Sylvia Plath Forum

Poetry Analysis/ Discussion


The air is a mill of hooks -
Questions without answer,
Glittering and drunk as flies
Whose kiss stings unbearably
In the fetid wombs of black air under pines in summer.

I remember
The dead smell of sun on wood cabins,
The stiffness of sails, the long salt winding sheets.
Once one has seen God, what is the remedy?
Once one has been seized up

Without a part left over,
Not a toe, not a finger, and used,
Used utterly, in the sun’s conflagrations, the stains
That lengthen from ancient cathedrals
What is the remedy?

The pill of the Communion tablet,
The walking beside still water? Memory?
Or picking up the bright pieces
of Christ in the faces of rodents,
The tame flower- nibblers, the ones

Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable -
The humpback in his small, washed cottage
Under the spokes of the clematis.
Is there no great love, only tenderness?
Does the sea

Remember the walker upon it?
Meaning leaks from the molecules.
The chimneys of the city breathe, the window sweats,
The children leap in their cots.
The sun blooms, it is a geranium.

The heart has not stopped.

"Mystic" is startling to me because for once Sylvia uses metaphors and associatives that can be easily grasped and pictured. For example, the line "Does the sea, remember the walker upon it?". One one hand the poem seems to be discoursed from the point of view of an enlightened being who has experienced perhaps nirvana or visited Elysian fields, but to me it can be summarized as the lament of a person who knows what lies beyond, but who still struggles within the confines of the body. The last line seems more of a sigh or weary coming-to-terms than an actual statement.

To know that this was written just a while before her death is curious. The general tone of the poem is that she is relatively content and free, and that she has no desire to 'learn more of life'. All she needs to learn has been learnt, and she is just a person dwelling on earth when there is no more need to actually do so. "Mystic" epitomizes this sentiment, and is one of my favorite poems by Plath for this very reason.

Fort Myers, FL , USA
Friday, April 22, 2004

Does anyone else find it amusing that Mystic is a river in East Massachusetts, flowing southeast into Boston Harbour?

Elanthia, USA
Sunday, September 28, 2003

The mind of Sylvia Plath was a disturbing array of accomplishment and work ethic frequently spiked with overpowering and amazingly strong bouts of depression and hatred. As she grew older, she began to see the goal of life as death, and discarded all notions of love and relationships. Her poems, mostly in the groundbreaking style of her time, confessional, bewilder their readers with their pessimism and obsession with death. On occasion, however, the bleak horizon of the sky that is Sylvia's world clears, and within poems that initially seem to be filled with visions of death and doom, flames of light and small glimmers of hope appear. Ever inquisitive, Sylvia's work is always full of questions, although not always apparent. These questions are ones that she herself struggled with throughout her short life and, with no better answer, decided that death was ultimately the best way out. Through stunning imagery, Sylvia Plath tells of the return to hope from suffocating despair in her poem Mystic.

From the opening line, Mystic is a poem about something that Sylvia was unable to grasp, something that she was possibly trying to sort out in the writing of the poem itself. The hooks in the air in the first line open the poem with a broad range of possible interpretations. Hooks are sharp, glimmering tricks in the case of fishing when the fishermen bait them to fool the fish. Jesus himself was said to be a fisher of men. These temptations are dangling out there, surrounding her as air does. The hooks are question marks, symbols of the unknown, with the ability to scar the curious.

This first stanza is also a possible allusion to her childhood; her love of the seashore and marine life and her father, the bee expert, is remembered in whose kiss stings unbearably, possibly a wry remark on the bitterness of his death and its effects on her. The whole stanza seems to be an image of a summer home that is supposed to be a place for relaxation and rejuvenation, but for the speaker it is a place of treacherous hooks and unbearable stings. The hot, sticky ground beneath the pine trees is harshly described, proving just how uncomfortable the speaker is. In the next stanza, the speaker continues in her description of the summer place.

Memory is key here; all of these things she remembers, and none of it remember in the conventional way. The dead smell of wood on cabins gives a feeling of suffocation and confinement, not physical but mental captivity. She flashes from land to sea in the next line, describing a boat by its salty stiffness. The poem then gets into its real action, the backdrop having been set, and tells us of a meeting with God. At a quick glance, one would be under the impression the seeing God was a positive thing, but historically, the ones who have seen god have been scared and reluctant, and were told by God to give up their lives and lead new ones in the service of Him. Sylvia describes her experience as being seized up. She completes this image in the third stanza, saying that she was taken:"Without a toe left over, /Not a toe, not a finger, and used," This sentiment seems to describe being taken by force, overpowered, some analyzers have even said it describes rape.

