Expression should not be limited by political correctness. Anyhow, this song has not much to do with the holocaust; this was used to describe a feeling of insufferable torture and helplessness. She has the right to use what ever mean that allows her to express her feelings and thoughts. I could see how some people might find this offensive, but if this is what she had felt, there is no reason to belt it up.
Some very insightful and thoughtful comments here! Just a couple I wanted to add for some to perhaps mull over.... there were rumours during WW2 that the Nazis made lampshades out of human skin. In particular the it was at Buchenwald and apparently at the request of its commander Karl Koch's wife. Lines 4-5 could be a direct reference to this (also bear in mind in this interpretation it could be an indirect reference to the light/strength/soul within?) and lines 6-9 further development.
"Lady Lazarus" is Plath expressing, in her own words, 'the agony of being reborn'.
For me, Plath's resentment of those who care for her has always been evident in this piece, her frustration at their inability to understand her despair and unwillingness to carry on with her life, or indeed begin another one...each time she 'rises' from a kind of death (her suicide attempts) she is overwhelmed by people pressuring her as she returns wearily to the 'same place, the same place'and tries to start again.
This poem has a wonderful rhythm to it, like an incantation for a spell, confessional, unforgiving and unusual.
Plath did have an obsession with death, though not to the extent of, say, Anne Sexton, who seemed obsessed with suicide, namely hers- but Sexton, a friend of Plath's, did once recall the endless conversations the two had about their experience with suicide, saying they were drawn 'like moths to an electric light bulb'.
This poem has intrigued me since I first read The Bell Jar as a teenager in high school in the snowy mountains of Western Massachusetts. I do feel that a great deal of it is autobiographical but it also has inspiration from disparate sources. None of us is that simple that one experience or one feeling defines us completely, and the same is true of Sylvia Plath. There was so much more to her than her suicide attempts; there was so much more to her than being married to Ted Hughes; there was so much more to her than being a mother; there was so much more to her than being a poet - and I think that that is what those last two lines indicate - that in her world, in her lifetime, it was okay, even normal, expected for a man to have multiple facets of his character, but a woman was, to the public, one dimensional, and she was not - and in fact she has risen, to overcome that dominate male perpetuation of what a woman is in her lifetime, because she goes on after her lifetime. A brilliant piece of poetry that I intend to use with my students out here in male dominated Saudi Arabia!
Farah Osman Nurse
Just an interesting observation. It is true that this poem is about death, and her love-hate relationship with it. In a class discussion I had, it was observed that the speaker here seemed to become stronger at the end of the poem. The fact that Lazarus is now crowned "Lady" says something, that she associates with female power. Lazarus was someone in the Bible raised by God, but at the end, it seemed like she has gained power, as now she has risen on her own "out of the ash", from the dead, without help from God or the doctor, like a pheonix with her "red hair". Critics likening Plath to a feminist writer would definitely cite her "eat[ing] men like air" to their advantage, and also the abovementioned point of her naming the poem "Lady Lazarus".
Sylvia Plath doesn't only relate her poem to the Holocaust. She relates her poem to many different things. She changes throughout the poem so various types of audiences can relate the her and how she feels tortured. She relates her poem to the Bible, to the Holocaust, to medical view points, she also relates her poem to things that were most likely lying on the desk while she wrote the poem. The readers just need to analyze her poem deeper to understand that.
This poem is really about Sylvia's suicides attempts and near death experiences. Her references to Nazis and Jews is actually a metaphor also used in "Daddy", and is really painting a picture for the reader. Like the Jews in the Holocaust, she is a victim, while the doctors and others figures are her oppressors like the Nazis.
The poem begins after she has been saved from death for the third time. Although she is a terrifying corpse she will soon become the woman she was again, she will return to normality. Concerned people have become spectators watching a show, not caring for her, only wanting excitement.
She refers to a near-death accident from when she was ten, then refers to a suicide attempt in her twenties. Her attempts have now become a show, an act she performs very well. Yet she is still amazed by people's awe each time she is "saved". Still amazed that they could be so entertained and excited when they eye her scars and realise what she did. She is their "valuable", their "opus", which they display.
