Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
Table of Contents
Lady Lazarus is one of the important last poems of Sylvia Plath. It was composed on 23rd October 1962. It was published in the magazine Encounter in 1963. Lady Lazarus, Ariel and Fever 103, are sister poems in all of which the protagonist is a woman. But the question arises who this Lady Lazarus is? Plath has associated the name of the Lady with Lazarus. Now the Lady of Lazarus is any woman whom God helps to be born after death. Various critics have interpreted the poem in different ways. Some critics more interested in the geographical and personal interpretation think that the poem is confessional. But before her death in an interview given to the British Council, she denied that Lady Lazarus is confessional. Plath says in the following extract that she felt like Lazarus of the Bible:
“I feel like Lazarus : that story has such a fascination. Being dead, I rose up again, and even resort to the more sensitive value of being suicidal, of getting so close, of coming out of the grave with the scars and the marring marks on my check.”
The Myth of Lazarus
Sylvia Plath has taken the character of Lazarus from the Book of St. John, Chapter II, where Christ has come to raise Lazarus live from his grave : Jesus asked the Jews to remove the stone from the grave of Lazarus. This having been done, Jesus cried with a loud voice ‘Lazarus come forth.’
“And he that was dead came forth bound head and foot with sere clothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them “loose him and let him go”.
Thus the Lazarus was resuscitated. Sylvia Plath had also come out of death several times –
With this myth Plath has fused another myth of the diseased Lazarus which is in the Gospel of Luke in Chapter 19, of the beggar Lazarus. In this parable of the rich man these myths illustrate the fate of Plath who thinks that she has also been resuscitated from her death several times she has been revived from the trunk of disaster. She expressed in the poem a ritual death and emerges stronger in her resuscitation.
Lady Lazarus Analysis
The poem Lady Lazarus is the most important of all the poems written by Sylvia Plath. Lady Lazarus is mythical story based on the biblical episode of Lazarus. The full story has been told by St. John in Chapter 17: of the book of John in the New Testament. The critics have interpreted the title of the poem in various ways. Some think that the word Lady denotes a woman of high rank while others believed that Lady is used for a common woman. Lazarus was the brother of Mary, when he died, Mary and her brother appealed to Jesus to come to the place where Lazarus had been buried in a cave grave. Jesus came and stood before the grave and said Lazarus, come forth and Lazarus came out after being resurrected under Christ’s order. His death cloths were removed, he became one of living person. Thus the Lady of the poem is a mythological figure on the biblical Lazarus. Plath takes the myth of Lazarus as the basis of her poem and she enacts her own death.
At the end of the poem Plath also refers to Phoenix. A noted critic has rightly observed. The Lady of the poem is a quasi-mythological figure, the biblical Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. Taking recourse to this myth she enacts her own death (the previous attempt as well as the death wish), creating a series of apt images to depict the series of transformations that the Lady undergoes. Inevitably she draws upon images from the second World War as nothing less horrible than the Nazi Operations could describe properly her psychic disintegration her terrible humiliating anguish to be made a sight in front of the fun seeking insensitive public. It is true that she wanted only intelligent readers for her poetry as sensitive and as aware as herself for the simple reason that only such persons can apprehend the intellectual aloofness and the aesthetic sincerity with which she analyses her own agony victimization and desperate will to live and fight.
“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
Autobiographical Element in Lady Lazarus
The poem Lady Lazarus is an autobiographical poem. The theme of the poem is death. She enumerates her suffering and her death wish by narrating the sad events of her life. In the year 1953 when she was at Smith College, she felt quite lonely, the black shadow of her father’s miserable death caused her great despondency. This feeling of sorrow she has suppressed as the painful poem ‘Daddy‘.
