Sylvia Plath Tulips Essay Topics

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
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.


A poem which reflects an aspect of human behaviour is ‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath.  The aspect of human behaviour that this poem reveals is depression and it does so through illness.  This essay will discuss how Sylvia Plath’s use of techniques such as; similes, word choice, imagery and tone, help the reader understand depression.


‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath is a poem about a depressed woman in hospital.  She receives some tulips as a get well gift and rejects them, just as she rejects life.  The poem walks us through her varying emotions to bring about a greater appreciation for depression in the readers.

Throughout the poem, Plath links colours to objects to convey how the narrator is feeling.  The aggressive red tulips interrupt her calm stay in the hospital.


“It is winter here.

Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.

I am learning peacefulness”


This shows the hospital to be a quite peaceful place where she can relax.  However, she has “two white lids that will not shut”.  This implies that she is pale skinned and is ill or dying.  When we think about white, “as the light lies on these white walls” we think of blank, emptiness.  She feels empty, like nobody cares about her.  She wants to “be utterly empty” as she believes it will bring her freedom, peacefulness and tranquillity.  These symbolic uses of colour help explore the narrator’s desire to be free.  This shows how depression, as an aspect of human nature, is affecting her.


Sylvia Plath then goes on to talk about how the red the tulips don’t belong with her.


“The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me”


The connotations of red are evil, anger and depression but are also warmth and love.  She sees the tulips as a warm, happy bunch of flowers.  This makes her feel angry as she is depressed and wants to be left alone.  The tulips make her feel worse than usual as they are red like the heart and blood – full of life – unlike herself.  Sylvia uses the words “too red” to imply that the narrator is jealous of the tulips.  They are allowed to be happy while she merely slips away.  The redness of the tulips is a contradiction to her white state of emptiness.  The red is the danger of life, and the white is the safeness of death.  This deepens my understanding of depression because the simple gesture of a gift of flowers can have such horrible or scary repercussions.  Living with depression must be really hard if every little thing can make you fell scared, ill, frightened, angry and upset.


There is an extended metaphor running through many verses of the poem.  She mentions that the “gulls pass inland” which is the sea gulls flying back to the nests on shore.


In this extended metaphor the poet uses the line:


 “My body is a pebble”


This shows how the narrator is getting worn away.  Just as stones on the beach get smoothed, weathered and worn away by the water flowing so she is getting worn down.  She also mentions her possessions sinking; “I watched my teaset... sink out of sight and the water went over my head”.  The sea is vast, endless and calm.  These are the things she believes death can offer her, not the brash, bold redness of the tulips.  She is using the sea to oppose the tulips.  It is peaceful.  It’s a calm part of her mind where everything is just the way nature intended it to be.


All through the poem there are words or phrases that make you see just how depressed she really is.  The most powerful way is through the personification of the tulips.


“The tulips are too excitable... their redness talks to my wound”


This shows that the narrator must be feeling miserable as an inanimate object is happier than she is.  This shows the pain she feels looking at life, a life than she can’t have, a fun-filled enjoyable life. 


“The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.” 


The oxygen in the room is the only part of life she has to hold onto.  The tulips steal her oxygen, therefore suffocating her and taking away all remaining life from her.  She mentions that she can “hear them breathe”, this further personifies the tulips and emphasises how she feels as though they are taking the life from her lungs.


Her anger starts to rise for the tulips and this shows her depression reaching its climax.


“The tulips should be behind bars, like dangerous animals”


The tulips are portrayed as a frightening creature – a monster that she cannot escape from.  The narrator is scared of the tulips.  They have invaded her space and won’t leave her alone.  She didn’t want flowers.  She wanted to be empty and alone and to slip away without any fuss.  The flowers jump at her, full of life, the opposite of what she is.  They flaunt life in her face, knowing it is something she will never have again.


In conclusion, I believe the poem ‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath effectively deals with depression.  It makes the reader feel sympathetic towards the narrator.  It must be horrible to barely live life, to be holding on at the finest edges, scraping through a pain-filled, worthless life.  Death, to this narrator would feel like the answer.  It is her peaceful escape.



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