She knows how worried they are but she burns like a phoenix, and although she is ash, leaving little to remember her by, she warns both God and the Devil, which could merely represent faith, she refers to them as "Herr", oppressors, her enemy, she warns them that she will rise again and will "eat men like air" she will go on living, wreaking havoc just as before, because although she may try to die, although she may get close "like a cat" she has "nine times to die."
What a great site. "Lady Lazarus" is also one of my favorite SP poems. I don't think the Holocaust interpretation should be overly emphasized. But it is a powerful theme of this poem. As has been observed however, there are several themes present. Obviously her mental illness and subsequent suicide attempts is one of the more important themes of this poem: "And like the cat I have nine times to die. This is Number Three." There are three verified times that we know for sure she tried to commit suicide. Sylvia was greatly traumatized by the electro-shock treatments she received after her suicide attempt and that is one of the emotional forces of "Lady Lazarus". Also because she was German the helplessness and powerless of the Holocaust victims are referenced her in her attempt to surface from the horror of human trauma. Her abilities as a writer, to synthesized so many elements: the intellectual experiences of learning, personal emotional experiences and general human experiences. It is a testament to her abilities as a poet that she spins such disparate elements into such artistic gold.
This powerful poem , which was written by controversial and somewhat disturbed author Sylvia Plath has proved to be one of the most acclaimed and appreciated works of poetry of all time. This is very strange, being as the poem, as well as most of Plath's work, became famous after the poet's death. The poem, which displays a barrage of themes, can be taken many different ways. The speaker could be a creature, a person, or even some sort of spirit. In terms of a creature, it is definitely well-emphasized that the speaker could be a mythical phoenix. As a person, it is believed that the speaker could be a survivor of some horrible experience.
One theory that definitely has many indications in the text is the speculation that the speaker was a survivor of the Holocaust. The speaker could be someone who saw such horrible things that they felt like dying, like forgetting the camps, yet they held on. However, the text points to the fact that maybe those scars never healed. The first and probably the most obvious reference to this is "for the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge" (line 60). Although there is an obvious connection to a money charge, it may actually be a physical charge, a spasm of memory. The speaker could be seeing the scars, adamant or not, and could suddenly relive the horrible memories. "I rise with my red hair" (line 85) is another clue, yet it is much more subtle than the first. The hair could be that of a human. The "with" is key. This could be pointing towards the fact that before she rose, she did not have the hair that she is describing. Could the Nazi guards have shaved it off? Yet now, she has risen from the ash of the Holocaust, and out of bravery, her hair has grown back. The last piece of evidence is the continuous indications of "decade[s]" or "ten years" (lines 2, 26). Could this have something to do with the Holocaust, or post Holocaust events? Is it possible that she is talking about some kind of memorial that takes place every ten years? It could be possible. All these things point to the fact that the Holocaust was something Plath had on her mind as she wrote "Lady Lazarus".
One of the first things that should be pointed out in the poem is the subtle and very mysterious clues to the fact that the speaker is a phoenix. The phoenix was the name given to mythical bird with red feathers (line 83) by the Ancient Greeks. The bird had the power to resurrect itself after it died in its nest and then it was reborn from the ash (line 84). The resurrection, which Plath sometimes refers to as "it", especially from stanza 1, is a direct or actually subtle poke at the phoenix. Lastly, it is common knowledge that practice makes perfect. In stanza 15, Plath says, "I do it exceptionally well", meaning that that after resurrection herself so many times, she is almost a pro.
It is evident that Sylvia Plath had more than one theme on her mind when she wrote "Lady Lazarus". The certain things described in this essay are what seem to be the most interesting components of this poem. They are all backed up with evidence from Plath's writing. Nobody could describe the themes better than Plath herself, yet even if she wanted to, she wouldn't.
