Sylvia Plath Forum

Poetry Analysis/ Discussion

For Susan O'Neill Roe

What a thrill ----
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian's axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.
Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Kamikaze man ---

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when
The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump----
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.


A thought that I take away with me after reflection on "Cut" is the on bloodlines. Blood is representation of life force, genetics, and history. Which archetypes are housed in Sylvia's blood? Cultural, historical, and global lineages all pour out of her as well as her biological hertiage. The mention of Homunculus is quite interesting and opens up a huge alchemical arena where she's trying to atone and purify (with the help of an "ally") these lineages which course through her veins, but in the end she still remains a "dirty girl".

Kind of intriguing.

Charlottesville, VA, USA
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Cut by Sylvia Plath is by far one of the most attractive poems offered by American literature. In a sense she is a higher level poet writing not only a description of an idea event or etc. but more of a wielder of a flame of the kind of feelings that melt people, the kind of disguises that go unnoticed.

There are many psychological entities that indulge almost subconsciously simply by reading her writings this poem in particular such as the appeal towards a true suicidal figure that lies within our urge to be a martyr, or heroic figure in life. Such identification with the writing is simply one of many subtle roses Plath offers simply by the tone. Her plot is head splitting to follow, starting out with the accident her metaphors to this occurrence pick up on chronologically placed elements from American history, pilgrims, down to the Ku Klux Klan. Her innocently historical metaphors, violent events as they are actually serve to continue the exiting tone and maintain the reality and severity of the cut enthralling the reader who was still consumed on the detail of her earlier encountered poetic designs.

Fremont , USA
Thursday, May 4, 2006

Clearly it does not sound as though this author cut her own thumb, but rather that she is trying to envision someone else's experience - because:

As someone who recently cut the tip of their own thumb quite severely during the Thanksgiving preparation festivities, I can say - it invoked in me fear, fear that I need medical help, fear that it doesn't hurt nearly as bad as it should and fear that I didn't really know how to treat the injury properly. Fear of being alone, of helplessness, of stupidity, of wanting someone else to say it will all be alright and the deep ringing true reminder of mortality. Then and only then there is a vague ominous feeling of other things in your life that may be related to this cut.

In addition it certainly doesn't remind me of the layers of an onion, any chunk of flesh separated from your body is too much to consider envisioning additional layers that could have been taken off as well? More than likely the onion is used because it is one of the most common vegetables to slice.

Well hope this helps to provide some insight as you analyze the origins of this poet's work. Have a great day!

Richmond, USA
Monday, November 28, 2005

I am amazed that Rebecca of Cincinnati can state so definitely that Susan O'Neill-Roe worked in a facility for the mentally ill. I am her brother and I have just rung her to confirm that Susan has never worked in a facility for the mentally ill. Would Rebecca please reveal her source of information, and if it should prove to be false, she should publish a retraction of her statement.

Richard O'Neill-Roe
Eastbourne , UK
Sunday, October 23, 2005

I have a school project, and I need a song to go with a poem. Anyone know any songs that go with this poem? Please email me.

Perth , Australia
Sunday, August 28, 2005

This poem explores the positions of people in society, who are suffering from depression. Plath develops the tone by describing the motives, feelings and essence of self-mutilation, as a form of escapism for these people. She challenges the stereotypical idea that cutting yourself is painful and pointless through creating a non-miserable atmosphere and explores how this one cut distracts and relieves her from her reality, the emptiness in her life. The major discourses that are evident in this poem are: self-mutilation, insanity, escapism and depression. People 'using methods' to fill the emptiness in their lives is a strong theme that is evident. This poem is in the form of free verse, and there are not many traditional poetry techniques used, this makes it seem so much more 'real', and the absence of ryme almost makes the poem resemble thought patterns. The title sets the context of her entire poem, as the messages emerge from one cut.

It is obvious from the first line that this is about escapism, "What a thrill" suggests that this cut is deliberate and conveys Plath's temporary feelings of pleasure and excitement. She manipulates the use of metaphor throughout 'cut' to convey her meaning, in the second line she introduces the metaphor of an onion, symbolising that the cut is not just a random cut, but has layers to it, which represent the meaning this cut has in her life. The next two lines describes how the cut left a hinge of skin behind, this is a metaphor of a door and strengthens the message that the cut is a release for her.

The second stanza shows the reader the image of the cut. Plath now makes reference to a pilgrim having its head scalped by an American Indian, a metaphor for spirituality already lost in contemporary society. In lines 11-14 the blood that is pumped out from her heart falls onto the floor. The line ' I step on it,' suggests that she tries to fight the pain and the next two, 'clutching my bottle/ of pink fizz.' tells us that she pours a painkiller onto the wound. Plath now claims that cutting herself is a celebration, and thus gives these last two stanzas a greater understanding of her control, relief and peace. The next lines, 'Out of a gap/ a million soldiers run,/ redcoats every one.' symbolise two things: that blood is rushing out of the wound and it also introduces the ongoing metaphor of a battle between two armies. She is one soldier who has lost much, while fighting the battle with depression. Then, 'Whose side are they on?' tells us that she can't decide whether cutting is good habit or a bad one. Plath suggests her insanity, through telling a voice in her head that she is ill, suffering from depression, and then says that cutting herself takes away this empty feeling.