Seeing God is a life altering experience, something that shakes the seer to the core. Sylvia feels swallowed up and confined by her revelation, more trapped than freed, more stifled than invigorated. The summer getaway is a metaphor for the vision of god. Both things are commonly and at first seen as great, but actually, especially to her, are great burdens. She likens the pain that comes with it to the suns conflagration. The seemingly solid sun is, in actuality, a raging and destructive star, a mutant of a sort, run wild and powerful over all known existing light. The fiery inferno of the sun can only be likened to hell.

Although Sylvia was never a religious person, the poem becomes more clearly focused on religion, specifically, Christianity as it goes on. Starting in the end of the third stanza, she mentions the church, the first image the ancient cathedrals that are covered in lengthen stains. Perhaps this is symbolic of the corruption of the church and her view that the people who follow the ideals of it are nave compared to the metaphysical reality she has seen. Next, Sylvia begins to propose remedies to soften the greater power that has overcome her. Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is the first she mentions. Christians, it seems, are healed by the body and blood of their lord, Jesus Christ, and are reminded that He died for their sins every time they receive the sacrament. It is like medicine, a pill, as she puts it. Pills are prevalent in Sylvias life too.

The summer she was twenty-one, Sylvia tried to heal herself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Is there a subliminal message in this chilling relationship? In the next line, she again refers to Christianity, this time, Psalm twenty-three, perhaps the most well know of all the psalms, with a direct quote, walking beside still water. This line can be seen in two ways. Finding peace in the solitude of nature is one, or on a more religious note, finding the answer in the scriptures, the teachings of God himself. Memory is the next possible remedy. Memories of bliss, childhood, the seashore, and innocence all come to mind here. And then, perhaps the most disturbing set of lines of all; "Or picking up the bright pieces/ Of Christ in the faces of rodents, / The tame flower-nibblers," These last lines of the fourth stanza speak of Jesus amongst rats. The savior, light of the world, is surrounded by dark dankness that swallows up the flowers, the beauty of the humanity. This is truly the low point of the poem, a time when everything seems utterly whooshed away in a never-ending downward spiral of darkness.

From this point, however, the poem slowly seems to take on a positive spin. The rodents from the previous stanza are now revealed to be symbolic of people who are satisfied with what they have found in their lives Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable----. Sylvia, however, refused to be fulfilled and found no satisfaction and only saw the greater evil of the world. Christ was thrown to these ignorant to show them that their small lives would be broadened in death, a journey to the kingdom of God, a concept that Sylvia seems to agree with. Death is an accomplishment to her; it is the only true accomplishment worthy of recognition. But these people, these rodents, as she sees them have settled with lowly things. The humpback man is satisfied with the small cottage he has. In this line there is a turning point, and the man's cottage is described as small and washed, yet he is satisfied with his life despite his physical handicap. This image is placed Under the spokes of the clematis, a beautiful image, one of serenity and new growth. The white blossoms cannot be thought of with out a picture of early spring and new growth coming to mind. It is implied that the humpback cares for his cottage and flowers with tenderness.

Sylvia poses a question to the reader and the world, possibly even to the being that seized her up. Is there no great love, only tenderness? The question of tenderness was one that Sylvia long pondered.

In both her journal, and her novel, The Bell Jar, she has a conversation with a psychiatrist, asking what women see in other women (what would make a woman homosexual), and the doctor simply answers that women see tenderness in other women. Sylvia believed that tenderness was the strongest positive emotional feeling in the world, and after an array of semi disastrous sexual experiences and a failed marriage, it is easy to see why Sylvia has given up on men. Tenderness, not love is what Sylvia believes is the driving force behind the actions that keep people from asking the questions that she asks and becoming totally cynical in nature. Here though, Sylvia seems to be fighting with her inner self. Here, possibly, only ten days before her death, she was trying to convince herself that there was a reason to live; death was not the only answer for her. She goes into her final stanza in a whirl of thoughts of a more upbeat nature.

The final section of the poem is the conclusion of a long stream of thoughts of the metaphysical concepts and importance and significance of life. "Does the sea/ Remember the walker upon it?" is yet another Biblical reference, this time alluding to Jesus' miraculous walk over the water. This miracle was the one that truly made the disciples believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus tells Peter, who at first doubts him to have faith. Sylvia in a sense is remembering to have faith, remembering to not give up hope.