I'm not sure how much I can help with this because although I know I've read about this episode, I can't remember which book I read it in or exactly what it said. I've just ransacked my bookshelves trying to find the reference but can't! It is probably in Rough Magic by Paul Alexander as that is the one I have read most recently (although this book is not published in the UK it is easy to get on Amazon UK - highly recommended) - if not that, then possibly The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath by Ronald Hayman as I re-read that before Rough Magic. Anyway, all that I can remember is that the author interviewed someone who remembered Sylvia showing them a scar on her throat and telling them that when she was around ten she had cut her throat 'by mistake' - she, I think, made a kind of joke out of it and abruptly changed the subject so nobody knows whether it really happened, or if it did whether it was really an accident or a suicide attempt or some kind of deliberate self-harm. I do remember that the friend of hers who she told this to said she did definitely have a scar on her throat.
Hope this helps - sorry I can't be more exact!
Reading "Lady Lazarus" after purchasing Ariel, I am intrigued by the following line:
"The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident."
Can anyone please explain the meaning of this line? I have read countless biographies of Plath online, and none of them have referenced this incident.
Any help is greatly appreciated.Vass Karadakova
North Yorkshire, UK
Monday, February 23, 2004
I was shocked reading the different interpretations of Plath's poem. In regards to Richard in Vancouver, I agree that Plath had every right to use the holocoust as a metaphor. It is absurd however, to say that she was not sucessful! Of course she was. She wrote a controversial poem that continues to evoke emotion in people, and I believe that is the intended idea here, as well as in art in general. Obviously, Richard and many others were not able to connect with where the poet was coming from. Some people have never been near those depths, and clearly cannot begin to touch the intensity and horror felt by the poet.
As far as what Heather in Middleburgh, NY wrote about it not being a beautiful poem: She is entitled to her opinion, but should she it for what it is--one person's limited point of view. Many people have found beauty in Plath's powerful symbolism and "taboo" subject matter. People, who understand her piece from a different vantage point.
To me, Lady Lazarus has a voice of courage, sarcasm, and wit. A voice coming from a place of strength, not emotional defeat.
The Nazi-Jew imagery has a twist...instead of the doctor/Nazi torturing her/Jew(s)and taking her life away, he tortures her and brings her back to life.The whole idea of experimenting and achieving eureka!esque success("It's a miracle")is reminiscent of the Nazi doctors experimenting on the Jews. Also note the sea imagery-the oyster and the pearl...startling and vivid.
The suggestions so far have been extremely insightful, however, like every one else I have my own opinion as to the sub plot of the poem. Sylvia Plath was terribly anxious and paranoid about other people's perception of her, not only as a writer, but as a student, teacher, wife and as a daughter. The reference to a "peanut-cruncing crowd" suggests Sylvia's belief that she was constantly being gossiped about, or that she had to prove herself to her peers and colleagues.These feelings haunted Sylvia, which is very sad as they were completely unnecessary- almost all of her peers and colleagues thought she was an amazingly talented student and teacher, and as I'm sure you will all agree, an absolutely astonishing writer!
I find Lady Lazarus one of my favourite poems. I do think that one needs almost a similar experience in life to fully understand this poem. I myself have been in a mental hospital, it does feel as though you are rather more an interesting object, rather than a real person at times in the doctors eyes...(them being too busy to fully understand their patients)because you are seen as "mentally ill" in some ways you are feel you are not a fully rounded person in such an environmet...and of course in Plath's day they had much more strange ideas of therapy, (i.e. electro-shock treatment) Sometimes in such a sedative state you feel as though the doctor's and nurses are really there as an audience, the illness taking up all pre-occupations.
In this poem she is also describing the number of times she has tried to kill herself. The "Herr God, Herr Lucifer" may be her opinion of the doctors who take on a sudden foreboding importance, i.e they almost control the opinions and future of patient, they are there to make the judgements...they have positive and negative effects. There is of course the concentration camp ideas. I think the last line shows a very feminist side, she will rise and make her own opinions, eventually.
A lot of references to being feasted upon, even being brought back to life and for what great purpose? Is it a miracle or a curse? The irony is in her tongue-in-cheek optimism towards achieving death, which relative to the hell on earth she lives in, seems at least a well-considered alternative. Maybe even her "call". I think she writes like she knows what she has: a unique voice, passion, she is not intimidated by her own vulnerabilities.
I have read each and every posting here in this forum and I find that everyone has their own personal grasp of what they feel "Lady Lazarus" is about. I don't think that there is any one way to describe Sylvia Plath's poetry.