'O my homunculus, I am ill,/ I have taken a pill to kill/ the thin papery feeling.' The reference to the saboteur, kamikaze and the Ku Klux Klan from line 27 to 30 represent the sabotage of one's own well being and physical body through deliberate damage, the recklessness towards herself when 'cutting' and the outward act of anger and hatred of herself. The reference to Babushka and the lines 'darkens and tarnishes and when/ the balled/ pulp of your heart/ confronts its small/ mill of silence' refers to a lady in Russia who started a revolution and this shows how Plath believed this to be a turning point in her life, where she became taken by a dark force inside of her. She uses the military imagery in the last stanza and throughout the poem to represent both the control she felt when cutting, and the feeling that is like a command that she is powerless to refuse. The last line, thumb stump, refers to the scar left behind from her cut, and how she will never be the same again. She shows that cutting herself is an ineffective tactic against her enemy, only fuelling her depression, leaving her injured and even worse off.

Jash Fullinfaw
Brisbane , Australia
Tuesday, August 9, 2005

"Cut", from the very start, to me somehow, sounds like a tease. The way she makes light of the cut. Despite its dark images, I somehow find this poem light-hearted. Whose finger it was that was actually severed, I will never know, but the main feeling that I get from her poetry is how funny she finds that everyone else would be so distraught at something so miraculous and thrilling. Perhaps, because of this, is why she writes:

I am ill, I have taken a pill to kill this thin papery feeling.

Perhaps she sees her reaction towards this incident as odd herself, and am beginning to realize a few things about herself.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The poet bleeds the poems. The blood flood is not just the release of the speaker's internal tension and utmost submission to pain but principally the release and birth of words. We should not forget what Plath says in "Kindness": "the blood jet is poetry." Words will keep torturing the poet and will not leave her calm unless they gush forward.

In reference to blood and pain in "Poppies in July", the speaker covets to bleed along with the poppies, to have the redness of the flowers' pain trickled to her mouth and into her glass colourless capsule, to be enfolded by the purgatory red flames. Such yearning may be for the sake of bringing life to her numb body and soul, whereat life implies pain, living the pain to the full, as though feeling pain means being alive.

Explicit catharsis through pain in "Cut", too: The bleeding of the thumb when cut comes deep from the heart, and, look! A whirling pool of wine-coloured blood! The body inside is torn into smithereens, hence the poem "Cut" itself is to alleviate the pain, reassemble it bone by bone, to play the role of "a pill to kill the thin papery feeling".

Yes, and the twenty-eight days of moonĖs dragging and crackling of her "blacks"("Edge"). What a relief as the blackberry liquid breaks the tension!

Kristina Zimbakova
Skopje , Macedonia
Sunday, July 3, 2005

Few people on this thread have taken the time to notice that, while a bundle of Plath's work is autobiographical, this poem has a dedication.

Cut: For Susan O'Neill Roe

Plath did spend a period of her life in a psychiatric facility. She knew people with problems. Sometimes, one needs to consider the possibility that an author does not write to write about him or herself. More often than not, it is an escape; a means to separate from a world that may seem depresssing, confining, or too real. Think outside the box, people. Plath's razor was in her mind, and probably never broke her own skin. Her work, though dark (as was the bulk of her life) is not necessarily intended to weird you out, and I have a hunch that this one wasn't about her.

Cork , Ireland
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I'm no English major. I'm not even a high school graduate...yet. However, to me I see "Cut" as less of a "hey, this is my first masochistic step in the course of suicide" and more in the sense that she cut her finger (on accident or on purpose it matters not) and that she relates her bloody finger very closely to that of a doll. Her doll is her pilgrim. The gauze bandage (which looks like a KKK hat) on the tip of her doll is his accessory. Her doll plays with her and even though the cut caused a shock and probably pain, the jolt of happiness given from her new companion that she dresses and makes scenarios for is worth it.

Eastern Shore , USA
Monday, March 21, 2005

What I really love about "Cut" Is how she layers over- as is her talent- the meaning with words. She has such a great universality of language: "Saboteur", "Kamikaze man", "Redcoats". She marries the image of blood with the images of those who deal in death. I love the sense of exhilaration that "Cut" conveys. As if she's saying - I've survived the small destruction of something that is part of me. To me she was a woman in close contact with the mortality of things.

Kerry Ann
New York, USA
Thursday, March 3, 2005

More than anything else, I think "Cut" is a reflection of Plath's intensity, of her ability to imbue the banal and mundane with great significance not only within her poetry but also within her own life. I think seeing it as an accidental cut doesn't diminish its power at all. If anything, it increases it and show just how unique and intense Plath's vision was. I know I've chopped my finger cutting onions more than once and not thought of writing poems about it.

However, Plath did cut herself deliberately at least once. Her mother remembers coming across her sunbathing outside and seeing gashes on her leg. When she asked her about it, Plath's reply was that she wanted to see if she had the guts. Make of that what you will.

South Africa
Sunday, October 10, 2004

I love the way that Sylvia Plath has broken up the first stanza from the second, detaching the end of the line from the main sentence and continuing the detached image of the flap of skin. I think this a very interesting idea in the layout of the poem.

"The top quite gone

Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin...."

New York , USA
Sunday, July 4, 2004

Cut is frozen time between herself and the pain that she inflicted upon herself. It's a fascination with the unreal, real or whatever we want to imagine pain to be.

Windor, Canada
Monday, March 29, 2004

I was a cutter, and I love her poetry. Never before had I seen a "cutter" poem from her work, and I have not heard that she was a mutilator, so I believe it to be a one time event, accident or whatever. But that wasn't really the point of the poem. Like all her poems, it expresses the feelings she is buried in, pain, rage, curiousity... all a part of her and all come out in this poem. It's beautiful, despite the context, as all of her writings are.

