Critical Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s “Poppies in October”
“Poppies in October” is an untraditional poem of Sylvia Plath, in which she does not directly talk about her own life nor she laments on the departure of her father and husband. This poem, in fact, has great importance regarding a pure poetic achievement of Sylvia Plath. While reading this poem, it can be witnessed that Sylvia is also a great poet of beauty like other poets of her era. She has been criticized for being too much autobiographical in her poems. Most of the critics find her poetry just confessional. They think that Sylvia cannot write beyond her autobiographical experiences but this poem is a bit different from other poems as it is the expression of beauty but somehow she has expressed herself behind poppies flowers.
When one sees poppy flower, especially in the month of October, he can observe loveliness attached to it. Exact imagery and drag scenes, in shape of words, make this poem incredibly true to nature. However, there are some elements which are related to feminism as observed by the critics. Beauty is mostly related to nature and feminism is also its part, therefore, every object and image, mentioned in the poem, is elucidated through female substances. In one of the stanzas, the poet directly compares the poppies flowers with the woman in ambulance.
The poem, as the name suggests, is about poppies flowers. It seems only from this poem that Sylvia Plath has great love for nature particularly with flowers; therefore, she appreciates the beauty of these natural elements after keenly observing them. She has chosen the month of October to elucidate their beauty. Specialty of these flowers due to which Sylvia Plath has chosen them is that poppies are not bound to any single colour; they grows in different colours. Moreover, it is also matter of truth that during World War I, poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime, therefore, it may also be the reason to chose these flowers as subject of discussion. No doubt, from any angle, these flowers are apreciatable and are best to write poetry.
The poem starts with morning scene, in which the comparison between the beauty of sunny clouds and poppies petals can be seen. The poet declares that poppies petals are like skirts of any woman. She also appreciates the sky and its beauty yet it cannot surpass the attractiveness of poppies flowers and their petals. From starting lines of the poem, it seems that Sylvia Plath has been greatly influenced by the pettiness of poppies. In next lines, she adds an ambulance and woman in the scene. She again makes comparison of poppies flowers with the woman, who is going to deliver a child. The moment may be painful but Sylvia knows that for a mother, it is the happiest moment of her life. The thought of newly born baby can fill a woman’s heart with happiness but still this happiness and joyful moment cannot beet the happiness of seeing poppies flowers. It is also said that there is a strong feminism impression while reading this poem because of the usage of a direct female character and objects related to feminism. Nevertheless, the moment which is shared in this poem, about the delivery of child, has also been experienced by the poet. She knows that it is joyful and the happiest moment yet the feelings, which arouses after seeing poppies are better than any other moment of life.
Next stanza is about the downfall of natural elements. At the start, she says discusses the preciseness of poppies flowers and says that it is a love gift but suddenly, her mind fills with worries. Some destructive things seek her attraction. She, in straight words, talks about carbon monoxide, which is harmful not only for humans but also for plants. These chemicals are destroying the nature and objects related to it. These lines are also symbolic and are seriously considerable. In hidden words, she is talking about the effect of worst days on happy days of life. It is difficult to balance life, therefore, unbalanced incidents makes life hard. Many of us have experienced life; it runs smooth but suddenly an incident effects on the life and ruins it. Same is the case with Sylvia Plath and in this poem, she is trying to showdown these unplanned accidents of life. She says that unexpected incidents effect the life in a way as carbon monoxide effects the lungs. Similarly, the description of sky is harmful for the flowers. She says that sky is destroying the beauty of poppies flower by flaming as sun is at the peak.
Last stanza of the poem is much complex. The poem was written when she was going to commit suicide, therefore, she is close to death. “O my God, what am I”. These lines are much significant. Self-discovery and self-realization remains part of Sylvia’s life. She is trying to discover herself. She has used words “what am I” instead of “who am I”. She does not know herself. She wants to know what people think about her. What she is for people; an object or a human? It is not the case that she is just talking about the flowers; apparently she is doing so but it is not entirely true. The poem is not only about poppies but also about the poet. She raises question that can these flowers bloom in this weather because there is a great frosting in the fields. It suggests that she is raising question about her existence. She is question that; can she live in this world as the world is full of despair?
While considering the imagery, style, mood and approach of the poet, it is clear that the poet has something to say about poppies but she also has something to mention about her own life; she mixes her life’s experiences with description of poppies. Poppies have long been used as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death: Sleep because the opium extracted from them is a sedative, and death because of the common blood-red color of the red poppy in particular. Moreover, in Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. Poppies used as emblems on tombstones symbolize eternal sleep. A second interpretation of poppies in Classical mythology is that the bright scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection after death. [Wikipedia]. Thus, every symbolism attached to poppies is also related to the life of Sylvia Plath. It may seem that she has only cherished the beauty of flowers but her fans know the pain behind it; they can identify that she has concealed herself behind the pettiness of poppies.