There was one comment made here that I don't quite agree with. The comment was, "You only understand Sylvia Plath poems if you understand her life and what she went through all her life." I don't believe that. I believe that someone can read a poem by Sylvia Plath and immediately connect with it and understand the contents. There is only one person who truly knows the meaning behind every word and that is Sylvia Plath herself.
I find "Lady Lazarus" to be intoxicating and beautiful yet at the same time sad. I find many different meanings in her work. If you're able to, sometimes you have to read between the lines.
Was anyone who listened to the BBC recording of Lady Lazarus (my personal favourite) really shocked by her voice? I realise that it was just a recording but it sounded different to what I expected, it was deeper I think. I know it isn't a major point but I just wondered if anyone else felt the same.
As a point of information, when Sylvia Plath recorded this poem in London in October 1962 for the BBC, her version was slightly longer than the one that was published. After line 12 of the published poem, "Do I terrify?" The recital goes on "Yes, yes, Herr Professor, it is I. Can you deny" and then continues as published with "The nose, the eye pits.." Also after line 33 "I may be skin and bone" she adds "I may be Japanese." I hope this may be of interest to those of you not familiar with the recording.A lot of comments have picked up on the Nazi concentration camp imagery in the poem, but there are also references in there to the victims of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The most obvious reference is the line "I may be Japanese" which is included in the version of the poem Sylvia recited for the BBC, but which she later edited out. However there are references in the poem to ash and burning that I think relate to Hiroshima.
I have been a fan of Ms. Plath for many years now and from my first reading of her poem "Lady Lazarus" I felt robbed and thrilled. Robbed because I had already lived the poem and thrilled that someone else had been able to pen my experience properley. Her referances to suicidal attemps at an early age rang true for me for I was ten when I "attempted" the first. 'One in every ten'. Doing it so it feels like hell is something I stumbled onto when I was thirteen and my love affair with razor blades begain. Ms. Plath's comment on charging to see her scars made me laugh out loud since when you have scars of that nature, that are so self explanitory, you find your mental wellbeing on constent display and up for anylization. Her interest in the Nazis is also a common one since I have very personal ties to the atrocities that were perpitrated against humanity at that time in human history, so I for one do not take offense at her making application of it in her poetry.
Suicide or the attempt thereof, is a very personal and vunerable thing. Yet throughtout the poem Ms. Plath retained a sort of in-your-face kind of strenghth, especially in the last line. She eats men like air. The violence of this statement is jolting in its intensity, and it reflects the sanguine soul within a person that is contemplating or has attempted suicide. Sylvia bares some of her soul and all of her teeth in this poem and I love it.
Plath's "Lady Lazarus" is about her various suicide attempts and the general approach she has towards life, one does not find it an easy poem to read.Sylvia plath uses subjective , symbolic and creative language techniques which present to the reader her thoughts and emotions. The poem is one which is rich with language devices describing plaths memories and feelings about suicide. Plath believes she has an empathy with those awaiting death, she brags about being the opus - a work of art yet she is a manic depressive. The great A.Alvarez best described Lady Lazarus as "bare, but vivid and precise in language".
"Do I terrify". Yes Sylvia Plath - you do !
I think those who are offended by Plath's reference to Nazi's have got the wrong end of the stick. She uses these images of the dark and grotesque parts of death. As an intellegent woman, Plath realised that the holocaust was the most horrorfying thing to happen in the 20th century and she uses this to show us the horror that is in her head. She shows us her disgust at the things the nazis did. There is no disrespect in her; it shows her great compassion and understanding at what the jews went through.
