Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sylvia Plath and Balloons - Analysis

Today is an appropriate day to remember Sylvia Plath. This one line from SP is a personal favourite – Love set you going like a fat gold watch – written in relation to the her first born Frieda (currently the only member of the immediate family still alive) … love, birth, life … all inextricably linked … love set SP going 80 years ago today … applying her words on her birthday.

SP lived in a cloud of mental instability … a question - is the love that actually set SP going related to any spiritual dimension … is that love alive and of influence … and was there such a thing as providence in her life?  Where providence equals the wisdom, care, and guidance believed to be provided by God.

As well as poems SP wrote short some stories and ‘The Bell Jar’.

Consider the title short story from ‘Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams’ … dealing with that primal emotion fear … from the last lines of this story … 

At the moment when I think I am most lost the face of Jonny Panic appears in a nimbus of arc lights on the ceiling overhead. I am shaken like a leaf in the teeth of glory. His beard is lightning. Lightning is in his eye. His Word charges and illuminates the universe.

The air crackles with his blue-tongued lightning-haloed angels. His love is the twenty-storey leap, the rope at the throat, the knife at the heart.

He forgets not his own.

Note that ‘Word’ starts with a capital and the reverse order of the words ‘forget not’… they give importance and have a religious association … perhaps Johnny Panic takes on the face of God and providence? 

It is ‘mental health week’ in Australia … mental illness is a serious concern and more prevalent than widely realised … if you reach that point in depression … that moment when you are most lost I hope you will find a certain light in the darkness from that love that set you first going and is eternal whether seen or unseen.

To end on a positive … here is SP’s poem Balloons … balloons are always associated with happiness, birthdays, and festive occasions … it was one of her last poems written in the month she died. I have included my comments …


Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Oval soul-animals,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk

I like the choice of words – Guileless – without deceit, soul-animals … if they are to be animals because of their positive association then they are indeed soul-animals … more to women than men or am I being sexist. The fact that Christmas balloons are hanging around in February (if you forgive the pun) is interesting … Ted Hughes does say that SP is good at contemplating objects but not re-organising.

Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish ----
Such queer moons we live with

Instead of dead furniture!
Straw mats, white walls

When balloons move around they do contain invisible air … an emphasis on an unusual aspect. When attacked and popped they do scoot to rest with a little tremble leaving some interesting shapes perhaps ... cathead and fish in shrivelled rubber … and in definite colour

Moons come and go and just as the balloons have probably been drifting around her flat. She finds them more interesting because of their movement … and the colours in contrast to her drab furniture.

And these traveling
Globes of thin air, red, green,

The heart like wishes or free
Peacocks blessing
Old ground with a feather
Beaten in starry metals.

As well as moons they are of course globes of thin air in that they are quite fragile … and they do give soul food to the viewer like the forerunner for something nice … just as a wish or finding a peacock’s feather … ‘starry metals’ … the contrast between the much trodden metallic ground with the feather a symbolic star

Your small

Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,
He bites,

Then sits
Back, fat jug
Contemplating a world clear as water.
A red
Shred in his little fist.

Sylvia Plath  Feburary 1963

SP is talking to Freida regarding her brother Nicholas. Nicholas is only interested in testing everything with his mouth … what he can see and understand of the balloon is unknown … but enough to command his attention … note the ‘seemingly’ world seen through the balloon. He is described as a fat jug … babies tend to have a certain fat look and a jug is a receptacle for milk … it is also inanimate object – perhaps in relation to him and the life around him. He certainly doesn’t understand the ‘world of the balloon’ … the clear comparison with water fits nicely with the jug image … and then finally he is left with the remains of the balloon in his hand … it is just a shred – no image of cathead or fish … it is just a shred with no understanding of how this has happened.

In bi-polar terms we could equate the balloon = a ‘high’ …the burst balloon = a ‘low’ … the transformation form one state to another as with the baby a complete mystery.

Today let such thoughts float into the unknown and just look at these guileless balloons as a description of simple family play.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch - now in OBE territory
Previous Birthday Post

... and here is an excellent link to an on-going SP Website for those interested in SP …

... also this celebration site