Houston, USA
Monday, November 3, 2003

I believe the poem Cut is more about the pain between the world and pain that the world has made. She is suffering with depression here and almost everything is about pain. The poem goes on to describe the pain between pilgrims and indians, a thumb being cut by a knife, clutching a bottle of fizz, maybe an alcoholic beverage to stop the pain, war between the north and south, the illness of one and taking a pill to commit suicide(Keep in mind she tried many times according to Lady Lazarus), stains on a white man's KKK jacket, and then it goes on to state that a song will one day come into the silence of someone's batterd heart and the heart will one day beat to realize the pain of the world.

Calhoun, GA, USA
Friday, October 24, 2003

I do not believe that Cut is a form of protest in any way toward American political history. But rather Plath is using images that are so graphic and wrenching in their form as to describe her state of mind. The beginning of the poem is almost a suppressed hysteria, "what a thrill" and "the top quite gone". The ending of the poem I believe backs up my point as the self hatred in "Dirty girl/ Thumb stump" is clear. There is no suppressed hysteria here only a self loathing.

Sheffield, UK
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I feel this poem is a poem of protest, towards the bloodshed which has taken place throughout American political history.

The "little pilgrim" who has had his scalp axed by an Indian is reference to the frontier violence throughout American History. The Redcoats are, of course, a representation of the civil war. The kamikaze man refers to the violence during WWII, the Ku Klux Klan reference to black rights struggles and the Babushka is symbolic of the cold war.The trepanned veteran perhaps refers to all the veterans who lost their minds from witnessing the horrors of WWII.

Sydney, Australia
Saturday, September 13, 2003

I think for me the interest in this poem lies in its shifts in tone. In the opening stanzas, it seems veddy veddy British, the tone of shocked articulation that would be uttered in place of a more viscerally satisfying howl or four-letter word. "My!...what a thrill...the top quite gone..." Just imagine a Victorian fop trying not to panic to get the intonation right. Also, the word "dead" in "dead white" could be UK slang as well, as in "dead keen on the idea."

However, as she begins to recover from the shock, a more American patois becomes obvious, symbolized by the Pilgrim metaphors (Pilgrims as the beginnings of America). I find it interesting that everyone so far has seen "step on it" as strictly literal. What about as in get a move on, hurry up, get the lead out? An almost stereotypically US idiom, too (think gangster movies). I think this is Plath hurrying to the medicine cabinet, recording her impressions on the way. When there, she pours an effervescent antibiotic agent on the wound, resulting in the pink fizz (the diluted red blood). "Redcoats", to me, are the red blood cells pouring out of the wound. Simple.

It is at this point I begin to suspect Plath free-associated a lot of this, as "Redcoats" puts her on a military tone, which carries on from here. I think the poem here becomes more lurid--this is possibly Plath trying to distract herself from the pain by inventing peculiar imagery. (I find myself rather at a loss to explain the blatantly childish "ill-pill-kill" rhyme that drops in out of nowhere. Oh well.) Finally, with the help of the painkiller, she is left to ponder the vulnerability of her flesh (balled pulp of [her] heart).

Obviously, vulnerability is not a pleasant idea, so she gives vent to her uneasiness by calling her thumb names. Again, a childish thing to do. All in all, I think this is a poet giving words to all the feelings involved in cutting yourself. It's a little scatterbrained and inconsistent, which is totally understandable. It would be hard to think straight if you darn near sliced your own thumb off. (Personally, I do think it was an accident. If she was a masochist why would she take a pill to kill the "thin, papery feeling"? Wouldn't she want to experience it? And if it was an experiment in self-mutilation I suspect it would be the only one--she's learned her lesson). All in all, the kaleidoscopic tone allows for many interpretations (military, self-mutilation, historical, a poetic reading of an everyday incident, whatever). But you know what? I think it's just a good poem and I like it. It makes me shiver.

Matt Cavagnetto
Santa Rosa, USA
Monday March 24th. 2003

T Dickman I disagree with you when you say that Plath should also be judged by her letters, which show a brighter side to Slyvia Plath. Yes maybe they should be taken into account to a small degree; however I can assume by your high school teacher status that you went to college. I don't know about you but when I filled my parents in on the details of my college days I left out the details about all the crazy things that were going on because I wanted them to think I was fine , so they would not worry. If you've read the Bell Jar you see that her adolescence was not exactly full of joyous moments. So I think her letters home should be read but taken with a grain of salt.

Stillwater, USA
Monday March 10th. 2003

In this poem, I think Sylvia wanted to describe the feeling and sensations of self mutilation, and the release it brings. She chose to use an ongoing metephor of a battle between to armies. She is possibly one soldier who has lost much, while fighting the depression battle. She can't decide whether it is good habit or a bad one. The blood brings comfort and dibilitation at the same time. With the ending lines, it represents her loss, after so many battles against her depression and insanity. She mentions many different battles in this poem. Well in the end her cutting herself has only proclaimed her weakness, and ineffective tactics against the enemy. Now she is left injured and even worse off.

Monday, September 30, 2002

I am 16, and am currently doing my American Lit English paper on Plath. I understand the ongoing debate about whether or not this cut was intentional, or an accident, because frankly i see both to be quite plausible. My question is, why does that matter? Sylvia concentrates on the feeling that she has after doing it. She wants us readers to realize, and focus on the fact, that this gave her an ultimate sense of relief and exitement. Whether intentional or not, the fact that we still debate this today is remarkable, and Plath remains a master, in my eyes, of portraying reality and making people like us wonder what went on inside that crazy place known as her mind.

