Sylvia Plath was born on October 27th, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was known for confessional poetry and it came from a troubled heart. She did not soften her words or moan her misfortunes. Her words are harsh and hard hitting. She started at a very young age and started keeping a journal of her work. ‘Tulips’ is found in the collection of poems titled Ariel which was published after her death by her estranged husband Ted Hughes. This poem was written on March 18th 1961 and is one of the critically acclaimed poem and a loved poem.
Ted Hughes has stated that ‘Tulips’ was written as she was recovering from appendectomy in the hospital and she had received a bouquet of tulips. This poem is rich and haunting. Plath contrasts the whites in the hospital with red tulips. It is as if it is winter in the hospital with everything being white and the colours of tulips were exciting. She was lying quietly there having given herself to anaesthetist and to the surgeon. She was propped on the pillow and was taking in all that was happening around her. She was mostly seeing many nurses, and she couldn’t keep the count; however they did not trouble her. The nurses prick her with needles to make her sleep so she has lost the baggage she was carrying and saw her husband and child smiling in the photo.
In the next stanza she considers herself as a cargo boat foregoing her identity. They have wiped off her associations. She was scared and bare when she was rolled in for the surgery. All the things she was familiar with, started to ‘sink out of the sight’. She did not want any flowers while she was recouping. All that she wanted was to have hands free and turned up to show that she has freedom and was not holding on to anything. The peacefulness of having nothing dazes her and it also asks for nothing. In the next stanza she speaks about the tulips and they were too red for the whiteness of the hospital. She could hear the tulips speak through the gift paper. The redness was like her wound and she says that the tulips were talking to her wound. The bright red definitely upsets her.
When she was well nobody bothered about her but now all were watching her. Days turn into nights and she is lying there helpless with the tulips watching her; she wants to ‘efface’ herself. Before the tulips came the ‘air was calm’ but now they were taking all her oxygen. Tulips seem like a loud noise in that calm room. She was happy and her thoughts were wandering without ‘committing itself’ to anything but with the arrival of the tulips she was concentrating all her attention on them. For all the troubles the tulips gave her, she wants them to be behind bars as they also look like ‘dangerous animals’ Maybe the red tulips reminds of her heart for ends he poem by stating that her heart out of sheer love for her beats for her.
‘Tulips’ like most of her poems is a free verse. There are nine stanzas with seven lines each and the meter is almost identical in every stanza. Each stanza is a complete unit by itself and the enjambment which is generally seen in most of her poem is not seen in this one. The poem is full of imagery that is vivid and typical of Plath. Colours are given an important role in this poem. The white which is symbol of peace and calm is contrasted with red of the tulips standing for life-force, sometimes animalistic. The first line of the poem sets the tone for the poem and it is very rare that a hospital scene is taken up as the subject of a poem. Touches of hyperbole is seen in the line
‘The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals’. Metaphor and similes are skilfully used. The literary device synaesthesia, where there is mix-up of senses in description, is used in the line ‘Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise’.Renée R. Curry claims ‘the tulips signify “by their glorious and bold colours, glaring Otherness.’