The Moon and The Yew Tree
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky --
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness -
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)
This poem was composed in October 1961 when SP was living at ‘Court Green’ cottage North Tawton, Devon. At that stage her marriage with Ted Hughes was still intact. The cottage was close to St Peter’s Church which was visible when she was writing. And at some stage she would have ventured inside.
A carefully designed poem of four seven-line stanzas with distinct sentence punctuation.
S1 … Clearly written at nighttime where SP invokes a ghostly graveyard presence. And there was a mist evident to add to such a scene. The moon has that association with the mind and lunacy. The griefs being the gravestones in rows. As if I was God – well, SP is not God and cannot perform miracles on the dead. The trees stand out black and the light from the moon blue. She cannot see the path through to the Church
S2 … This stanza has two distinct parts. SP personifies her emotional state on to the moon – white as a knuckle and terribly upset. I like the image of the moon dragging or sucking up the sea like a thief. It conjures up a rain squall coming off the sea. SP says this is where she lives, and she knows the sound the church bells make every Sunday morning.
Christianity and resurrection then come to mind in relation to the dead and the gravestones. But the bells only bong out their names – the names on the gravestones. SP is clearly dead to the thoughts of any resurrection to an afterlife.
S3 … The yew tree points up. Gothic shape implying dark and morbid. It is worth considering the symbolic representation of the yew tree –
Christian stories of resurrection led the tree to become a symbol of eternal life. As the trunk of the tree begins to decay, a new tree can form. This represents the cycle of life that makes Yew trees a symbol of rebirth as well.
But there is no tenderness, sadly only a Mother Moon image associated with a wild nature represented by seeing bats and owls fly up unleashed against the ghostly blue light.
How SP would like it to be otherwise.
S4 … It looks like clouds are causing the firmaments to be seen and not seen. The inside of the church is the scene of fixed figures and maybe the stained-glass windows can record saints seen above the pews. Again, a cold dead image of being stiff with holiness as in no resurrection. The moon is wild and full of life unknowing of such human quandaries concerning death. The message of the Yew tree is black. SP is displaying her view on religion and the resurrection. The poem ends with a dark depressive feeling.
See this link for a video of Court Green and the Church – Sylvia Plath Video & Picture Post: Court Green (sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com) … and courtesy of this Site –