Wyckoff, NJ, USA
Wednesday, March 20, 2002

To me, this poem demonstrates Plath's disconnection from humanity. In her journals, Plath repeatedly laments that she is extremely selfish, and self-absorbed. In her journals, she also mentions her lack of empathy for others. Perhaps Plath is cutting herself to FEEL something real. SHe is really disillusioned, and cutting yourself is something real. She constantly complains about the role of women in society. The fact that she is relates her cut to onions (with cooking as a household duty) displays her discontentment with her role. But, when she cuts herself, she is in control. It is her choice, she has the freedom to do it. Many people writing here analyze her poetry A LOT. However, I appreciate it. It is giving me further insight on Plath's poetry.

Riley Rant
SanFrancisco, USA
February 8, 2002

While Plath's work is brilliant, I think it can be too far fetched at times.

Nice, France
December 4, 2001

This poem was written to a woman named Susan O'Neill Roe who worked in a facility for the mentally ill. The poem deals with the treatment of mentally ill people by medical professionals. Sylvia Plath was sick herself, but was fully aware of it, therefore allowing her to sympathize with those people represented by this poem. And no, it is not simply about a cut.

Cincinnati, USA
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I am a 16 year old former self-mutilator. I hurt myself for 12 years--ever since I was 4 or 5. My first memory of my cutting was in kindergarten. Some skin was peeling away from my nail. I started peeling and it became an addiction that would last for over a decade. I don't know if something triggered my 1st cut, but around that time, I was molested by a classmate.

I found this poem by reading a book on how to write poetry. It was a suprise to find something famous that was like the plague I'd put in my life. I used to cut my fingers too and that made it even more relatable.

I am now taking a Poetry class in high school with an excellent teacher who teaches us how to analyze literature.

On figuring out how to paraphrase this poem, I am stumped (no pun intended). I have years of memories, thousands of cuts, personal experiences to add meaning to this poem.

I think the comparison to the onion does not mean that Plath was cooking and the knife slipped. Although it does seem to bear some significance in theme since it does not tie in with the subject of American History--metaphorical topic for the details. On the other hand, the abruptness of the lines "What a thrill!" suggests that it was unexpected, not premeditative. Words like "quite" and "sort of..." (lines 3 and 4) imply shock. Words like, "gone" suggest no action on the speaker's (Plath's) part and may be an attempt to say the cut was unintentional. It could be her 1st cut and the fascination of her own narsisistic metaphors. That may be the start of her masochism. The "sort of" in line 4 means that she is uncertain about exactly what it looks like--perhaps because she's never seen anything like it.

I think it was intentional. I could be wrong. The onion bears a lot of similarities with a finger. It is round, it has layers, it makes your eyes water, and when you chop either of them, there are noticeable rings; the red fingerprint and the inside of an union. So I think it was a metaphor and not just a coincidence.

When a person cuts their finger, a piece of skin is being ripped. It remains a flap until it's completely detached from the finger. It dies and has a rubbery feel to it. It is fragile. It slowly hardens and whitens. The red plush is of course the place of pinkness just before the cut begins to bleed. It seems to me that the speaker has cut the top to the middle part of the thumb. There are certain places to cut. And the precise location determines the color and the pain of the cut. At the very tip, under the thumbnail, is a very thin layer of skin. There's not much discoloration or pain. But farther down on the thumb, the blush color will appear and the pain will be more intense. It would be about the size of a thumbnail on the back of the thumb. That gives it enough length and width for a "flap."

The 3rd stanza gives the readers a visual. It gives an impression that the cutter has felt sorry for her thumb, but in a kind of mocking way. The use of "little" adds to the tone. Consider how the effect would be different if the word was left out. I looked up "wattle" and found that it was--paraphrased in my words-- "the ugly thing hanging from the turkey's neck." If I had to use adjectives I'd say it was "freely-moving, wrinkly, long, shaped, hanging; barely attatched." The wattle is another metaphor for the flap of skin. Carpet rolls has a double meaning. It could be the same as the onion in the 1st stanza or it could be refering to the form that the flap of skin has taken. If long enough, the cut piece of skin will curl. If "Your turkey wattle carpet rolls" was meant to be one idea, the flap form would have taken on the rolled up form.

The word choice is analyzed and the Thanksgiving theme stands out in every line: ""pilgrim"..."Indian"..."turkey"...and even "rolls" when taken from a dinner context.

I do not know what the "it" is in the next stanza. Would "it" be the carpet? Would she step on the carpet to deal with the pain? Is it the idea that one act of destruction leads to more pain? She clutches her thumb in pain. The fizz refers to the rising of (liquid) bubbles to the surface--the blood. It is first a clear color. Then the blood rises and red fills the space. She chose the word "run," no doubt, to capture the rapid movement of the blood. The time from when the cut is exposed and the blood seeps out is under 5 seconds. The dots seem to expand as more and more rise to the surface.

The next phrases puzzle me. "Whose side are they on?/O my/Homunculus,..." Homunculus needs to be looked at in depth, and this whole stanza further studied. It may hold the key as to whether the cut was intentional. Dictionaries don't give a thorough definition of this "little man." I searched until I found a website. It somehow relates to the brain and the conscious. "Homunculus" seems to be a name given to "the man inside my head, the little voice that tells me what to do." "Homunculus" is sometimes represented by 2 figures: an angel and a demon. Sometimes people have a hard time determining the demon's commands from those of the angel. Maybe I am digging too far into it. The website said that the homunculus is the executive of the mind, the person who controls the behavior, but that it does nothing in explaining the origin of our actions. It seems like Plath is saying that the homunculus controlled the cut. Nevertheless, Homunculus is a behavioral icon, one that determines whether or not the action is controlled or if it is a habit and that the "doer" is unconscious of the action. So maybe Plath does not know if the action is deliberate or accidental. This in fact is a frequent question of a cutter, "Can I stop myself?"

