Poppies in July - Sylvia Plath

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Poppies in July - Sylvia Plath
“Poppies in July” is a short poem written in free verse. Its fifteen lines are divided into eight stanzas. The first seven stanzas are couplets, and the eighth consists of a single line. The title presents an image of natural life at its most intense—at the height of summer. It evokes a pastoral landscape and suggests happiness, if not joy or passion. The title is ironic, however, because the poem is not a hymn to nature but a hallucinatory projection of the landscape of the speaker’s mind and emotions. Sylvia Plath begins the poem innocently, even playfully, as the speaker addresses the poppies, calling them “little poppies.” The tone changes immediately, however, as the poppies become “little hell flames,” and the speaker asks if they do no harm. She can see them flickering, but when she puts her hands into the imagined flames, “nothing burns.” She feels exhausted from watching the poppies, but she imagines that their “wrinkly and clear red” petals are like “the skin of a mouth.” This introduces an erotic element into the poem, but it is followed by an image of violence—“A mouth just bloodied.” Immediately, another change occurs, as the poppies become “little bloody skirts.” This shocking image marks the exact center of the poem. Aside from the obvious implications of bloody skirts, another meaning is suggested by the fact that “skirt” is a slang term for a woman, and in England, where Plath was living, “bloody” is a curse, a profanity. Combined with the word “marry,” which occurs later in the poem, these details suggest that the speaker is responding to her husband’s marital infidelity. In anger, she has bloodied his mouth, and her invocation of “hell flames” indicates that she would like to see the adulterers punished for their sin against her. The speaker feels like she is in hell. As thoughts of the situation surface in her consciousness, she turns away from images based on the color, shape, and texture of the poppy, to...
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