Hope for what? Hope that there is something more than tenderness that keeps everyone afloat, home that the hunchback loves, not just cares for his plants. Hope for so many things. Meaning leaks from the molecules, the second line in the final stanza, proves that she is seeing the light again. Maybe just a tiny flicker, but she is far removed from the lethal, glittering darkness of the hooks in the beginning of the poem. Meaning for life, meaning of her words, the meaning of love, of tenderness.

Vivid imagery closes the poem. She is back in the city now, with breathing chimneys and sweating windows, children jumping joyfully on beds. A cozy scene overall, although if only given a brief glace a scene that can seen as a winter complimenting the horrendous summer. Putting the poem into a real life perspective, Sylvia moved, a single mother now, from their country home in Devon to the city of London for the winter, perhaps this return rejuvenated her spirits. The most hopeful line of the entire poem, The sun blooms, it is a geranium. Shows the blossoming of light and new hope in her life, the clouds of old have faded and been replaced with the exuberantly bright petals of a flower. Finally, the last line, as chilling as it is satisfying:"The heart has not stopped." Through it all, the heart was not totally stifled, and is now beating strongly again, renewed with faith and the hope for her children. The wording of the last line must be looked at, however, and it must be noted that instead of saying something like the heart beats on, with a positive air to it she uses a somber sentence that seems to be seeping with images of death and eternal end. Through the twists and turns of her mind process, Sylvia found peace, and if only her attitude had remained the way it is at the end of this poem and not swung back to the ideas her opening thoughts about mystic.

Mystic as a literary work can best be described as a journey. Though the final message seems to be to remain hopeful, one can often not help but get hung up on the numerous negative images and ideas packed into the poem. The new meaning that comes into her life in the end of the poem is what keeps her going and allows her to give herself a more positive outlook. The poem is overtly theology based, and although she neither clearly accepts nor rejects the Christian faith, it is clearly a driving force behind the poem.

This poem is so appealing because it is so raw, so blatantly despairing, hopeful and desperate at the same time. It is the thought process, the muses and wonderings poured straight from her head onto paper, all of the factors mulling together to form one answer to the millions of hooks. The answer this time is a blooming geranium. The title too, must be looked at. Sylvia is looking for something greater than anything she has seen before, greater than God, greater than death. She gives this thing, this place, the title Mystic. What truths lie there waiting their unveiling that will reveal to the world the true meaning of life? Sylvia, desperate for answers, is frantically scrambling for a grasp on the world that is slowly slipping away from her as she continues to be seized up and swallowed whole by her inner depressiveness.

Sarah M
New York, USA
Wednesday, March 5, 2003

This poem to me has one underlying message; 'Remain Hopeful.' Personally, I believe Plath is pointing out that mystery is all around us, in the air we breathe, in the flies that 'unbearably' sting us, in the personal memories we hold. It's bizare I think that she came out with this so close to her death, because she almost sounds at ease with the world around her, as if she's quietly accepted that although this great 'love' is untouchable, 'The heart has not stopped.' Their is love in the simplest things. Life brings it's own mystic, if you stop looking for long enough to see it. On the other hand however, on first reading the last stanza I found it rather negative, the fact that the 'heart' has become urbanised, calling out to us from sweating glass windows and city chineys. This is the mystic we must accept because it's all there is, and it can be wonderful if we open our mind to it, but it's not the same as a 'great love.' The heart hasn't stopped, but there will be no great love. Is there a remedy for that kind of reality? (Random thoughts... sorry!)

Alexandra Sarll
Oxted, UK
Wednesday, March 27, 2002

What a great poem this is ..I have loved it for years and years ..For me, its a profound look at the hopelessness of incorporating a lifetime sort after one off mystical experience with anything tangable.. A realization if you like, of what do I do now,as the primary drive for the experience has been achieved..Of course its a poem with a happy ending ,and yet she didnt heed her own advice..My real life partner took her life this year after several attempts..She had also lost a parent when she was eight (her mother) was compelled to perfection and battled depression through doctors and pills (antidepression stuff) She took her life on mothers day cementing the myth of her mothers death ...She also had a scar on her face from a brain biospy and looking at her photos she even bears an uncanny resemblance to her.. perhaps they accept their death in advance and this creates the mystical state which so many classic depression cases seem to have..anyway, this is a nice page and I'll be back to read more insites into my favourite poet some other time .. cheers forgive abreviation and spelling errors , Im just a simple dude.