The next 6 lines I cannot relate to as much so I will not comment.

We see in the stanza after that that she has attempted to stop the bleeding from doing its harm. These lines are pretty self explanitory if you understand the allusions to the "babushka" and even without that information, you can still determine that she has put white gauze on the wound. "The balled pulp of your heart" can be played with. Say the line aloud. "Balled" sounds the same as "bald." The "bald" in this sense means that it is lacking skin. When I think of pulp, I think of flakes. I'm not getting much out of these lines. Thought I had something there. Maybe if I knew the meaning of the last 2 lines of the stanza, I could think of it. I don't know what "mill" is intended to mean when used in this context.

"Trepanned" means "cut disks of bone usually from the skull." Somewhere I found out that it was used in the war on wounded soldiers. Or maybe I just got that out of context. The last 2 lines are self-critisism. Psychologists think that people with low self-esteem cut. She is belittling herself, possibly sarcastically. Althought "thumb stump" sounds painful, short, and real.

Tulsa, USA
Monday, October 8, 2001

The poem, Cut, is a masterpiece in my eyes. It is something we can all identify with. I have had close friends who have indulged in the escape of self-mutilation. Not only that, but it is something I, myself knew a long time ago. Give me the knives, the pills, it didn't matter. I will say one thing though, Sylvia's words did matter.

Maire Cuneo
Pompano Beach, USA
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The first time I read "Cut" I was sixteen years old, and I tried to make it as dark as I thought it should be. I tried to twist it into a piece about self- mutilation, but I could not. Sylvia was writing about an everyday event and the pleasures it held for her. She had a different view on most things, and I think that it's ok that this one isn't particularly morbid. The poem is much more enjoyable if taken at face value.

Laura Sykes
Alpena, USA
Friday, September 7, 2001

Sylvia Plath is an excellent writer. She uses excellent imagary to show all those people who haven't cut themselves what it feels like. Sure she had a few problems and she did end up killing herself, but she knew how to write and she used that to give people an understanding of what things feel like. Her writing "what a thrill" and "a celebration this is" is used only as sarcasm. And I'll have to agree with Mr. Mixed Fruit on all that he says, she caught the moment on paper as would a photographer on film. Each thing she writes is a metaphor of her thumb and what she does, just like telling a story only the long way around. She merely wrote what she felt, not a suicide note. Quit looking so much into it.

Cody Pelz
Forestville, USA
Tuesday, March 13, 2001

I chose Sylvia Plath as the topic of my junior year term paper. I had only heard of her once. In the movie "10 Things I hate about you" I chose her out of my own curiosity and being a person who writes poems myself I was intersted in learning about her ways of writing and possibly the events that inspired her to write in that way. So far I have been surprised that any human being can feel that much pain and depression. However, it is interesting how Ms. Plath can turn something so small such as a cut into a huge poem.

Michelle Knight
West Wareham , USA
Friday, February 9, 2001

Maybe I just feel the way that I do because I have Self-Mutilation Disorder, but I believe that the poem "Cut" is about a very real, and powerful situation. I have been reading Plath for about two years now, and her work is truly inspirational for me. I adore the allusions within the poem, and I applaud her use of "harsh" words and turgid form that she presents to the reader. I could over-analze the poem a great deal, but I really just want to say that cutting is something I consider very serious and the Persona within this poem, whether it is Plath or someone else, takes it very serious also--even given the ironic almost amusing undertones of the piece.

Monroe, USA

I have been studying Sylvia Plath's poetry in my IB English class. Part of our assignment was to do a creative presentation of one of her peoms. My group had trouble with ideas for "Cut" because it is a poem about a simple accident. Every idea we had seemed to make fun of the poem because the idea behind it was so simple. We looked at all of the images and the colors described and analyized the poem, but came to the conclusion that it was just a simple peom about cutting her thumb with lots of images that supported that idea.

South St. Paul, USA
Tuesday, October 17, 2000

I teach high school level American Literature. I always begin any study of Sylvia Plath by warning the students not to fall into the trap of romanticizing Plath into a tragic suicide case who death was only preceded by a life full of twisted, dark, masochistic suicidal thoughts. Has anyone out there read her letters? A whole, complex, delightful, intelligent, unusual person comes to life in them. Does any other poet (besides Poe maybe) automatically get labeled this way the moment a gruesome or disturbing image comes into her/his work? Where would poetry be if the gruesome an disquieting were always automatically suspect?

Isn't it clear through the remarkable consistent images that all "flow" from her very ordinary ACCIDENT that this poem is about the history of bloodshed in the Western world...or in modern experiience in general? To me this is a masterful poem, which takes a simple, clear, (yes gruesome) image and uses it for a metaphor for something we are universally aware of and responsible for. Her ability here to make us feel weak and nauseated should not be interpretted in terms of her own mental health, but in terms of her incredible skill as a poet. Isn't that what poetry's supposed to do?..See from another view, make extraordinary of the ordinary or vice versa. I wish Sylvia could have lived well into the age where every mental "abnormality" is labeled and treated. She probably would have been stuck with a fairly common one like "Clinical Depression," along with half the population of the world, and spared the morbid interpretation of everything she ever put on paper. Read the POEM It's THROBBING with excellence!! Let the POET rest!!

