Zachary Welsh’s Thoughts on Tulips by Sylvia Plath

So I think by now it’s certainly becoming apparent to my classmates that I am a massive poetry fan, as the poems we read are usually the reading that I share my thoughts on each day. I think my fascination with poetry coms from the various ways that the poem format allows authors to convey how they are feeling and their thoughts in a vast variety of ways. So allow me preface this by saying I know it’s no surprise, but the reading I chose to talk about today was Tulips by Sylvia Plath, because it’s a beautiful poem.

Readers are immediately introduced to the speaker, who is explaining her experience with getting some type of surgical procedure done. However, the true beauty of this poem lies not in the way that the speaker describes the events of the surgery, but in the way that Plath plays with tension and contrast and how they relate to the speakers feelings throughout her experience. The speaker, throughout the poem describes the hospital room she is in as “white,” “peaceful,” and says that in a room full of nurses, “nobody watched” her. She describes wanting to not stand out in this room and instead wanting to “to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.” Her description of the room combined with how she describes her emotions in the state, portrays to readers that our speaker longs for the release of death. However, Plath introduces tension into the poem when she reveals the existence of the tulips. Contrasting with the calm whiteness of the hospital room, the the speaker describes how the tulips not only scream bright red, but also demand her attention while she is merely trying to embrace death. The speaker explains how the tulips go so far as to almost anger her, as they interrupt her calmness “like a loud noise” and are calling to her and demanding that she hold onto reality rather than let go, allowing Plath to create the tension of life versus death in the poem. This is of course further evident by the color choice in the poem, as white is oftentimes associated with the heavenly afterlife and red is usually associated with the color of blood and of life. By doing this, Plath presents readers with the question of will our speaker choose to accept death and embrace it with open arms, or will she take on the challenge of the tulips and take on life once again. While readers are never given a direct answer as to what happens with our speaker, Plath decides to end her poem with the woman describing how these previously “white,” calm walls “seem to be warming themselves.” I would argue that this line of the last stanza insinuates that our speaker does in fact choose to hold on to life rather than to embrace death, as red is considered a very warm color so to have these white walls begin to warm up, almost as if they are turning as red as the tulips, leaves readers to believe that the woman decided to give life another chance.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the poem if I missed anything or if you interpreted it a different way so feel free to drop a comment!

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