John Mahon
Burleigh Heads Qld, Australia
21st December 2000

A question mark is hook shaped, and Jesus is a fisher(of) man. But the author hides in the dark limbs, avoiding the lure of piety. As age sets in, her "best" memories transform each living part to religious relics. The only part which remains as self is from hidden both both time and light. Nature, folksiness, provides no cure from her being Donne in by love of God. Plath's rodents are rabbits, and Beatrice Potter's cottage is the hospice for her transformation to remain a living writer. But she won't succumb all long as the mystic is alive, that small mystery that remains outside of God's fixture. Upon in(tro)spection, it is the still beating heart of Christ, the only living thing which is left to cherish before death.

Bob Iliff
Pleasanton,CA, USA
17th August 1999

'Mystic' was written ten days before Plath's death, and it contains themes she brooded about much of her life. It's easy to be suspicious of the poem. Plath is often though of as a religious skeptic, and an unlikely candidate for a transcendental experience. For instance, Joyce Carol Oates didn't believe Plath could embrace a 'God' that did anything but crush her. But we know Plath read the William James book on religious experiences, and was interested in the subject. We sometimes forget the broad range of Plath's intellectual interests.

I would put 'Mystic' as the last of a long line of poems that set up an opposition between imagination and reality; or more simply, between what she aspired to and what she found herself receiving. The lines, 'The tame flower-nibblers, the ones\\Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable--\The humpback in her small washed cottage\Under the spokes of the clematis.' reminds me of a journal entry written late 1955 (it's actually a letter written to Richard Sassoon):

From this we might infer that Plath was making a positive case for the 'humpback in her small cottage.'

This leads into the line, 'Is there no great love, only tenderness.' What I find intriguing about this is Plath's association, late in her life, of 'tenderness' as largely a feminine characteristic. In a January 1959 journal entry she is reflecting on her previous day's session with her psychitrist, when she writes the following: 'I sidestepped this problem ingeniously: talked about M.C. Chase, lesbians (what does a woman see in another woman what she doesn't see in a man: tenderness?).'

She is still thinking about this two years later, and puts it into 'The Bell Jar.' This time the speculation of the patient becomes the opinion of the therapist. In chapter eighteen she writes:

This could be interpreted in different ways, but I agree with those who accept the poem's hopeful ending. At the same time, I also believe that whatever 'remedy' Plath is, or is not, suggesting in this poem, it was the product of the moment and that had she lived, she would have returned to the subject, written other poems, and speculated about other 'remedies.'

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Friday, June 4, 1999

I agree with Melissa Dobsons astute statement that the speaker in this poem does not want to be possessed by the divine so much as she wants to be possessed of divinity, something holy, something tender. The first stanza brings us immediately into indeterminacy with the use of the word hooks: fishing hooks, hooks of songs/poems, hooks that capture. This air is filled with lures that tempt, shine forth, and yet are still concealed since we cannot exactly reach out completely towards a hook that might hurt us. This stanza also brings us into a place where the air is unbreathable, where even wombs are shriveling. But this stanza like all the others also speaks and invokes a hope, hope that is finally realized in the last line: The heart has not stopped.

The title, Mystic, is telling for what it does not say. It does not say A mystic, The mystic, or mystical. Mystic here is more of a region, a space opened up by the poet. Lean Friesen has already mentioned William James four characteristics of mystical experiences. For James, mystic union is a key component of any mystical experience. What James and others who write on mysticism sometimes fail to acknowledge is that there is a social dimension to mystical experiences. They are not primarily personal, subjective experiences as Plath makes evident in her poetic creation entitled Mystic.

Mystical experiences though commonly understood as ineffable are not so ineffable after all. It is true that we cannot enter other peoples minds and re-create their experience on a one-to one correspondence sort of level. However, we cannot do this on a day to day basis either. Plath brings mystical experiences down to the everyday level. I do not find her to be diminishing ordinary experiences, the humpback, or the rodent. On the contrary, this is the place where she begins to see that tenderness might exist. Tenderness is interesting here for it invokes actions of tending, paying attention to, bending down towards the things of this world with care and solicitude: The heart has not stopped.

The heart has not stopped, the heart that sets the rhythms and beatings of this world has not stopped. Entering into the mystic does not seem to be an out-of-body experience as much as an in-the-body experience, a way of becoming aware of ones toes, fingers, the meaning that leaks from the waters, children leaping, the sun blooming. These are felt by the speaker, she is very much in her body when she is seized up by the divine. Her experience points towards a different divine, one very much at work in the last stanza. This divine includes memory, children, and the places beneath the clematis plant, places that are close to the earth, close to those things that most need tending, attention, tenderness.

