Remembering Sylvia … ‘Poppies in October’ …

Remembering Sylvia Plath who would have been 85 today …


Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly –

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

Oh my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frosts, in a dawn of cornflowers.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Analysis …

Nothing in sun and sky can match the poppy skirts (petals) in their colour … nor the woman (reference to herself) in the ambulance whose red heart is amazingly kept alive … the woman close to death … others not so lucky … she has been rescued and will survive.

This late showing is out of context with the season … and is a gift unasked for …and in this regard, SP could be talking about her astoundingly good luck in surviving her earlier suicide attempt … her red heart did bloom … how come she was saved? … how come she was given a second chance? … SP did not ask for this … to be re-born … at least she acknowledges this gift as a ‘love-gift’ … even if she is not thankful.

… the action of the heart – ‘igniting its carbon monoxides’ (carbon monoxide has a stronger bind to haemoglobin than oxygen) … igniting – coming alive again … the medicos that saved her did not know her … see her red passion, her emotional state … how could they … they wear bowler hats … head-centric on their work

… and then the lament of not knowing who she is … the poppy in October … out of context … but still alive … she cries aloud for some understanding … why should she be alive in a ‘forest of frosts’ (in a deep tangle where growth is unlikely – how she saw her life) and in a ‘dawn of cornflowers’ (emerging against the bland mass of the common … a little arrogance perhaps)

… this poem was written on SP’s last birthday (27 Oct 1962) … her 30th birthday … at a time when she was living by herself (with the two children) in London – separated from Ted Hughes … she also wrote another poem ‘Ariel’ on the same day … so she had time to herself on this day to devote to poetry … and to question her existence … to question why she has survived out of season (like the poppy) … and to ask why she is still alive … and inferred – why is live so hard … it is a cry for an explanation from the deep intensity of her being for a meaning in her troubled world … questioned in a state of mental unrest..

… and whether any physical poppies were around on this her birthday is open to question … they could be mind-poppies … (refer also to a previous poem ‘Poppies in July’ written in Devon in the summer … when times were different.)

Here is a link to a recommended Site with 10 years of discussion material on the work of Sylvia Plath …

Here is the text of the interview with Sylvia Plath by Peter Orr (of the British Council) – recorded on 30 October 1962 (just after her 30th birthday) … Interview Sylvia Plath 30 Oct 1962 …


… during the Autumn of 1962 SP was at a poetic high producing some of her best work … the irony of the situation that although given a second life after her first suicide attempt and although adjusting to her new life without TH it would not be that long before she would succumb to sever depression and a fatal suicide. There would be no second ‘Lazarus‘.

… the poppy image was from the Australian spring taken at an open garden.