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Sylvia Plath: A Suicide Poem

Updated on November 28, 2016

A Burning Phoenix

An interesting description in the poem is the one of the Phoenix burning back from the flames of her own destruction. In a way this poem illustrates how Plath envisions herself coming back from death. She wants it to be a performance and there is nothing that grabs a readers attention more than a fiery creature growing out of her ashes being reborn into the beautiful majestic bird once again. The readers really get an image that draws them in with the last two stanzas where Plath writes: "Herr God, Herr Lucifer, / Beware / Beware. // Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And eat men like air." It's an image that demands an audience and I believe that was the intent, to pull the reader into the scene as if they are they experiencing everything as it's happening.

Suicidal Poetry

Poetry is a world that allows it's readers to dive deeper into themselves and the poem as well. It's no surprise to most readers that Sylvia Plath is a poet of dark corners and twisted paths, but in her poetry one can discover so much.

Plath's poem Lady Lazarus is about self mutilation and her attempts at suicide. In the first two stanzas the readers get a hint that the poem is possibly about committing suicide or self-mutilation, Plath writes: "I have done it again. / One year in every ten / I manage it - // A sort of walking miracle, my skin". In that last line Plath wants us to think about what it would be like to be someone who had attempted suicide and failed, when she writes, "walking miracle, my skin", she is saying that from all the attempts of suicide her 'skin', her body should be in horrible shape and it's a miracle she still stands. Then in the 7th and 8th stanzas Plath shows us a bit more. She writes: "And like a cat I have nine times to die. // This is Number Three." Plath is saying that because she failed the first two times at death she will keep trying until she's dead. But she might also be saying that it will take her less than nine times to die because we all know, curiosity killed the cat. Further in the poem, stanzas 12 and 13 Plath reflects on previous attempts. She writes: "The first time it happened I was ten. / It was an accident. // The second time I meant / To last it out and not come back at all." I think these were attempts because of the words she uses to describe these events; "accident", "meant", "last it out", "not come back". It's like this, when it happened the first time it was and accident, like she cut herself while chopping food or something. But then after that first cut she was curious of how far she could take it and the second time was on purpose.

The final points that cause me to lean more on suicide in this poem are in stanzas 15-20. In those stanzas Plath describes death as "an art" like it's something you have to master and she does it "exceptionally well" (lines 44-45). Then she explains why she mutilates herself, how easy it is, and how it makes her feel. When explaining why she does it she writes in stanza 16: "I do it so it feels like hell. / I do it so it feels real." Sylvia is saying that she mutilates herself because it's the only way she knows what's real. Like she's living in a world of illusions and the only way she knows reality is to cause herself pain. Then in describing how easy it is done she writes in Stanza 17: "It's easy enough to do it in a cell. / It's easy enough to do it and stay put." She is saying here that if you have the urge to feel something real you can do it anywhere and no one would know. And last, expressing how it makes her feel, in stanzas 19 and 20 she describes it as a "charge". She feels alive and fulfilled after her tangos with death. Plath writes: "A miracle! / That knocks me out. / There is a charge // For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart - / It really goes." In those lines it seems as if she is getting some kind of high from looking at the scars and after playing with death then hearing her own heart beat once again.

This is an interesting poem because there are many different ways a reader could look at this poem, but the one theme that leaps off the page to me is suicide. Even though this poem is very dark and destructive it has a kind of women empowerment feel to it that I can't quite explain. Plath's poetry are like riddles, which makes them tons of fun to try to figure out. It's almost as if she is allowing her readers inside her mind with every word she wrote, but because of her cryptic lingo we will never truly understand what she really meant.

Sylvia Plath Reading Lady Lazarus

© 2014 Brittany Kussman


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    • Brittany Kussman profile image

      Brittany Kussman 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Thanks and when I was trying to add the link there must have been a glitch I will edit it and add a new link. Thanks again.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      I found the poem: (

      Your commentary is very helpful. Thank you.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      First, welcome to HubPages! I'm sure that this is a good review of the poem. Is it possible for you to provide a link to the poem? That would help. Thank you and looking forward to more of your work.