Ellen Miller
Toronto, Canada
Tuesday, May 18, 1999

I do not take as pessimistic a view of this poem as Stewart Clarke, whose wonderful analysis of "Mystic" I nevertheless largely concur with. I would argue that the title of the poem and the speaker's implicit acknowledgment that she has "seen God" lend her an identification of unique privilege that, even given the poem's imagery of violation and the fact that the transcendent state has passed, cannot be dismissed.

The privilege -- unique knowledge or experience -- bestowed upon the speaker of this poem has not come without cost, as Plath repeatedly reveals throughout the Ariel poems -- "I am terrified by this dark thing/That sleeps in me" (Elm). This line is interesting in that it admits to a sense of latency that is prevalent in the poetry, the dull lulls between creative activity, periods when the speaker has "nothing to do with explosions" (Tulips). "Mystic" develops the parameters of this latent state perhaps as fully as any of the Ariel poems.

Plath views latency quite ambivalently throughout Ariel. It is described alternately as the desired state of emptiness and effacement -- purity -- and the despised state of complaisancy and acceptance evidenced in this poem by "the ones/Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable." Poetry -- the blood jet -- is by contrast the dynamic, powerful, creative impetus that erupts from the "stasis in darkness."

I have contended elsewhere in these pages that Plath's desire for transcendence into meaning, or "great love" as she calls it here, is answered in and by the poetry. If we take the entire body of Plath poems and treat it as narrative, we can identify a dramatic landscape, a hero or protagonist (and antagonists), a problem, obstacles in the way of solving the problem, a denouement, and, ultimately, resolution. I know that many of you, Stewart foremost perhaps, will balk at this conception, and I apologize for playing Joseph Campbell here. But bear with me for a moment . . .

"Mystic" has a very important place in this narrative schematic. It details a postepiphanic state, where meaning is either draining away or only vestigial. Memory and ritual are both seen to be ineffectual. The speaker is largely powerless, uninhabited by whatever power so recently "seized [her] up" and "used [her] utterly."The use of Christian imagery here and throughout the Ariel poems is, I think, less in condemnation of the Christian worldview as a quack remedy, as Stewart contends, than as an analogy for the creative process. The divinity is poetry, inspiration, talent, muse; the supplicant is the one who waits. Grace is bestowed according to the vagaries of the Godhead; the supplicant merely waits. The desecration Plath often envisions -- the anti-Mary releasing bats and owls in "The Moon and the Yew Tree," or the vision of Christ "in the faces of rodents" in "Mystic" -- is her agitation against external intermediaries that have lost their ability to effect spiritual transformation.

To the extent that the speaker sees the visionary state as usurpation, transcendence poses a threat to her -- the violation that Stewart finds. The moon is the great symbol of usurpation in Plath's poems, the bald moon, pretender to the sun's divinity. No, what the speaker in these poems wants is not, finally, to be possessed by, but to be possessed of, divinity. "Mystic," therefore, is really a poem about agency. It is about control. It is the song of the dispossessed. The problem for Plath in the Ariel narrative is to effect a transformation from moon to sun, from light borrower to light source, or, as has been variously stated by her critics, from false voices or masks to authenticity (as in the line from "Stings, "I have a self to recover, a queen."). I think that Plath, at least in the narrative of the poetry, is eventually successful -- the possessor is effectively overthrown and the "I" of the poems purely inhabited. "Beware, Beware," she is able to say -- the bitch goddess cometh.

Melissa Dobson
Newport RI, USA
Sunday, May 16, 1999

Sylvia Plath in Ted Hughes’ "The God"

The decisive "mystical" experience of Plath’s life was her apotheosis as a poet with the "Ariel" poems of late 1962. A. Alvarez recounts her own description of this wave of creativity as tantamount to "demonic possession." Ted Hughes lends credence to this analogy in his poem "The God":

Inspiration, daemonic or not, is a notoriously fickle lover. The frenzied pace in which the "Ariel" poems were composed tapered off and came to an abrupt halt in December of 1962 with "Sheep in Fog." Ted Hughes, in his shrewd, careful analysis of that poem (see "Winter Pollen"), targets "Sheep in Fog" as the transitional poem into her final, deathly phase, the "dark water" from which she would not emerge. "Mystic," at its most conscious level, is about the disappearance of Plath’s blaze of inspiration, an elegy for the passing of her daemon:

