Lady Lazarus as a Confessional Poem | Autobiographical Elements in Lady Lazarus

Lady Lazarus as a Confessional Poem | Autobiographical Elements in Lady Lazarus

Lady Lazarus as a Confessional Poem

Lady Lazarus is a poem voicing confessional tone of Sylvia Plath. This poem deals with several disasters through which Plath has passed. In the first two stanzas of the poem, she refers to the suicidal attempt made by her in 1953:

“I have done it again,

One year in every ten I manage it.

A sort of walking miracle my skin

As a Nazi lampshade

My right foot

A paperweight,

My face a featureless fire

Jew Linen

Peel off the napkin

O my enemy

Do I terrify.”

In Lady Lazarus, its speaker adopts various subject positions to orchestrate a multiple-level litany of Universal History of Infamy (Borges) – a history of discrimination (racism in the case of the Nazis, misogyny in the case of patriarchy), extermination and genocide (the Nazis were the first to technologize mass-slaughter), degradation of human life and collective pillage, loot and plunder. (The Nazis used flayed Jewish skins, after the latter were exterminated, to make lampshades; skulls and limbs to make paperweights, and extracted gold fillings from the teeth of the already slaughtered Jews to melt these and convert/process these to bullion gold, subsequently hoarded in Swiss banks). Plath establishes, in Lady Lazarus, as in “Daddy“, “Cut”, “Fever 103”, and even “Mary’s Song”, a connection between woman’s affliction and suffering, in the domestic sphere, and the collective, public tragedy of conquest, genocide, a Dance of Death in the name of racial “purity”), the obscene rituals of the powerful by which the powerless are rendered insulted, despised, injured, humiliated, dehumanised and mortified.

Further, there is a perceptible symbolic connection between the technologies harnessed by the Nazis towards the end of what, in modern parlance, is euphemistically known as “ethnic cleansing” (a word that has surfaced in Milosevic’s Balkans of the 1990s) and the technologies deployed, medically and surgically today, to “return”, to “normal life, to rehabilitate” a “queer” person (Cf. Plath’s opening paragraph in her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar), all in the name of socialization and “conformity”.

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The above four stanzas give us a clear picture of Sylvia Plath after her resuscitation from her attempt to suicide. Every part of her body has been compared with the burnt bodies of the Jews in gas chambers. But the images are all images of the ignorated Jews. The next four stanzas give us the picture of the burnt Jews.

“The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day

Soon, soon the flesh

The grave came ale will be

At home on me.”



“A garden of mouthings, purple, scarlet-speckled, black

The great corollas dialate, peeling back their silks

Their musk encroaches, circle after circle,

A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in

Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees,

You move among the many-breasted hives,

My heart under your fool, sister of a stone.

Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds

The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down.

In these little boudiors streaked with orange and red

The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings

To father dynasties. The air is rich.”

Here is a queenship no mother can contest –

“A fruit that’s narrow as a finger, solitary bees

Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down

I set my eye to a hole-mouth and meet an eye

Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.

Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg

Under the coronal of sugar roses.”

The queen bee marries the winter of your year.

“And I a smiling woman

I am only thirty

And like the cat I have nine times to die

This is murder three

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.”

In the above four stanzas, Sylvia Plath has described her first attempt for suicide and her rebirth after her hospitalization. There is proper analogy between her resuscitation and revival of Lazarus. When Jesus cried Lazarus, ‘come forth’. He walked out of grass-cave with his hard tred with death clothes and his face trapped in a napkin similarly when the doctors treated her they peeched after loverage (napkin) and at home she was a smiling woman. According to a critic the above stanzas also mean the following:

“What a trash

To annihilate each decade.”