I've read a few disections of this poem, but this is the meaning I found to be the most accurate. Sylvia suffers greatly, nearly as much as the Jews did in the holocaust. Which is expressed though the various representations of Nazi torment techqunices and devices. The lamp shade, starvation causing the eye pits to show, gauntlike for example. She is comparing herself to a Jew. The other, is her sucicidal ways and attempts. She is a walking nightmare, yet is still alive, she has made various attempts at dying, but is still here. This is absurd in her eyes. Then next day, she'll be okay, after such suffering. Common symptoms of a Bipolar. This is expressed in this line: "The sweet sour breath will vanish in a day." and "Soon, soon the flesh, the grave cave ate will be at home." Is showing the constant struggle and back and forth battle of the bipolar. "Ash Ash, you poke and stir, Flesh bone their's nothing there." is a line to her mother I believe. She is telling her she is dead inside with emotions too abused to stir up by a concerned mother. The wedding ring symbolizes her marrige which didn't do much good also to make her happy. Death is superior to living for loved ones. Most bipolars have many suicide attempts before the final one, they struggle between normalness depression, and hopelessness. All the while really feeling hopeless, and doomed. I really do think that is what this poem is mostly about. Sylvia has managed to turn her misery into art, poetry, and her various ways of suicide and artist expression also. I feel the same way. I am no educated critic, or anaylist, so I could be wrong, but from someone who has been in the same situation, this is what I have gathered.
The most intereting aspect of this string of thoughts is that everyone seems to interpret Plath from their own perspectives: people who feel strongly about the the Holocaust being a event unique to Jewry protest anyone else referencing it in their work; feminists argue that the Holocaust references have something to do with rape (??? if you can show me where, in her memoirs, she mentions being abused please let me know); and so on. The important aspect of her work is she was from the school of "confession" poets. This stuff is about her life. It should be interpreted from Plath's perspective, not from the perspective of a reader with ulterior motives: clearly Lady Lazarus is about suicide, written by a lady suffering mentally, and about to commit the ultimate tragic act. The Nazi refernces are about her mental torture, and the insignificance of the human body after death.
Plainly it's obvious it's her method of coping with brutalities suffered such as rape and 'feeling used' probably a state she was in when she wrote it after her suicide attempts.
She uses a wide audience appealing style of writing including black humour and twisted cold irony to make her subtle points (for those that want to know).
Any poet has the right to use whatever imagery he or she feels fit to try and describe what they feel. With some people, that image will succeed and with others it won't. There's no "isuue" involved. I don't think she meant any disrespect to any people involved in the Holocaust - she just feels as discriminated against as them, feels as much pain as them; and may I point out, one can discriminate against onself.
Also, she might not even be comparing herself to them. She might be using the Holocaust as a frame of reference - a brief image - one not even important to what she is really trying to do, which is - to encapsulate her suffering.
I'm probably not being very clear and lucid here so I guess I'll stop.
Writing poems is the very best way of expresing your feelings, thoughts, and opinions it's also a gift from God, and therefore no-one has the right to criticise ones work. I also think that imagery in poems is very appropriate because that is the only way the poet is able to connect deeply with the audience and that is why Slyvia Plath has chosen "as the nazi lampshade" to give a vivid picture of what she is expressing. You only understand Sylvia Plath poems if you understand her life and what she went through all her life. I personaly like reading her poems and analysing them to fully understand the beautiful work of her.
You say Plath has the right to compare herself to a Jew in the Holocaust. Well, fine. Nobody was about to stop her from expressing what she really felt. However the result was not sucessful because it obviously left a great deal of people thinking that she had no basis for such a comparison. She was not Jewish. She didn't live through the Holocaust. And her suffering was due in large part to herself. Jews were persecuted, not a bunch of suicidals. So, if you want to say she has the right then fine, she does. But the result is that it fails. She only alienates the reader.
The thing that makes Plath's poetry beautiful is not at all her death. I think it has more to do with her struggle with life. Granted, she was unarguably mentally ill and the concept of death (which is constantly in and between the lines of nearly every poem) appealed to her, but there were things about life she loved. From what I gather, Plath was a very passionate person, and this is manifested in her work. Her ability to capture life, the struggle with it, is what touches me personally. Everyone has struggled in their own way with the world. Plath just struggled on a much more intense level and was able to express it in personal, sensuous and brillant terms. I think that her name is now associated with too many cliches and negative images. There are also dozens and dozens of sites on the internet alone that speak about Plath as if they were close personal friends of hers and had a brunch with her yesterday. I think all of this is absurd. Her life was fascinating and her death deeply tragic, but on a literary level these things should only be taken into account as insight into her work. It wasn't her death that was brilliant. It was what she did with her life, with her brain and her heart. It was the way she could write a poem that is both intelligent and heart-wrenching, and it is the way she echoes our fears that we are too afraid to discuss. So you can't take the poet's life out of the poem, but you can take all the bullshit connotations out of it and recognize her as a writer instead of a spectacle. Some people can really be the peanut crunching crowd! Anyway, that's just my opinion...