T Dickman
Park Hills , KY, USA
Thursday, September 14, 2000

I have to concur with Amanda in thinking that this was not a deliberate action; why do so many people try to twist all of her poetry into some sort of suicide note? I think that this poem is almost childlike in its fascination with the cut. It starts off in a domestic scene, perhaps preparing dinner, and develops into this amazing association and blurring of the physical and emotional senses where a great joy has been found in an accident. Melissa Dobson is an example of someone who is on totally the wrong (obsessively morbid)

Brighton, England
Sunday, June 11, 2000

I completely agree with Mr mixed fruit, this poem has been written entirely through experience of the aforementioned event. It should really be the fantastic images that Plath generates through such an accident that are considered, and not the motives behind these images- that we will never fully understand. The image of a bandana-wearing Klu-Klux-Klan member, relating to the "thumb stump", was for me a particularly disquieting.

Plath's spontaneous desire to write a poem on such a banal subject is peculiar, did she have so little to write about?

Exeter, England
Sunday, June 11, 2000

You guys, she cut her thumb and romanticized it. I worship Sylvia, but this isn't symbolic. She could make a toilet sound beautiful.

Montevallo, USA
Wednesday, May 31, 2000

What an amazing poem. I tend to agree with Mr Mixed Fruit about reading too much into a poem. When I read this poem, I immediately identified with it, and to me, it speaks very clearly. Sylvia, as we know, experienced much melancholy and depression in her life. I have spent many years suffering from depression myself, and I engaged in 'self-mutilation', or 'cutting.' The deliberate cutting of oneself for emotional release/relief. It is a rather common, but very hidden and secretive behaviour. I see this poem from the angle of deliberate cutting. Based on my knowledge of the feelings associated with these actions, I see the reference to the kamikaze as representing the recklessness towards self when 'cutting'; the ku klux klan reference representing the outward act of anger, hatred and loathing against self; the reference to saboteur representing the sabotage of one's own well being and one's physical body; the military references representing the both control one feels when exercising this deliberate act, as well as the feeling of submission to the need to do it as if it were a command which one is powerless to refuse. Like the trepanned veteran, who is trapped/ensnared, one feels caught and trapped in a battle with oneself. You know the cutting behaviour is destructive and in the long term, more harmful than not, but at the same time, you need the short term release, sense of control and peace it gives. Thoughts?

Atlanta, USA
Wednesday, May 31, 2000

I had to do an oral commentary for IB on this poem. I think that it does have a lot to do with her masochistic tendencies. Cutting her thumb was i think definitely on purpose. She compares it to Japanese bombing, scalping etc, as if it was as bad as that.

Muscat, USOmanA

Friday, May 12, 2000

Writer makes observation. I think all observers fall into the dangerous trap of over-analysing poetry. They seek in it what they want to find - almost in desperation. I am often reminded of the words of John Lennon, of whom I am not in awe, but who once rather usefully remarked of his songs something like, 'I just write the words.The words come into my head and I write. That's all there is to it. People read too much into it.' Good poetry is about exploring thought paths. These can be either simple or deeply profound. The challenge is to mine the thought - deeply and share your findings with the reader. In this case, SP simply cut her thumb instead of the onion. A rather unusual event and one which merited putting pen to paper. It provoked a thought process worth mining and worth sharing. Poets capture moments like this with poetry whilst photographers capture moments like it with film. The sumptuous nature of the poem lies in the way it explores what happens next. Something a photograph could never achieve, 'Then that red plush', 'The Indian's axed your scalp', blood flows 'straight from the heart' - which of course it does. And then an exploration of what follows - 'A million redcoats every one' simply means that the blood is not a simple liquid but is composed of a million tiny parts, each with an individual and collective purpose - hence the military analogy. Ants are obvious but would have been too trite, inhuman and predictable - redcoats works much better and permits development thus, 'Whose side are they on?' a good question - simply because they are now on the run. Deserters. The pill idea simply works well in rhythmic terms. You know poets can inject words simply to play with rhythm - it's their right. 'A pill to kill the papery feeling'- when you hurt yourself the pain and a sense of regret provoke feelings of vulnerability. When vulnerable, you are in danger of being transparent. That cap of skin can look like paper. The kamikaze references simply point to the idea that for a moment she is her own killer. Kamikaze woman would have made interpretation just a bit too easy. Saboteur - her own undoer. Sabateurs often come from within. Again, her own undoer. At the time, I can see how blood on white linen (which was obviously offered up as an aid) could produce thoghts of the daubing KKK. The origins of the remark 'Trepanned veteran' lie only in the nature of the cut and the consequence of wounding. If you read into this poem thoughts about the wider aspects of her life I think you are making a mistake - and missing the point. Her joy was in exploring the fulness of an apparently simple moment and reporting back to us. The castration idea is as alien to me as the notion that her lost blood could be re-injected to her heart. Poets play with words because words are their toys. Don't try to build mountains out of those words. 'Diry girl'. 'Thumb stump'. Interesting toys. No more. Why not? I wish I'd written it.

Mr Mixed Fruit
London, England
Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Hello, I just read a poem by ED that I doubt influenced SP's poem, but it is striking...

*pain killers

S.M. Mercado
Sunday, February 27, 2000

Has anyone considered the cutting of the thumb in a Freudian manner? As in castration. I read the "Wolf Man," which dealt with the castration complex, which i am positive Plath knew of. Upon reading the delusion of cutting his finger, i remembered this SP poem. I haven't thought about it thoroughly; just a thought that would be interesting to explore.