It is suggested here that to “annihilate each decade” by attempting suicide “one year in every ten” (as if each decade were a landmark, to be posted by yet another-repeated-attempt at suicide) the speaker now believes is “a trash”, i.e., “worthless or useless”? If that is the case, then an objective or impersonal view now prevails: it may indeed be worthless or useless”, a waste of time, to try to annihilate oneself at least once every decade. For, by its very repetitiousness – repetition compulsion–this act may now be no more than a ritual or game, periodically played, to “trash” oneself, i.e., “to break” or “tear” oneself only to be reassembled or “mended once again by “Herr Doktors”, her “enemies”, who forcibly – and by technological means –recall her to life. (“Herr Doktors” are the speaker’s enemies also because they give her bipolar electro-conclusive shock therapy.)

This was Plath’s medical resuscitation. In the next four stanzas:

“What a million filaments

The peanut crunching crowd

Shoves in to see.

Then unwrap mc hand and foot

The big strip tease

Gentleman ladies

These are my hands

My knees

I may be skin and bone.

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman

The first time it happened I was ten

It was an accident.”

In these stanzas Sylvia Plath continues the story of her rebirth. The doctors have by medical technology revived her and a noted critic has explained the meaning of these lines in the following extract

Plath is referring to the first serious accident when she was often years and she came out of the accident quite safely and quite healthy.

These stanzas again tell us about the incident and events of her life. The phrase, “what a trash”, is then echoed in: “What a million filaments.”

Tracing either the world and history (“each decade”) or the self is worthless or useless, for it transforms” both the world and the self into what the speaker hyperbolically calls “a million filament”. A “filament” means a very fine thread or thread-like structure, and, in Botany, it refers to “a long slender cell or series of attached cells as in some algae or fungi”. (Fungi, of course, is a kind of trash). The attempted “break up” of the speaker through suicide, “one year in every ten”, is followed by a return, through medical technology, to what was ‘trashed” (either world or sell, or both) that reestablishes contact with life as if “very fine thread-like structures were tying her once again to life. Moreover, “trash”, in what is now an obscure usage, means a cord or trash. Thus, “trash” (in its now obscure meaning) and “filaments” both mean more or less the same thing that which ties the speaker, in a million ways, with the world. It is in this sense that the speaker is a woman Lazarus; someone who has journeyed to the outer edge of existence, nearly teetered over into eternal darkness, but then come back to life.

As a figure who has returned from the underworld, the speaker is a “lady”, both in the sense of being someone different or privileged, as compared to the vast multitude, and also someone who is just “any woman”. The idea of the speaker being someone special, privileged, is picked up later in the poem when she boasts:


…well. !!”

But it is an “art, like everything else”, just as she, the speaker may be a “lady” in both special and common sense of that word.

In the next four stanzas she (Plath) refers to her suicidal attempt in 1953. For Plath dying is an art like everything has this poem was written before she committed suicide in 1962. She hears a call to meet death and she believes that she can meet it quite gladly.

“The second time I meant

To lost it out and not come back at all

I rocked shut

As a seashell

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky



Is an art like everything else

I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell

I do it so it feels real

I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put

It’s the theatrical.”

This time also the doctors have to treat her very carefully, they freed her of all imperfection but Plath is very sure in her mind that she was in love with death. She can die quite comparatively. She believes that she has a call from death. In the next five stanzas she has become quite confident that she will come out of death completely revived. One can see that after death she will have her body quite intact although with some scars. So these stanzas give us Plath’s conception of rebirth.

Plath tells death that she is a song composed by death herself. She is a rich treasure of death. The last stanzas show her deep faith in the great concern of death about human beings after cremation. Nothing remains of the body of the death. The last stanza is very significant which shows Plath’s perfect faith in rebirth.

“I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby

That melts to a shrick.

I turn and burn

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there –

A cake of soap,

A wedding rings

A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer,



Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.”

At the end of this poem an eminent critic Keya Majumdar has rightly observed that one is instantly reminded of the end of another poem, “Lady Lazarus” which has a phoenix-like rebirth after the ritual death. There is a broad hint at the actual suicide attempt of the poet as well as the long painful drama of self-exposure to the voyeurist public, finishing on a mocking and hysterically determined note of a rangeful comeback. Plath wrote in an unpublished typescript that the speaker in this poem is a woman who has the great and terrible gift of being reborn. The only trouble is that she has to die first.

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