Friday, January 18, 2013

Response to I Am Vertical, by Sylvia Plath

This is a response to a poem by Sylvia Plath, I Am Vertical:

 I am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf, 
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted, 
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling, 
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars, 
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping 
I must most perfectly resemble them --
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation, 
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.


Response Paper to Sylvia Plath's Poem I Am Vertical

In Sylvia Plath's poem, “I Am Vertical” the speaker conveys their desire to, through comparisons of living vertical and horizontal, become stable within life; comparable to natures stability that she sees around her. Through poignant oppositions in her vertical living and natures horizontalness she weaves a web showing a desire to become “a part” of nature—being horizontal—and, through the poem the slow path in this progression of laying down.

The poems title seems to be, in most cases, the beginning. “I am vertical.” While the reader is not yet aware of what this could mean, a second reading shows instability and weakness, which is made obvious by the authors comparison of this truth by stating, “I am not a tree with my root in the soil.” (line 2) It is interesting to see the similarities made between Plath, (who we assume to be the reader), and the tree, while obvious differences spring out. While both Plath and the tree are vertical, neither are naturally horizontal, there is a sense of woe in that Plath does not have the same strength, stature or foundation that the tree has, through its roots, (horizontal). Not only is strength given to the tree, but also a renewal of life through this horizontal grounding: “each March I may gleam into leaf.” (line 4)
Through these beginning lines, we see a major difference between the tree and Plath's life. The similarities are almost painful, as if, being vertical would be tolerable, if only there was a stable rotting in place for her verticalness. Through this stability—which is lacking in the speaker—the tree gains immortality. “A tree is immortal,” (line 8) she writes. This shows a major difference between her acknowledgment of her inevitable “unpetal” (line 7) and a tree, whose immortality must come from no such understanding of death. No measure of time. All the tree can know is how to live. This shows the first major binary opposition in the poem: mortality and immortality. Not because one is this literally, but because of ones view of life—immortality through cycles of nature, in being “a part” of nature.

These cycles show several times throughout Plath's poem. In one major jump, she moves from the comparison of the nature around her to the sky above her. “Tonight, in the infinitesimallight of the stars.” (line 11) In this new moon sky, the moon is hidden, dark, and only the stars are there to give her any—all though, very little—light. The start of a new cycle, a natural cycle, a cycle that indicates this immortal feeling of horizontalness; of being a part of the nature around her. She, in fact, feels so a part that she feels as though “none of them are noticing.” (line 13). This vertical life has left her estranged from nature.

However, she sees a way in which she is closest, and hints towards her entrance into horizontalness and becoming “a part” of nature. She first feels this becoming nature as she lies down to rest, as her “thoughts [go] dim,” (line16) she loses herself in absence of thought or consciousness. She falls into a darkness similar to the night sky with no moon to brighten the trees and flowers; the moon that would have made her presence known.

This, “is more natural” (line 17) to her. Here, she is a part of nature, part of the stars and trees and flowers she has around her. The oppositions she worked in earlier fall apart as she senses a oneness with nature. Her mortality through her dimming thoughts wanes into immortality, her individuality becomes a part of nature, her consciousness becomes a part of natures unconscious thought. Her life becomes death.

And she sees, through death her usefulness, “then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.” In death, the binary opposition she lays down for us in her verticalness disperses and all that is left is her body, horizontal. She is no longer “in” nature—she, walking through the trees and flowers, under the stars with no moon—but will become “a part” of nature. This journey through death, gives meanings through the cycles of life in the trees who “may gleam into leaf”. Her journey through death brings a darkness, like the absence of the moon, where, soon, as the cycles move on, so does the moon, bringing the light she wants, through completing a cycle and becoming, finally, a part of nature.

Plath's poem shows, through an eventual merging of binary opposites, a desire and necessity to become a part of nature. Showing natures greatness through its foundations in living, through a rooted body, as well as its immortal, or eternal nature in which it lives through cycles of death and life stretching on in its thoughtless bliss, unchanging and yet, remaining strong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your ideas are wonderful but your grammar causes one to pause and re-read several times. The essay is riddled with unnecessary commas and the arrangements of your sentences are awkward. For example, your first sentence would read better as "desire to become stable within life through comparisons..."
Now I'm not saying my own grammar is perfect rather I'm simply providing constructive criticism!
As I said before, your insights are wonderful. Thanks for sharing!