Sylvia Plath

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade April 2001

download word file, 8 pages 3.0

Downloaded 867 times

In your introduction there needs to be a balance between relevant biographical background (especially that which links the two poets), writing style and introduce the specific poems you will be drawing from in the construction of your argument.

The poetry of Sylvia Plath and Bruce Dawe differ considerably in style, context and language. Bruce Dawe is the one contemporary poet who is genuinely literary and genuinely popular. He writes about matters of social, political, and cultural interest to the great middle mass of the Australian population. He is almost the first poet to recognise that the typical Australian as person who lives neither in the country nor in the centre of a metropolis, but in one of the sprawling suburbs that grow and grow outward from the cities. Dawe writes about people who are vulnerable and easily hurt, and has an instinctive sympathises with them. Their injuries and tragedies are documented from a point of view that can feel their injury but stand just far enough away from it to undertake successfully the task of recording it without overstating or sentimentalising it.

Dawe is a bystander, helpless in so far as he cannot enter the tragedy or avert it, but helpful in so far as he can record it and reveal its nature to others. On the other hand, Sylvia Plath explores the emotions and feelings of her own life experience through her poems. Her poetry reflects the pivotal moments in her life that are often misinterpreted by readers as ambiguous and vague. Plath's poetry although being autobiographical, hints in allowing her self-identity to reveal a sense of inspiration to her readers without confronting the obstacle of society. By analysing the anti-war poem, "˜Homecoming' of Bruce Dawe, and the meditating poem, "˜The arrival of the beebox,' of Sylvia Plath, the mentioned qualities of both poets will be recognised. Bruce Dawe and Sylvia Plath employ a range of poetic devices in their poems "˜Homecoming' and "˜The arrival of the beebox' respectively, that distinguish Dawe as the poet of the people and Plath as an enigma.

While Dawe completed his RAAF service, in 1968, the United States and South Vietnamese troops in Vietnam began to suffer heavy casualties at the hands of the National Liberation Front Army (the Viet Cong) and the North Vietnamese who launched a series of major attacks known as the Tet offensive. Australian troops were fighting alongside the Americans and they also suffered heavy losses. Dawe has said that he was gripped by two items in the American weekly news magazine Newsweek (ETAN, 1980). One was a front colour cover showing a US tank returning to base with dead and dying soldiers draped over it. The other was a report of arrangements at Oakland Airforce Base in California for transport planes to take of with fresh loads of troops for Vietnam and to return with dead bodies. The poet wrote "˜homecoming' when the fighting was at its heaviest and the casualty rate on the American side was at its highest. The poem deals with the various stages in the return of the dead, specifically from Vietnam, but in general from modern war. It is a lament for the futility of war expressed in the detail of the Vietnam War. Bruce Dawe reflects his experiences of the time in "˜Homecoming' and draws on the Vietnam War to express his affection of ordinary people. The poet emphasizes the need to write about and for ordinary people. For him poetry is not an arcane mystery, but something that touches and becomes part of everyday life. But it should not merely reflect life: it should analyse it and draw attention to social problems like the one in Homecoming.

The elaborate mathematical imagery of "˜Homecoming' is a powerful conceit to be found in Dawe's work. One of the specific ways in which Dawe is able to present a diverse, all-inclusive, but non-hierarchical view of the world by bringing together his imaginative and inventive use of language with ordinary English. Poetry for Bruce Dawe is about the concerns that surround and oppress the ordinary person; and its texture is not the hieratic language of an educated elite but the demotic spoken language heard everyday in the city and suburban streets of Australia. In this sense Bruce Dawe can be regarded as the poet of the people, as he achieves the necessary balance to write simplistic language. Yet he neither writes down to some notion of an ill-educated mass nor underestimates the comprehension of his audience. Dawe portrays imagery as an essential part of metaphorically describing images in his poems. Instead of being indirect, like Sylvia Plath, who often makes a great deal of stress on metaphors, Dawe works from one or two images and elaborates on them. In "˜Homecoming' he reanimates the dead simile for a "˜leaf' of paper, by combining an imaginative metaphor (telegrams like leaves falling from a tree) with a familiar dead metaphor (telegrams as leaves of paper). From the air, the Vietnam warsite is metaphorically described as a streaming chow mein, a well known American form of a Chinese noddle dish, as though the land looks hot and moist and made up of chopped pieces. The frozen sunset that has metaphorically overtaken their masters' lives, "˜frozen' in the sense that it is final and unchanging. Dawe also portrays other language elements such as personification to enrich meanings presented in his poems, but to an extent that allows the language to be direct. The emblematic description of spider grief in "˜Homecoming,' symbolises grief swinging at the heart of a web of relationships that have suffered from the loss of a loved one. Dawe als constantly draws on repetition to emphasize the issues in consideration, and plays a vital role in sending a clear picture towards the reader. "˜Homecoming' illustrates this language technique to a great extent, for instance the words, "˜they are bringing them home' and its several variations, which act as a moving cry of lament of through the poem Plath took up beekeeping when she lived in Decon, it was both a natural occupation in the circumstances and an activity with considerable possibilities of analogy with her own situation as wife, mother and poet. In keeping the bees, she seems to have at once identified with her father and assumed his former role (and with it his power). The subject beekeeping is invested with a various and complex significance in each of the poet's sequence of five poems about keeping bees, and is predominantly illustrated in "˜The Arrival of the bee box.' In this poem the box of bees becomes a metaphor for the fertile, swarming, and potentially destructive chaos that the poet senses within herself. The line "I have to live with it overnight" indicates that she is dealing with her own conscious, in which she finds a mass of conflicting and incoherent messages that she is almost powerless to understand, let alone control. The bee poems represent a pivotal moment in Plath's career, when she attempted to articulate who she was in terms of her emotional and artistic past and to imagine who she would become.

