Critical Analysis of “Poppies in October” | Poem by Sylvia Plath

Critical Analysis of "Poppies in October" | Poem by Sylvia Plath

Analysis of “Poppies in October” points out that it is neither critical nor traditional poem of Sylvia Plath. She does not talk about her own life nor does she lament on the departure of her father and husband. Apart from bee poems, this poem is the greatest poetic achievement of Sylvia Plath. Readers can witness that Sylvia Plath is also poet of beauty like other poets of her era. She has been criticized for being too much autobiographical in her poems. Most of the critics find her poetry just confessional. They think that Sylvia cannot write beyond her autobiographical experiences but this poem is a bit different from other poems as it is the expression of beauty. Nonetheless, somehow she has expressed herself behind poppies flowers.

Click here to read “Poppies in October” instead of its critical analysis.

Critical Analysis of Symbolic Significance of “Poppies in October”:

When one sees poppy flower, especially in the month of October, he can feel its beauty. The poet wants to show beauty of flowers to her readers. Exact imagery and scenes, in shape of words, make this poem incredibly true to nature. However, there are some elements which are related to feminism as observed by the critics. Beauty is mostly related to nature and feminism is also its part, therefore, every object and image, mentioned in the poem, is elucidated through female substances. In one of the stanzas, the poet directly compares the poppies flowers to a woman in ambulance.

The poem, as the name suggests, is about poppies flowers. It seems only from this poem that Sylvia Plath has great love for nature particularly with flowers; therefore, she appreciates the beauty of these natural elements after keenly observing them. She has chosen the month of October to elucidate their beauty. Why has Sylvia Plath selected only poppies flowers to show her artistic talent? Because these flowers are not bound to any single color; they grow in different colors. Moreover, it is also matter of truth that during World War I, poppies flowers became symbols of remembrance of soldiers who died in war, therefore, it might also be the reason to choose these flowers as subject of discussion.

Critical Analysis of “Poppies in October”:

Poem starts with morning scene and a comparison between sunny clouds and poppies petals. The poet declares that poppies petals are like skirts of any woman. She also appreciates the sky and its beauty yet it cannot surpass the attractiveness of poppies flowers and their petals. In next lines, she adds imagery of an ambulance and a woman in the scene. She again makes comparison of flowers with a woman, who is going to hospital for delivery of her child. The moment may be painful but Sylvia knows that for a mother, it is the happiest moment of life. Thought of newly born baby can fill a woman’s heart with happiness but still this happiness and joyful moment cannot transcend the happiness felt on seeing poppies flowers.

It is also said that there is a strong feminist impression in this poem because of the use of a direct female character and objects related to feminism.

Critical Analysis of Middle stanzas of “Poppies in October”:

Next stanza is about the downfall of natural elements. In start of the poem, the poet discusses the preciseness of poppies flowers and says that poppies flowers are love gifts but suddenly she is alarmed. Some destructive things seek her attraction. She, in straight words, talks about carbon monoxide, which is harmful not only for humans but also for plants. These chemicals are destroying the nature and objects related to it.

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

These lines are symbolic and are seriously considerable. In hidden words, she is talking about the effect of worst days on happy days of life. It is difficult to balance life, therefore, unbalanced incidents make life hard. Many of us have experienced life; it runs smooth but suddenly an incident effects on the life and ruins it. She says that unexpected incidents effect the life in a way as carbon monoxide effects the lungs. Similarly, the sky is also harmful for the flowers. She is of the view that sun is at the peak due to which sky may destroy the beauty of poppies flower.

Critical Analysis of Last Stanza of “Poppies in October”:

Last stanza of the poem is much complex. The poem was written just before her suicide attempt, therefore, she is close to death. “O my God, what am I”. These lines are much significant. Self-discovery and self-realization remain part of Sylvia’s life. She is trying to discover herself. She has used words “what am I” instead of “who am I”. It appears that she does not know herself. She wants to know what people think about her. What she is for people; an object or a human? It is not the case that she is talking only about the flowers. Apparently she is doing so but it is not entirely true. The poem is not only about poppies but also about the poet.

Thereafter, she asks a question. Can these flowers bloom in this weather? She doubts it. There is much frosting in the fields. It suggests that she is raising question about her existence. She is questioning that; can she live in this world as the world is full of despair?

Critical Analysis of Imagery, Style and Mood of Poet in “Poppies in October”:

Considering the imagery, style, mood and approach of the poet, it is clear that the poet has something to say about poppies but she also has something to mention about her own life. She mixes her life’s experiences with description of poppies. Poppies flowers have been used as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death since long. Opium extracted from flowers is sedative and helps in sleep, whereas common blood-red color of the red poppy in particular symbolizes for death.

Moreover, in Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the deads. Poppies used as emblems on tombstones symbolize eternal sleep. A second interpretation of poppies in Classical mythology is that the bright scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection after death. [Source – Wikipedia]. Besides, every symbol attached to poppies is related to the life of Sylvia Plath. It may seem that she has only cherished the beauty of flowers but her fans know the pain behind it. They can feel that she has concealed herself behind the pettiness of poppies.

Related Questions:

  • Write a critical appreciation/analysis of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Poppies in October”.