In Lady Lazarus she is talking about her fascination with killing herself, but immediately sets herself up as the victim, comparing herself with the oppressed Jews. The poem isn't really telling a story, but is one representative image after another. Plath seems out to destroy what she doesn't like about herself. A few words you might like to add into an essay: sadism, masochism, character renewal.
I love this poem! I have been reading Sylvia Plath since 3 years ago, and this is the first poem I ever read. This illustrates a very real struggle between life and death that intrigues me. She discusses her suicide attempts and failures in a very well written form. This poem includes a lot of emotion and is a great tribute to a great poet.
Lady Lazarus repeats the struggle between Nazi and Jew which is used in Daddy, with the Nazi atrocities a background across which the amazing, self-renewing speaker strides. The speaker orchestrates every aspect of her show, attempting to undermine the power an audience would normally have over her. She controls her body, instead of being a passive object of other eyes.
The speaker orders her enemy to Peel off the napkin, telling the audience that there is a charge for her performance, but death to her is nothing but a big strip tease. Do I terrify? she asks rhetorically, she knows her effect on them. Lady Lazarus intentionally contributes to the spectacle that fetishises her; she compartmentalises herself, These are my hands, / My knees, harshly mocking the gentlemen and ladies as she reveals their morbid avidity. She is both pitying and scornful: Do not think I underestimate your great concern. Her disenfleshment at the hands of the enemy, viewed avidly by the peanut-crunching crowd, is something that she wills, just as she wills her own renewal. It is her comeback, both a reappearance in life and a snappy retort to her ghoulish audience. No longer needing approval, she provides the answers. Her performance is self-sufficient, she does not need their applause.
A propulsive quality in the poem is contributed by the assonances (all, call, well, hell, real, call, cell, theatrical) and the tercets, their succinctness adding to an inevitable motion towards the end. The repetitions also give her speech an incantatory quality. Lady Lazarus, as she remembers her first death, is given a choice between life and death, between the living, who had to call and call, and deaths vocation, I guess you could say Ive a call. The latter call to dying compels her in a way the other does not. The process of renewal is exhilirating, a childish, triumphant shriek accompanies it as she immolates herself. She rises out of the ashes, rejoicing in the power that she has over mere mortal men: I eat men like air.
A contributing factor to the affective quality of Plaths work is that it appears so inseparable from the drama (and dramatisation) of her life and death. As Barbara Hardy notes,
The personal presence in the poetry, though dynamic and shifting, makes itself felt in a full and large sense, in feeling, thinking, and language. (from Enlargement or Derangement? Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath, Paul Alexander, ed. (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985))
Like Lady Lazarus who co-ordinates her own performance, Plath is also in control, fully aware of the different perceptions her poetry engenders. That readers might identify her with the I in her work is one of these possibilities. This is an understandable tendency, since the I is so emphatically foregrounded in the majority of her poetry. However, Plaths poetry contains so many different Is it would be impossible to say that they are all her. Gigolo, for example, has a male speaker can one say that this I is Plath? Elizabeth Hardwick adds that,
We cannot truly separate the work from the fascination and horror of the death... It is interesting to make the effort to read Sylvia Plaths poems as if she were still alive. They are just as brilliant, just as much creations of genius, but they are obscured and altered. Blood, reds, the threats do not impress themselves so painfully upon us. (from On Sylvia Plath, Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath)
Hardwick suggests the visceral power of Plaths poetry relies on the circumstances of her death. I do not believe this is true. The impact of a poem like Lady Lazarus does not rely on the sensational aspect of her death at all its energy runs independent of it. So, to subtract Plath from her poetry would be senseless. Al Alvarez adds that hindsight can alter the historical importance but not the quality of the verse (from Sylvia Plath: A Memoir Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath). The sense of threat impressed so painfully on Hardwick will not fade because the emotional power in Plaths work can never be diminished.