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Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath

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Two lines
Added by: Deborah Randall
For me, two lines continue to jump out of this work--or should I say partial lines--"There is nothing there"--"I eat men like air". This is very much what it is like to be a woman in today's world and to decide to rise up out of it. As she indicates Persephone in other works, women have to rise up again after being torn to bits (80% of us will be raped or abused within our lifetimes AND we have to make due with 75% of the income that men have for the same work...oftentimes HAVING several more mouths to feed). We are always told, it's all in our head, we're expected to stay level and sane within this tilted place. Even when it sometimes leads to physical danger, "there's nothing there". And the only way to overcome this sense of opressive environment is to turn it INTO air. And she does. It's transformative. In today's terms, "a paradigm shift". The Nazi references are essential because like the physical remains of victims in the concentration camps, for contemporary women it's all under the surface still. We pretend as best we can that it doesn't exist, this tilted world, moreover that it NEVER existed. Because of that denial we die over and over, never learning FROM the experience. All of the physical evidence is ground down INTO "ash". Vanished. So, is the writer insane or the reader- by virtue of the world he or she dwells in and the expectations and warped perspective that come out of it?
Of course, being male is so easy
Added by: Andrew Mayers
"Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it again for ever and ever; we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it."
- Henry James
What makes this one different
Added by: Samuel Biagetti
It is true that this poem deals with the speaker's suicide attempts, but there is a tremendous, important element which is common to that kind of behavior which is missing in the monologue of Lady Lazarus. Most suicide attempts are calls for help or attention. This is not true of our speaker -- she doesn't like the attention at all. She shows it to be insincere, self-interested ("Herr Doktor . . . I am you opus, I am your valuable . . ."), or, in what I think of as the most exhilarating and bitingly wonderful 7 lines of poetry I've ever read, the result of morbid fascination: "The peanut-crunching crowd / Shoves in to see / Them unwrap me hand and foot -- / The big strip tease. / Gentlemen, ladies / These are my hands / My knees."

The fact is, she really does enjoy coming close to death, because it is a demonstration of her power over her own destiny, a defiance of both life and death at once -- "Herr God, Herr Lucifer / Beware / Beware. / Out of the ash, / I rise with my red hair . . ."

The reason, though, that "Lady Lazarus" stands out so far above Plath's earlier poems dealing with suicide is that she has created a witty, self-confident speaker who is willing to talk glibly and directly about her love affair with death, as if it were such a normal activity as baking a cake -- "I have done it again. / One year in every ten / I manage it." And since she is so terribly disdainful of the doctors and friends who stupidly marvel at her exploits ("The same place, the same face, the same brute / Amused shout: / 'A miracle!'"), the fact that she is willing so honestly and directly to tell us about the real meaning of her actions is rather flattering. We get to sneer at the doctors and the crowd with her, to warn the foolish idols of society about her imminent revenge, all as we are taken INTO her most intimate confidence ("The second time I meant / To last it out and not come back at all. . . .").

Though the end suggests a sort of feminist wrath in her purpose, "Lady Lazarus" is really about taking pride in what you do, whatever that is, and claiming your own sort of dignity amidst indignities. It is conveyed in extraordinary fashion through a strange and engaging voice, the voice of Lady Lazarus, who is much more candid, confident and direct than Plath herself could ever be in person. It is the creation of this perona, as well as the extraordinary use of rhythm and of strange imagery put INTO very plain language, that ultimately brings it above just a morbid little piece of autobiography.
Added by: tri
CREEPY....but I give props to Ms.Plath for the verve to actually expose herself...She has a great way with words
Added by: helen
I am studying this poem for my HSC, and this is our class's interpretation of Lady Lazarus. hop it helps!

The poem begins with a biblical reference in the title. 'Lazarus' being the man whom Jesus brought back FROM the dead. Plath turns him INTO a female by calling it Lady Lazarus. She refers to herself as this as she has, in some sense,been brought back FROM the dead. The first stanza begins with childlike rhyming. It refers to her trying to kill herself every ten years. In the second stanza she calls herself a ‘walking miracle’, which I would assume, is about her coming back after every attempt. The ‘Nazi lampshade’ is a lampshade made by the Nazis out of the skin of Jews during World War Two. This is a graphic image, but I’m not sure how it connects to her personally. The metaphor of feet also appears in this, as it did in Daddy. When we begin walking we begin with the right foot first, and her calling it a paperweight says that she has trouble beginning, and finds it difficult to walk. There is something dragging her down.

To ‘peel off the napkin’ means an emotional unwrapping and also a physical one, by the people trying to revive her when she tries to kill herself. It is repeated in stanza 10 “Them unwrap me hand and foot”.

