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In “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, there are many different poetic devices that are chose to portray the speakers tone. Throughout the poem, the speaker seems to be talking about death at a glance it seems like she is happy with the though of death. But if we dissect the literary elements that Plath uses we can see that death is far from a happy topic, it is disastrous to her. The speakers tone throughout the poem tells us how depressed she is about the entire idea of death. Plath uses diction, images, sounds and repetition to set up the foundation of the poem. The choice of words used throughout this poem helps portray the tone. The images that are described through the speaker’s experiences on death show her emotions about death. These events give a vivid description which helps us understand her attitude towards death. The repetition and sounds set a certain mood and stress on some important aspects of death. Through these literary methods it helps the reader get a better understanding of Plath’s true feelings towards death.
Also, there are words that describe actions taking place when death attempts occur. For example, “annihilate” (24), “The peanut-crunching crowd / Shoves in to see” (26-27), “I rocked shut” (39) and “That knocks me out” (56) shows negative action towards death. First of all, annihilate means to destroy, which gives a downbeat connotation towards the tone of the poem. Then, the crowd refers to the others and their discouragement in this woman’s life, which leads to disappointment and an unconstructive tone towards death in the poem. Then the last two examples describe the speaker’s feelings towards a hopeless end to life. This type of diction used to accentuate the tone of the poem further supports the pessimistic nature.
Lastly, another use of diction in Plath’s poem is words associated with death and therefore, internally affect the tone of the poem. First, in line fourteen they use the word “vanish” which means to go away and never come back. This word is directly related to what death means and in using this word suggests that there is death involved in this particular poem, and the attitude towards it is not positive. Also, with the use of words like this explain why there is a lot of animosity towards death and the activities that support it, “Soon, soon the flesh / The grave cave”. These connotations in this poem talk and discuss death in general. The key words in this example that show death is “flesh” and “grave cave”. Normally, people do not talk about flesh unless they are discussing the skin of a dead person. Then, in the next line choosing the words grave cave shows again the horrible connotation towards death because that describes where people lay in peace, when they have passed away. Again showing what she knows and wants when she dies is expressed by her fears signified by the connotation of the cave. The cave indicates a hiding place or somewhere to go and get away or hide from one’s problems. Lastly, “I do it so it feels like hell” (46) point outs very clearly her approach towards death and with the use of the word, “hell” viewing the connections of her wants in pain, both in the present and in the future. This line indicates that hatred towards her life and others influences in general depicts her depressing tone of the poem. This also, correlates to her boring and lonely life she lives. This is why diction is a very essential tool that Plath uses to show her emotional journey of death and her attitude towards it. As shown through many different word choices it expresses her true feelings towards this issue and the down, depressing tone that she has on death.
As examples show, diction is one of the most essential poetic devises that Plath uses to enhance the attitude and tone of the poem. In addition to diction, imagery is another poetic devise that Plath applies to the context of the poem to augment the miserable tone. Through many of these images it vividly describes an event that associates with death. The first disturbing image that Plath brings into play is a description of her skin, “my skin / Bright as a Nazi lampshade”. This picture described correlates to the Nazis and how they used the skins of Jewish victims to make lampshades. This type of description defiantly shows vividly that the tone of the poem is far from joy and happiness. Another negative connotation to Jews is “A paperweight, / My face a featureless, fine / Jew linen” (7-9). This image again shows the ugliness of this woman and how she views herself, which suggests the down and revolting tone the speaker has towards life and death. Another description of the face that negatively describes the speaker, which in turn helps to determine the feeling of the tone, is “The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? / The sour breath” (13-14). These features of the woman’s face described here are those of someone who is sick, dying or dead. When reading these lines, the images that come into mind are disgusting and disturbing, which support and emphasize the horrible tone throughout the poem.
Next, there are other types of images that show and describe other people’s reactions or interpretations of death and dying. “What a million filaments / The peanut-crunching crowd” (25-26) illustrate the audience and peers interpretations of the woman. The image of the filaments represents a thin line that burns out easily, and compares to the woman’s life, which is a thin string holding on. Then how she explains her life being short clarifies the awful tone she portrays. In addition, the crowd is an image that there are many people watching her go through her terrible life and struggling journey, and they are just there to watch not to help or participate in any way, like a crowd at a baseball game eating peanuts. This loss of caring towards the woman emphasizes again, the attitude towards death. Another use of imagery in this poem that Plath uses to give emphasis is an image that occurs after an attempt to one of her suicides, “And picks the worms off me like sticky pearls” (42). This disturbing image shows and expresses the mood towards death in this poem. These words are so descriptive that they make a huge impact on the reader, which can make them cringe or feel uncomfortable. Those types of feelings that the reader may think of or sense supports the reasoning tone of the poem. Next, another image that supports the tone creates scenery after someone has been burned or cremated, “Ash, ash- / You poke and stir. / Flesh, bone, there is nothing there-” (73-75). Depicting this image are words that are only used when talking about death in a negative way. For example, flesh and bone are descriptions of the body, but when someone is alive they don’t describe their body as flesh and bone. Using this type of diction and imagery shows the impact that it has on the deathly attitude of the tone. Lastly, the image that Plath uses to sum up the poem correlates back to the title. “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air” (83-85), explains the “rising” of her death because of her multiple failures with suicide. Then in the last line she describes the image of eating the air, which explains her hatred for men, as well as life, but she continues to have to live and breath both the air of men and life. These images that describe death events, and other influences and reactions towards death are shown throughout the poem.
Finally, in addition to diction and images, the last poetic devices that Plath utilizes to accentuate the attitude towards death are rhyme and sounds. Plath makes use of rhyme, sound and repetition to reiterate the points and the messages that she is trying to get across. For example, in lines 45 through 48,
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
This shows that repetition reiterates the emphasis of the attitude towards dying. This method used by Plath drills the message and the negative tone into the reader to show the real feelings and emotions that are being expressed. In the next stanza, again Plath utilizes sounds to pierce the statement into the minds of the audience. “It’s easy enough to do it in a cell. / It’s easy enough to do it stay put” (49-50) explicates the true frustration of this woman speaker and the depressing tone that she is restating. Next, repetition of objects also emphasizes the attitude and tone of the speaker. For example, A cake of soap, / A wedding ring, / A gold filling” (76-78) are all objects left behind from a cremation therefore, suggest a low and down tone to the poem. Lastly, the repetition of the word “Beware” (80) implies that there is fear and no reassurance that there is any positive connotation to these words. Therefore, all of this repetition and sounds that are used express and dramatically show the bitter tone of the speaker through her attitude.
In conclusion, Plath’s exercises various poetic devises that emphasize the attitude towards death by the speaker. Diction as a poetic devise shows though the choices that Plath makes in the selection of her words to depict the unenthusiastic tone of the poem. Then, the next poetic devise used is imagery, which was the most affective devise because of the vivid images the audience can imagine in their own minds. This approach also represents the depressing attitude and tone towards death. Lastly, the sounds and repetition are also used to show and express the downing aspects of the poem, including the tone and the attitude of the speaker. All together they make up just some of the important poetic devises that are being used in this poem that can analyze the speaker’s attitude towards death, which clearly is deadly.
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