Analysis of’Poppies in October’ by Sylvia Plath

Poppies in October

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was one of the most popular American poets of the 20th century. She wrote numerous poems, short stories, novels and for some journals. She wrote the novels under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Her poems became famous after her death and her husband, who had divorced her, published many of her poems. Most of her poems had themes like dysfunctional relationships, suicide, self-hate and death. However she had good control over what she was writing. Very close to her death she had written many poems with death as the theme. ‘Poppies in October’ is one such poem where she is pleading God to gift her death.

The poem is about poppies that generally don’t bloom in October. Why poppies? Poppies come in different vibrant colours and these flowers are used in remembrance of people who die especially soldiers. The petals of the poppies are compared to skirts of woman and even the shimmering sun cannot stop the magnificence of the flowers. In the next line there is a woman mentioned. She is travelling in an ambulance and her heart blooms as she is to deliver a baby which is a gift of God. Yet that joy pales when compared to the joy got from seeing the beautiful poppies. The poppies are also ‘unasked’ gift from Godwith the sky as its background. The plants also ’ignite’ carbon monoxide stating the contamination of the environment. And this gas dulls the flowers. She wonders ‘Oh my God, what am I’. This can mean that Plath was wondering what person she was or it could be that she is talking about the poppies wondering what it was. It was wondering why it had bloomed during the time when the place was covered by frosts and amid other cornflowers.

Sylvia Plath’s poems are confessional poems and it is very rare to see a poem which is one without her story in it. ‘Poppies in October’ is a little different for she describes the magnificence of poppies but analysts agree that her story is seen in this poem. It is a free verse, there is no rhyme scheme. The poem has three stanzas of varying lines; a total of twelve lines. Alliteration, the use of same consonant in the start of any word in the same line, is used many times in the poem. Some of them are ‘Forest of frost’ and ‘morning can’t manage’. Assonance is the repetition of matching vowel in the words in a line. Assonances are aplenty in the poem ‘Poppies in October’. Some of them are ‘cannot manage’, ‘Utterly unasked’. The ‘a’ in can and man in manage and ‘u’ in utterly and unasked is assonance. Consonance is when the concluding consonant sounds have the same sound, as in ‘palely and flamily’; ‘ly’ in palely and flamily are examples of assonance. For a Plath poetry the imagery is a little less. One striking imagery is, ‘Forest of frost’. Poppies is the symbol of death so is frost; there is an allusion to death in this poem. The use of carbon monoxide is a foretelling of Plath’s death for she took her life by breathing the carbon monoxide from the gas tube.


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