Plath says how easy it is for her to kill herself, “the nose…the sour breath will vanish in a day”.

“And like the cat I have nine times to die”. She sees herself living until ninety and attempting to kill herself every ten years. This is the third time and she sees it as a clearing out, or an ending to each decade. “What a trash to annihilate each decade”.

“What a million filaments” means that what was once one component (herself) is now in a million filaments holding her together.

“The peanut crunching crowd” uses onomatopea and illiteration. It represents an voyeuristic audience at something like a circus finding her suffering entertaining. “the big strip tease” is crude and gives a sense of sarcasm to the whole event.

“Gentlemen, Ladies, These are my hands my knees, I may be skin and bone”. She is using sarcasm, and almost showing off like she is a magic SHOW or performing.

She is still the same person she was before the attempt “I am the same identical woman”. Shs is a recreation of herself after each time.

She tries to convince herself that it was an accident “the first time it happened”.

The second time occurred in 1953. She uses the simile of a shell talking about herself closing up. The shell is hard to open and it protects the soft vulnerable inside. She was hard to revive “The y had to call and call”. She uses a vivid and graphic image of picking the worms off her. There is also the technique of assonance in pick and sticky.

The word ‘dying’ is on its own line for emphasis. She tries to trivialize the issue by referring to it as “an art, like everything else”. She has painful confidence in herself and a sarcastic attitude when she says she does it “ exceptionally well”.

Plath reverts back to the childlike rhyming and rhythm in stanza 16 and 17. She again makes it sound like a performance with a “theatrical comeback in broad day”. Like Lazarus, death is not the performance or the miracle. The comeback is. She uses bitter sarcasm when the “Amused shout ‘A miracle!’” Colloquial language is used for “that knocks me out”. There are two possible meanings behind the next few lines. She demands a charge for seeing her scars and suffering or, there is a surge of people wanting to see her in pain. This is the voyeurism previously mentioned.. The Jewish imagery is brought in again with “a piece of my hair or my clothes. So, so, Herr Doktor. So, Herr Enemy”. Once again, there is two possible meanings. Either a Nazi theme or the doctor is the enemy for bringing her back FROM her suicide attempts. Plath calls herself “your opus” meaning centre of worth. The pure gold baby is something that has been recreated. It is an object, not a the person. Horrific images are brought in about Jews being gassed or burned in the ovens. The cake of soap she speaks of is bars of soap made of human fat. The fat of Jews. The wedding ring, the gold filling are personal items that are left behind after the body’s are burnt.

Another double meaning is used in the next stanza. “Herr God, Herr Lucifer Beware Beware.” This could be either a reference to Samuel Taylor Colleridge’s Poem ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. It could also could be Plath giving a warning to God or Lucifer- wherever she ends up- that she is coming.

“Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air”. Reference to the phoenix rising out of the ashes. The colour red also is a seductive colour, like the strip tease Plath mentioned before.

Added by: Jo
This poem is a thinly veiled biography of plaths life up until this stage. I aggree with Kaz when she says that plath was only attempting suicide, trying to experience life through death perhaps? The poem has no hidden meaning, it is obviously what plath feels while she is hospitalised.
"Lady Lazarus"
Added by: Nicole
Personaly, I like this poem. It's very in depth about what Plath is feeling. Her life is reflected through the poem and shows what type of writing style she has. True, she had a lot of problems in her life, but that only makes her writing more intence and much more interesting.
Added by: Dylan
I think that it should be noted that in the Bible, Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus was not fueled by love or mercy, but a desire to advertise his own power. I find this very relevant.
Lady Lazarus is HARD
Added by: Vikki
This poem seems to me to be about Plaths' wanting to die, but she has a terrible fever, which is rather like dying. So, its kind of an interplay between her being really sick and her internal mental sickness of depression causing her to want to die. The language is very advanced for a poem like this, I think. She makes a lot of reference to Nazis and ladies of the evening, which seem to emphasize being downtrodden, although I'm not sure how they involve heat (perhaps it's Nazi creamatoriums? That would make like a lot of sense.) She definately wrote other poems which are more pleasant and easier to comprehend, but this one has a certain power over you.
Added by: Lindsey
Plath died half a year after writing this poem. It seemed she had a morbid fascination with the concept of rebirth and of being her own master. It could be debated that she was attention seeking but I think it's deeper than that- more complex. But who can tell, if she left a note for the housemaid to call the doctor when she arrived then perhaps she expected attention and sought it. She danced with death, she challenged it, but ultimately she lost.

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