S.M. Mercado
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

I think she's a woman descovering the animal inside her, but shes still the woman that cooks, a woman that bleds, a XX century woman feeling animal an powerful and secret. Joking about men and great pains, suffering the greatest pain.

Ballyk, Eire
8th October 1999

I disagree with Clair Wright: I've cut my thumb exactly as Plath describes (on accident). It's an incredibly accurate description--so I'm convince she wrote this from experience. In any case, when you look into the cut thumb before it starts bleeding, it looks exactly like the end of a rolled up carpet. I think she chose those words for that reason. And the pill to kill is obviously not meant for suicide (until you analyze the poems's overall metaphoric meanings)--rather, on a shallow level (as analyzed here, line by line), it's simply the painkiller. It's only when the poem's metaphors are analyzed that you can consider the suicide factor--that the poem is light-hearted look at the joys of tasting death. It is the masochism that often comes with depression that she shares with us. I don't think she necessarily cut her thumb on purpose--masochists tend to cut areas where there will be more blood or pain, not missing thumb-tips. I think, as a writer, she did this on accident but found herself taking an obscene joy in it, so much that she decided to write a poem about the experience. And I disagree with Tim Scott. Had Plath meant the thumb to be her father, she would have given more obvious references. I think it is easy to read to much into this simply because she is so metaphoric in all her poems--but I believe this poem focuses less on her family frustrations and more on her masochistic pleasures in unexpected experiences.

Springfield, MO, USA
Tuesday, October 27, 1998

I think that the joy in the poem comes from Plath's identification with her father via an act of aggression towards her self. The poem is fairly open ebout the 'celebration'- amd the 'thumb stump' lines suggest a castration. The cultural references might be connected to the fact that the paternal role is to bring the child into a realm of social relationships. However, I am not sure that this is particularly interesting as the pleasure of the [poem, for me, lies in the series of metaphors whixh she uses- the sliding down the chain of metonymic displacement.

Tim Scott
North London, England
26th September 1998

This is a Grade Nine Drama student`s interpretation, line by line . . .

`What a thrill` is ironic - why is it a thrill to cut your thumb?
`Dead White` refers to the snow white that comes to the skin before it starts to prick bits of blood. The `red plush` is the blood actually pouring out.

Almost all of the 3rd verse refers to American History - Indians, pilgrims and turkeys (thanksgiving).

The carpet is her blood, which is pumped by her heart onto the floor. She steps in the blood, thereby stepping on the carpet.

The pill could be anything she used to kill herself - anti- depressant, sleeping, painkiller, etc etc.

`Papery feeling` refers to how useless she feels.

The `saboteur` and `kamikaze man` wish to kill her.

`The stain on your/Gauze Ku Klux Klan` - her little `homunculus` [man] thumb becomes a Ku Klux member when he is wrapped in a white bandage, and the blood seeps through.

Well, that is actually quite analytical really . . . but I hope it helps someone!!

Clair Wright
Cape Town, South Africa
18th August 1998

I certainly agree with Stewart about Plath having a bit of fun with the poem.To hear her reading the poem also, one can tell in the tone of her voice, that is mildly pleased with her cleverness. This poem is certainly 'A celebration.' I agree with much of what everyone has written thus far, and may only offer another sort of comparison...

Stew-man matched it with Fever 103 degrees. I liken the poem to its neighbor in Ariel, Elm. In spite of its lite appearance, Cut is very dark indeed. The end of the poem, like the end of the poem 'Ariel,' is a drive straight into the heart, only with a bit of startled hesitation...'How you jump-----' The entire poem, with it's name calling references to Indians, KKK, Saboteur, etc...are little segments of how one can die, bleed to death...The speaker of the poem, Plath, says, ' I have taken a pill to kill / The thin / Papery feeling. Compared to dying via KKK, scalp-chopping, turkey wattling insides seeping out...a pill is a perfect way to get rid of the pain and to let go of life, again, without all that brutal pain.

I link it to Elm, partly because it's dedicated to someone, which very few others, if any, are, and because it as well, takes off, like so many horses she refers to. Her 'red filaments burn,' (blood leaving the body through sliced skin?) & 'Now I break up in pieces...' This is quintessential Plath, and she goes through, in Cut the same sort of experience of breaking apart, feeling it.

Peter Steinberg
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
24th April 1998

Yes, Elaine, "Cut" is certainly a fine example of SP in ghoulish high spirits, gaily comparing her cut thumb to the Japanese bombings of World War II and a lynching by the KKK, although I'm not sure how this becomes "relevant" or consciousness-raising on Plath's part. Complete with John Wayne impersonation ("Little pilgrim,/ The Indian's axed your scalp."), "Cut" seems more convincing as an exercise in high camp, Plath as wounded veteran of the kitchen wars. And as you mention, the poem gives us a fond glimpse of the "dirty" side of Scorpio SP, which revels in "yuck" - a trait that reaches its apotheosis in the famous "boogers" entry in the Journals, in which Plath rhapsodizes on "the illicit sensuous delight I get from picking my nose:"

Plath dedicates "Cut" to her brand new au pair, Susan O'Neill Roe, in what seems a sort of "welcome to the family" gesture. One can only imagine Roe's reaction to this bloody love gift, and marvel at Plath's complexity. Welcoming aboard what amounts to an Extra Pair of Hands (and perhaps an unconsciously threatening surrogate mum for the children), Plath presents her new helpmeet with her own severed thumb! Melissa Dobson, I too am reminded of Emily Dickinson here, particularly her habit of sending strange, ambivalent condolences and tokens of "affection" out to the sleepy doorstoops of Amherst, Mass. Here, as a mild example, is a note Dickinson attaches to a gift of fruit:

The matronly recipient is transformed by Dickinson's subtle black magic into a cannibal, an Aztec high priestess astride a bloody altar! One might expect such an hors d'oeurve to be served up at a Morticia Adaams dinner party.

