Tulips, by Sylvia Plath
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
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.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
Plath isn’t one of my favorites. Though her genius with a poem is undeniable, her crazy is so damn tangible it sets my teeth on edge. Reading through Ariel literally makes me want to swallow a fistful of pills and hunt up a pair of steel scissors.
Now hold on just a second before all you advocates of mental illness sufferers get up in arms at me … I’m being honest about evocative art here.
“Tulips” is my favorite of Plath’s work because it fires up sympathy within me — rather than rage and madness like most of her others. I become sympathetic, and perplexed, left wondering over the oddity that it is a bouquet of flowers, rather than a family portrait at her bedside, that forcibly pushes her away from the desire for death.
Are there poets that you have to avoid because of their ability to drive you over the edge?