Attempting to draw on the campy posturing that so invigorates the "Ariel" poems, Plath poses here as a jilted St. Teresa of Avila, but her irony cannot sustain itself – her dark humor has left her and her stakes have changed. Like its companion poem, "Words," "Mystic" meditates upon Plath’s artistic accomplishment as something separate from herself and ultimately useless; whether her poems are axes, horses galloping off into the sunset, or acts of God, all sense of meaning has "leak(ed) from the molecules" and the poet finds herself merely "used,/Used utterly." One gets the impression of Plath awaking from hypnosis, sitting over her "Ariel" manuscript, distanced and bewildered by what she has achieved and feeling strangely victimized by the experience.

In an earlier analysis of "The Bee Meeting" I contend that the speaker is subjected to a deeply encoded mystical "rape" by her daemon/father/husband; "Mystic" could serve as that poem’s sequel. Here, the victim seeks "remedy." With its images of being "seized up" and "used utterly" there is an unmistakable sense of sexual violation in this poem, implicit even in the first stanza with its metaphoric swarm of flies "whose kiss stings unbearably/ In the fetid wombs of black (h)air . . ." With this remarkable image, Plath evokes a primal sense of terror and revulsion: the womb laid bare to parasites. To extend the image to its furthest implications, only a body left unconscious or dead would plausibly leave itself open to such vaginal assault; Plath has conjured an unnerving portrait of herself as a corpse, naked, covered with flies -- perhaps Lady Lazarus on her final trip to the grave, lost in nostalgia for "the pines in summer."

Something of Emily Dickinson’s "After great pain, a formal feeling comes" suffuses "Mystic," which unfolds as an act of taking stock. "The chimneys of the city breathe, the window sweats": transplanted to London, her future a blank slate, Plath meditates upon her art, her lost youth ("the pines in summer," "wood cabins" and "stiff sails") and her abandoned village life in Devon with the rabbits ("flower nibblers") and "(t)he humpback in his small, washed cottage/Under the spokes of the clematis." She wonders, "Is there no great love, only tenderness?/Does the sea//Remember the walker upon it?" As in "The Moon and the Yew Tree," Plath flirts with Christian images of redemption, all the while dismissing the idea contemptuously as a quack "remedy," juxtaposing "the bright pieces of Christ" with "the faces of rodents,/The tame flower-nibblers, the ones/ whose hopes are so low they are comfortable." "Hope" is the life raft to which the poem wishes to cling, but Plath will not settle for anything less than the cosmos, where nothing can survive "the sun’s conflagrations." Here again, Plath reveals that she is doomed. If the blooming sun is "a geranium", it is out of season and will soon wither; it is winter, and the poet is left alone with her small children "leap(ing) in their cots" – their animal life-force, as always, in sharp contrast to the poet’s own sense of approaching paralysis, in which the only reassurance she can give herself is that "(t)he heart has not stopped."

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
Saturday, May 15, 1999

I think in this poem Plath is trying to understand a mystical experience. (Hence the title.) This will be a very plain reading, without theory or philosophy, just the facts, ma'am.

The air is glittering (never a good sign, with Plath). The hooks, questions are milling about like flies, random, impersonal. The languor of summer is in the air, everything smells sharp, dead, acute. Against this torpor comes the mystical experience, which is seen in a negative light - which is to be expected.

A mystical experience has (according to William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, which Plath read) four different qualities. I will now quote from the most the most relevant quality here, ineffability:

The speaker of the poem has had an ineffable, mystical experience. And the various reactions to it are seen as not enough. Going to church is not enough, communing with nature is not enough, and neither is becoming a shut-in, being thankful for the experience and then asking nothing more out of life. (Like the flower in "Paralytic".)

The questions the air is full of might be, what to do, how to act, after this mystical experience. "Is there no great love, only tenderness?" is the ultimate question. The mystic and the mystical experience are as close as the foot and the water, but are by necessity separate - thus the domestic details at the end. They are real, present, matter-of-fact, unmystical. The speaker relies on these plain details to assert itself, the heart continues to beat, the sun and children and city are all equally alive, breathing, sweating, jumping. After an out-of-body, isolating experience these anchors are both reassuring and elemental.

Lena Friesen
Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 14, 1999

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This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House who lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens. This forum is moderated - contributions which are inappropriate, anonymous or likely to offend may be edited or omitted.