that Plath was obsessed with being remembered and she often felt that the only way she could do this was to die spectacularly.
“Dying/ Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.”
But my favourite part of the poem, especially if you’re reading it out loud, is when it starts to get to the end. Here the words are full of power and meaning and you can imagine them being shouted and spoken with great strength and confidence. For me, the final stanzas show that, ultimately, the woman is in power and she is strong, despite people treating her like an object, taking pieces of her for themselves because she is the ‘walking miracle.’
The final stanza instils the reader with power and inspiration.
“Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ And I eat men like air.”
You can check out the full amazing poem here. I really would recommend reading it out loud to yourself, raising your voice as you near the end, where I believe Plath’s strength of writing really comes out.
‘The Applicant’ by Sylvia Plath
To be honest, I’m not sure what this one is really about. I’m not the best at understanding poetry, and Plath’s poetry is as confusing as any, even if it is brilliant. But for me, I don’t really need to fully understand what is going on in the poem or behind the words, as with any good poet there is power behind the language even so. And that is the case for ‘The Applicant.’
“Willing/ To bring teacups and roll away headaches/ And do whatever you tell it./ Will you marry it?”
From lines such as these in the poem, it suggests that Plath is commenting on marriage and choosing to take a cynical view point. I love this, as it, for me, reveals some kind of understanding into Plath’s life and own views. Perhaps the attitude in the poem that a woman is just there to comfort her husband and ‘admire his achievements’ could reflect Plath’s mentality towards her and her own husband’s achievements.
“A living doll, everywhere you look./ It can sew, it can cook.’
This can be seen as a comment on women’s traditional roles and I love the way that Plath comments on these roles, which I would say makes her quite before her time. Despite the fact that she did not always come out in favour of feminist issues, Plath’s poetry, for me, seems to subtly hint at the issues with gender attitudes in society, with this quote in particular for me adding a sense of sarcasm to women’s roles.
‘Pygmalion’s Bride’ by Carol Ann Duffy
I’ve recently studied this poem and I think it’s brilliant. Pygmalion was a Greek mythological sculptor, who created a statue of a woman and thought it was so perfect that he fell in love with it. He asked Venus to bring the statue alive and this wish was granted, giving Pygmalion the ‘ideal’ wife.
However, in Duffy’s poem, she suggests that, actually, the statue is not attracted to Pygmalion and that she is not happy with the attentions he is showing her. Duffy makes out as though the bride stays as still as a statue in order to try and keep Pygmalion away from her and, when this fails, she changes and becomes much more sexual and confident in order to try and get rid of him.
“So I changed tack, grew warm, like candle wax.”
This has the desired effect and scares him right off, with Duffy suggesting that Pygmalion is threatened by such a powerful, sexually confident bride and he much preferred her when she was quiet and, seemingly, powerless to his attentions.
“And haven’t seem him since./ Simple as that.”
I really like this poem because I love the way that Duffy suggests that, right from the start, even when the bride stayed quiet, she was still in power and held power over Pygmalion, she was simply manipulating him. This is brilliant, as it gives a silent woman a voice and uses this voice to contradict gender power politics.
‘Little Red Cap’ by Carol Ann Duffy
This poem is slightly dark- like all Duffy’s poems- but I really enjoyed it’s language and the power behind the words. The poem follows a young woman, who tries to catch the eye of ‘the wolf’, who is presumably some kind of author or poet. He takes her back to his lair and believes he is in power over the young girl, with the difference in age between the two characters perhaps reflecting his feeling of power, as well as Duffy’s own affair with a man two times her age when she was 16.
“In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me,/ sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,/ my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.”
I love the language of this poem, with the use of language really projecting a strong woman, who actually seems to be in power, contrary to what the wolf may believe. The fact that Red Riding Hood kills the wolf herself at the end of the poem also contradicts the popular fairytale, where the woodcutter kills the wolf, and clearly there is a certain amount of female power that runs throughout the poem. When Red Riding Hood emerges from the wolf’s cave there is a sense of triumph for her, and there is the suggestion that, despite the feeling that the wolf was in power over this young woman, she turned the tables on him, much as in ‘Pygmalion’s Bride.’ She is powerful, despite being alone.
“I took an axe to a wolk/ as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones./ I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up./ Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.”
I would say that the symbols for sexuality and the wolf and Red Riding Hood’s relationship are also interesting, and Duffy really has a way with words when it comes to describing and representing intimacy, with her language often suggesting that women are stronger than they seem. The references to sexuality in this poem are dark, and I would say the poem on the whole is pretty dark, but overall it makes for a very powerful, interesting poem, which is a twist on the classic tale of Red Riding Hood.
“Then I slid from beneath his heavy matted paws/ and went in search of a living bird-white dove-/ which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy and Sylvia Plath!! Let me know if you’ve read Plath or Duffy’s poetry before, or if you fancy giving it a try, in the comments below! Also, look out for my next review, on the book ‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke’ by Elizabeth Ridley as well as lots of other exciting and interesting (hopefully!) posts about everything book-ish.
Currently reading: ‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke’ by Elizabeth Ridley