Sylvia Plath Comparison Essay

10 October 2016

Throughout time females have found it hard to achieve acceptance and accreditation in the world of poetry. However, two American female poets, who were born in the 1930’s, did make a name for themselves. During this era of rapidly changing gender roles, social values and world politics, these women were able to produce a rich variety of poetry. These poets are known for their driven personalities and their captivating poems about alienation, life and death, imagery and transforming their reader into a world of discovery.

Sylvia Plath’s poem “Tulips” and Mary Oliver’s poem “Poppies” both share flower imagery, female personas, and display themes of life, but each poem differs in the way that they present very different perspectives on life. Sylvia Plath’s poem “Tulips” and Mary Oliver’s poem “Poppies” both exhibit flower imagery but contrast in how they portray that image. Throughout “Tulips” Sylvia Plath’s main depiction about the flowers is negative. What the tulips represent is offensive to her.

The reader is automatically given this image of a woman laying in a hospital bed, the woman is depressed, wanting to be empty and alone, however these bright red tulips are staring right back at her filled with life and feelings, just having bloomed from the winter. Plath describes the way the tulips make her feel in the fifth stanza: “I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. ” (29-30) These tulips to her represent the newness of life, love, and pureness; they are terrible to the woman.

She feels that the flowers are something she cannot get back. Plath writes: “The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. ” (36-38) On the other hand, Mary Oliver displays her flower imagery in a different respect. The flower imagery that is portrayed throughout her poem, “Poppies”, shows holiness. The flowers are illustrated in a night scene and represent brightness, holiness, and life. Mary Oliver is trying to depict that the lowers embody enjoying life without fear of death. The light shown from the flowers represents the holiness of the lord, His “invitation”. Oliver describes this representation in her sixth stanza: “But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness. ” (21-24) Mary Oliver tries to show her reader that the poppies symbolize the distinct separation between life and death, that humans have to cherish life and not take it for granted. Oliver depicts this in the first stanza: “The poppies send up their orange flares; swaying n the wind, their congregations are a levitation. ” (1-4) Again this quote is suggesting living your life without the fear of death or that terrifying things may happen; the vibrancy of the flowers show people that they perform their best for others to see. This differs from Sylvia Plath’s use of flower imagery because they are two different views of life. The tulips to Sylvia Plath make her depressed; she feels that life has been taken away from her and that these tall, red and blossomed tulips show her the newness of life and love; what she can’t have.

Lastly, the main parallels of flower imagery that the authors describe are that both flowers, the tulips and the poppies, represent life, holiness, and the state of their own hearts. Both poems, “Tulips” and “Poppies”, also demonstrate female personas. Persona is the way a reader can perceive the character in the poem; it’s how the character is presented to the reader. Throughout Sylvia Plath’s Poem “Tulips” the persona, who seems to be a depressed and sullen female, is trying to search for comfort and tranquility while being in the morose hospital.

However, it is ruined once someone brings her the lively and colorful tulips, its here that she realizes she loathes life; it’s life that she cannot get back. These lines from “Tulips” imply that the persona is emotional, that she has left reality behind; she can no longer live the way the tulips can live: “The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. Before they came the air was clam enough… Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise. ” (49-52) The persona in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Poppies”, is quite different than Sylvia Plath’s persona in “Tulips”.

Mary Oliver’s persona is confident and inspired by not taking life for granted. The persona wants to cherish life in everyway that she can, just as the Poppies do. She doesn’t want to regret or fear anything; she especially doesn’t want to fear death. Oliver describes this persona throughout the last three stanzas: “But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness… is a kind of holiness. ” (21-26) This strong female persona also suggests that death is inevitable, that there will always be a darkness that surrounds life.

She believes that light and holiness are a sign of life, and darkness is the sign of death; she wants to life her life to the fullest and to seize every opportunity because life is so precious. These lines from “Poppies” greatly describe what the persona is suggesting about the darkness and death: “There isn’t a place In this world that doesn’t sooner or later drown in the indigos of darkness. ” (8-10) As the reader can see, both poems have strong female personas, however they differ completely in the way each one of the persona’s view life and death.

Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver poems both display themes of life, however their views on life contrast. In “Tulips” and “Poppies” the flowers symbolize the desire for either life or death. In Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Tulips”, the flowers are symbolizing life and that is the issue with the persona throughout the poem. What the tulips are representing is offensive to the persona; she now feels isolation and suffering due to the vivid brightness of these flowers. Plath writes: “The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. ” (36) Comparably, in Mary Oliver’s poem “Poppies” the flowers represent liveliness and holiness.

The flowers in the poem are depicting the light of life, the holiness it holds. Mary Oliver explains this in the second stanza: “of bright dust, of thin and lacy leaves. ” (5-6) As the reader can see the theme of life in “Poppies” is different than the one in “Tulips”. The difference is that the flowers in Mary Oliver’s poem are further symbolizing the beauty and preciousness of life. To not take anything for granted, death is inevitable, and to cherish every moment like it’s your last. There is a positive theme of life in “Poppies” unlike the negative one in “Tulips”.

In conclusion, Sylvia Plath’s poem “Tulips” and Mary Oliver’s poem “Poppies” both share flower imagery, female personas, and present the theme of life, but as the reader depicts the each poem they differ in the way that they present very different perspectives on life. Sylvia Plath’s view on life isn’t joyful. She is depressed and feels threatened by the liveliness that the flowers represent. These feelings and the way Sylvia Plath views life are shown through her poem “Tulips”. Contrasting, Mary Oliver’s view on life in her poem “Poppies” is to never regret and to always seize opportunities.

She doesn’t want to take life for granted because she knows death is inevitable. She wants people to look into the light, the joy of life, and to live life to the fullest. Both American female poets are still known today for the captivating poems suggesting their views on life death; Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver rose to the challenge of being phenomenal female writers during a time of change in America.

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