"Cut" falls in the midst of the wildly bitchy, Gorgonian wave of poems describing the day-to-day particular hells of Plath's domestic life, the beginning of which I place with "The Applicant" on 11 October 1962 and which climaxes with the transcendent, suicidal "Ariel"on her birthday, 27 October. In every one of these poems, Plath symbolically cuts a cord, a tie to her domestic life (husband, parents, friends, in-laws, her sick body, etc), and attempts a casting off, a transcendence, an escape. Each poem ends with either an utterly final pronouncement of victory (a "death sentence" delivered from a Plathian Olympus) or, when that fails, a viciously sarcastic dig, an anvil dropped upon enemy heads. What, then, are we to make of the barrage of name calling Plath lets loose upon her poor thumb at the end of "Cut?"

I connect this poem with a twin, "Fever 103," in its focus on the physical life in the body, physical illness, fever, cut, blood. "Fever 103" is a stunningly complex poem of metamorphosis. Comprised of its own mixture of high drama and high camp (Plath transforms herself into a Raphaelite Assumption of the Virgin, "Attended by kisses, by cherubim,/ By whatever these pink things mean"), the poem shows us an Apollonian Plath fantasizing herself ritualistically free from her Dionysian body, free from the physical aspects of life - the "god bit" letting itself fly. This is the yearning for escape and transcendance into spirit that she will dramatize in "Ariel." It is the blissful amnesia, the baptism in Lethe, that Plath increasingly craves as she steadily coaxes herself toward her suicide. Written a few days after "Fever," "Cut" is an abrupt dash of cold water. In "Cut," the poet is betrayed by her own flesh, a rude reminder that the yearned-for metamorphosis is simply a pipe dream.

In the ancient Greek theater, which was dedicated to the god Dionysus, the high seriousness of the tragedies was always followed by the bawdy, physical humor of the satyr plays. The fundamental key to comedy is the coarse, triumphant upset of rigid, hieratic Apollo by fluid, chaotic Dionysus, the great leveler. "Cut," with its bloody kitchen accident and campy tone, is the comic and deadly serious reply of Dionysus to the Apollonian "Fever 103."

I say deadly serious because, running underneath the surface of this piece of light verse, there are the inevitable dark currents. From the moment Plath personifies her thumb (O my/ Homonculus), the poem becomes subtly autobiographical. Plath, welcoming her new "nurse," feels like a cripple, a "trepanned veteran." We are given a vision of the poet lost in the silent, godless land of the dead we encountered in "The Moon and the Yew Tree:"

And the "death sentence," the anvil Plath chooses to drop, is directed at no other enemy than her herself, delivered in a litany of self-reproach and self-loathing:

Stewart Clarke
New York, USA
22nd April 1998

"Cut" describes a suicide in microcosm; Dickenson might call it "a funeral in my thumb." The absent rhyme here is "numb," the phantom limb of this poem, "The thin/Papery feeling" that is its psychic precondition. The poem describes the exquisite indelicacy, the thrill, of self-mutilation. This was no accident, no slip of the paring knife; you can almost see the poet, in a functional stupor, focusing in on that clean white homunculus while making dinner, yearning for, lusting after, the "red plush." Her tone is comically mournful, loving and repentant even; she addresses the lacerated digit using the high vocative "O." Plath is a poet of willfulness; her action, though compulsive and deviant, is again (no!) transformative, her "cut" an attempt to relieve psychic stress and physical numbness, to manifest self-control, to "bleed" herself to achieve relief. Researchers continue to speculate that bloodletting precipitates the release of endorphins, the body's natural opiates . . . This poem can thus be seen as Plath's "Poet, heal thyself."

Melissa Dobson
Newport RI, USA
22nd April 1998

This is the first poem I ever read by Sylvia Plath during a student seminar. When the tutor asked us for our initial reaction mine was, "Sick." This piece has a strong yuk factor as it examines bleeding and pain in such gruesome detail strong and graphic imagery. It's the usual Plath tactic of not just describing but going into loving detail about a common but unpleasant experience which (like having teeth filled) most of us would rather not dwell upon.

And yet it works - sublimely well. Plath "thrills" the reader with her ability to draw us into her close observation of the injury. There's also an almost metaphysical conceit at work in the images she chooses to depict the blood loss which becomes an extended metaphor for the whole of American history. With the exception of the War of Independence it's interesting that she homes in on the more violent/ regrettable episodes in that history. Starting with the Pilgrims and Native Americans: "Little pilgrim,/The Indian's axed your scalp." and swiftly followed by the War of Independence: "Out of a gap/A million soldiers run,/Redcoats, every one." The Civil War: "The stain on your/Gauze Ku Klux Klan", Cold War: "Babushka" and Second World War: "Trepanned veteran,".

This is a superficially amusing poem but it illustrates the strong political undercurrent frequently present in Plath's work and goes some way to refuting the common criticism that her work is too narcicisstic/solipsistic. It also shows her ability to transmute subjective, comparatively minor experience into poetry which is, as she commented herself: "Relevant to the bigger things."

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
20th April 1998

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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.