Analysis of ‘Crossing the Water’ by Sylvia Plath

Crossing the Water

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 and went on to become one of the popular American poets of the 20th century. She was best known for her novel ‘Bell Jar’ and her collection of poems titled ‘Ariel’ and ‘The Colossus’. After her college she married British Poet Ted Hughes but split after some years. She had two children in this marriage. She had suicidal tendencies from a young age and on February 11, 1963 she committed suicide. Her poems became popular after her death and she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1982, posthumously. A smaller collection of poems was titled ‘Crossing the water’ and poem under discussion is from this collection.

The poem ‘Crossing the Water’ begins with an ominous setting with “Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.”The tone she sets is sombre and the question she asks is bizarre. She is asking where are the trees going after drinking water and then she makes another unbelievable claim that the shadow of these trees fall over Canada. With the mention of enormity of the trees’ shadows, the poet indicates that the trees are huge. The first stanza seems a journey on a dark night and there are numerous trees close to the water.

In the next stanza she throws some light into that darkness. The light is coming from the water flowers. The speaker in the poem is travelling along the black river and there are some flowers that throw light and those flowers and the leaves are telling the poet and others not to rush. The leaves are round and ‘full of dark advice.”  Once again the dark imagery is brought in. The cut-paper does not accompany the speaker in her boat but they exist in the imaginary realm of imagery of the poet. With a brief respite to the dark imagery, she jumps back to the darkness with the words ‘dark advice’.  It can be that the leaves are dark and thick not allowing the boat to move to light.

In the third stanza the darkness continues. While rowing the water that falls off from the oar turn black and cold. The ‘spirit’ of blackness is seen in all the people and also in the fishes. There is a personification of darkness by stating a ‘pale hand’ is trying to catch the boat. It is akin to a ‘snag’ that catches the fisherman’s fishing hook. When this blackness catches on us, around us and in us, it is very difficult to escape from its clutches.

In the fourth stanza she is numbed to see some light again and this time it is stays long enough to astound her. There are ‘Stars open among the lilies’. It can be that the water was cleared of all the lilies and the stars were reflected on the water.  But since she was blinded by what she saw so it could also mean that the lilies had opened up like the stars. This sight was like a siren to the eyes. This usage of mixing up of senses in expressing an idea, is called synaesthesia. Sylvia Plath uses this literary device very effectively.  This poem has twelve lines and it is divided into four stanzas having three lines in each stanza, tercet. This poem starts with dark imagery and ends with the starlight, transforming her grave mood to that of wonder.

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