The Night Dances Analysis

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‘‘The Night Dances,’’ describes,
according to Ted Hughes, ‘‘a revolving dance which her
baby son performed at night in his crib.’’ The smile that falls surrealistically into the grass at the beginning of this poem is ‘‘irretrievable,’’ and the speaker compares this to the dancing gestures of her baby, which seem so significant to her that she finds it hard to believe they are merely

ephemeral: ‘‘Surely they travel / The world forever, I shall not entirely / Sit emptied of beauties, the gift / Of your
small breath, the drenched grass / Smell of your sleeps,
lilies, lilies.’’ The image of the lilies is then considered in its uniqueness—it is as if Plath is deconstructing the poem as she writes it—‘‘their flesh bears no relation. Cold folds of the ego, the calla, / And the tiger, embellishing itself— / Spots, and a spread of hot petals.’’ This is the alienation of extreme self-involvement: a lily is not just a lily but

is classified according to species; the calla lily (from the Greek kallos) is wrapped up in its own cold beauty (there
is a submerged pun here on ‘‘callous’’) while the tiger lily embellishes itself alone. This introduces the theme
of indifference, or, as this poem expresses it, amnesia:
‘‘The comets / Have such a space to cross, / Such coldness, forgetfulness.’’ She considers the movement of the comets to be a more appropriate metaphor for her son’s gestures:
‘‘so your gestures flake off— / Warm and human, then
their pink light / Bleeding and peeling / Through the black
amnesias of heaven.’’ By this time the speaker seems to
have given up her belief that the self and its gestures can
retain their identity, and the image is a disturbing one, a
vision of dismemberment.
In ‘‘The Night Dances’’ the self is a disintegrating structure, its gestures inevitably swallowed up in
inhospitable and unconscious space. The fatalistic tone of
the poem is reflected in Plath’s avoidance of the question mark, a technique she uses here twice: ‘‘And how will...
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