In comparison to Dawe, Plath's language appears more elevated and indirect, as her poetry commonly deals with personal reflections, relationships and love. The poet's immense emphasise on imagery plays a significant role in establishing her convoluted language. Through her language the reader is often positioned to interpret many alternative readings from her poems, and is why she remains an enigma. "˜The Arrival of the bee box,' is a poem that illustrates Plath's immense use of rhetorical devices and imagery. Plath draws on similes to describe the beebox like the coffin of a midget or a square baby. These references give images of death and immaturity, positioning the reader to degrade the power of the bees inside the box. The little grid, for which Sylvia sees inside the box, is repeatedly described as dark and black, and is drawn parallel to African slaves who are minute and shrunk for export. Plath also draws on other rhetorical devices in the poem such as metaphors to enrich her language. The metaphor Furious Latin is also used to illustrate the buzzing of the bees, which metaphorically portrays the bee with an intelligence that outlines their power over the persona. Through powerful imagery, Plath creates complex shifts of power between herself and the bees, which positions the reader to perceive many interpretations of the text, and hence create her as an enigma.

As evident in most Dawe poems, the structure of "˜Homecoming' is in free verse, and hence does not conform to the technical patterns of metre, rhyme or genre. Unlike Plath and other poets, Dawe portrays a majority of his poems like "˜The not-so-good earth' and "˜Homecoming,' with a free verse structure, that prohibits the confined form and restricted wording of most poems. This element of structure plays a significant role in allowing Dawe to voice his opinion without being limited by the elements of a defined structure. Plath's poems however, lack this liberty and freedom, confined to strict forms of rhyme and structure that prevent the poet to express her true emotions and opinions. "˜The Arrival of the beebox' is made up of seven stanzas consisting of five lines each, and illustrates the confined structure of Plath's poetry. Tabulations show the length of each poem in the bee keeping collection as multiples of five; they are roughly equal, between 50 to 65 lines apiece, and hence emphasise the importance Plath placed on maintaining the conventional structure of her poems. The different degrees of clarity posed both structures emphasises, Bruce Dawe as the poet of the people and Sylvia Plath as an enigma.

Homecoming is an elegy that captures sadness in a particularly poignant portrait of the Vietnam experience, and is why the poet establishes a bitter tone. Dawe's elegiac tone plays an important role in positioning the reader to absorb the war issue with a serious apprehension, and hence emphasize his beliefs and proposals. Plath's tone in "˜The Arrival of the Beebox,' constantly changes through the shifts of power between the bees and the persona, and hence creates a complex tonal effect both prevailing and elegiac. The tonal effect established by Dawe allows the reader to sympathise and understand the issue confronting society, which emphasizes him as the poet of the people. The convoluted tone in Plath's poetry positions the reader with an enigma of interpreting the poet's intentions and hence determining a moral significance of her poetry without the appropriate tonal effects.

Through poetic conventions mentioned above, "˜Homecoming' and "˜The arrival of the beebox,' emphasize Dawe as the poet of the people and Plath as an enigma. Dawe's poetry is able to interest both readers of literacy poetry and a vast mass of people who do not take any concern to this form of literature. He writes about the issues most Australians are interested in, hints at the immense problems of life, and draws from his vast and omnivorous reading ideas and images that help condense and vivify what he wants to say. Plath's poetry although influential, lacks the inspiring context that allows people to draw from, and unite to resolve the issues facing our society. Through his poetry, Dawe records such monuments of popular culture with an understanding and sympathy that avoid superiority and sarcasm. It is within the day-to-day life of his suburban characters he hints at and speculates on the philosophical nature and meaning of life.

Have I unnecessary looked too much into context? Have correctly described tone? Do I need to underline the title of the poem names? His refusal to seek early medical treatment led to an increasingly agonizing and protracted illness. At age eight Sylvia was left to deal with the strange circumstances of his death, including the fact that it might have been avoided if her father had acted earlier. She felt betrayed and abandoned by his death and shortly began writing, using poetry as both an escape and a defense.