Plath’s First Attempt at Suicide
In 1953, she tried to commit suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. Whatever, negative her attitude to life might be at that time, she took every positive care to plan her deed meticulously : from collecting the pills, to writing the note, to bury herself deftly in the dark unused cellar under the porch of her house. And this characteristic of her personality permeates all her creations. However disturbed or inspired she is, she is ultra-careful about her rhyme pattern and imagery and diction, to give an impeccably organic order to the unruly turbulent emotions. Her family arranged a nationwide search for her; but ultimately, it was she who gave herself out, unconscious state and was rushed to hospital. She had lacerated her face while scratching it against the rough wall in her unconscious state. The doctor did a great deal but the scratch on her cheek bone was going to be her life companion, perhaps reminding this vivacious girl of the ugly reality of death or may be, alluring her to it all the while ! After recovering, she had to spend, five months at McLeans getting psychologically cured and fit to be on the road again. Her whole expense at this expensive private institution in Belmont was paid by Mrs. Prouty. This psychological treatment was another nightmare she had to go through while she needed only sympathetic gestures and unmitigated love and understanding. She had poured down her wry feelings against this psychological treatment in her writings, as in Johhny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and in the novel The Bell Jar.
Thinking of suicide became her way of living and writing. Whenever she was engulfed by the overpowering emotion of loss and uncertainty, she wanted to quit, of course, after giving expression to it in beautiful poetry. This certainly is the escapist attitude which snuggled side by side her courageous challenging attitude to life. And this is the mystery and beauty of her dual personality. When the lonely woman gives up in utter exasperation and exhaustion, the artist takes over and wringing out masochistically the last drop of blood, writes exquisite poetry. It is not for nothing that ‘blood’ becomes a recurring image in her poetry.
In the poem ‘Lady Lazarus’, the first three lines are autobiographical. The stanza refers to the first attempt at suicide, intended by Sylvia Plath in 1952.
“I have done it again,
One year in every ten,
I manage it.”
Imagery in Lady Lazarus
This poem ‘Lady Lazarus’ is quite remarkable for the use of imagery which reflects the treatment of death in the hands of Sylvia Plath, about death. Her imagery is quite original about the conception of death. She believes that death is not the negation of life. But all men and women are the creatures of death. The following stanza expresses this new viewpoint of Sylvia Plath: The idea of resurrection is present in this poem. The following three stanzas given ahead reveal the idea of rebirth.
“Unwrap me hand and foot-
The big striptease
“These are my hands,
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.”
About imagery of Sylvia Plath a great critic observes :
Some of the imagery here also recalls “Mary’s Song” : the imagery of turning and burning, melting, gold baby”, and so on. The “fusion” here, between the world of an American hospital and perhaps the more “real world of Nazi atrocities, is craftily achieved, through, amongst other things, the image of a “melting” shriek-an image that also echoes the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting, ‘The Scream’. (The Child’s Cry in, for instance, Ariel Melts in the Wall, as the speaker there turns her back on “dead hands, dead stringencies. It is a historically verifiable fact that the Nazis had melted down gold-fillings scientifically extracted from the exterminated Jew’s teeth and made valuable gold bullion out of the melting. The bullion or ingot was deposited by the Nazis at the time in merchant banks operating in neutral Switzerland, whose business has always been business. A gristly pun caps off the connection, established by the speaker of Lady Lazarus between mass-murder and business. The speaker innocently tells ‘Herr Doktor”, “Herr Enemy.”
The following stanza illustrates the approach of Sylvia Plath to imagery that she has used in this poem:
“And there is a charge, a very large charge.
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood.
Or a piece of my hair or my cloths
So, so, Herr Doktor
So, Herr Enemy.”
Another beautiful image used by Sylvia Plath is contained in the last stanza of the poem. This image is of a mythological bird phoenix. Plath compares herself with this bird and believes that like the phoenix she will be born again quite fresh after death. The last stanza is the following:
“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”
Thus we can say that this poem is not so autobiographical as it is philosophical. Her philosophy is of initiation, true love, service, death and rebirth. This poem ‘Lady Lazarus’ has used three mythological stories of Lazarus who was dead but who came out of the grave when Jesus personally asked him to come out. Then Lazarus got revived and came out of the grave. Thus this poem tells us about the initiation, death and rebirth.
Lady Lazarus Summary
The poem explains the theme of death. The poem of Plath gives us a clear picture of death and its relationship with man. Lady Lazarus reminds us of the mythological story of his biblical character who was restored to life by Jesus Christ. Similarly Sylvia Plath was resurrected after her attempt to kill herself by taking over dose of sleeping pills. The poem was written before Plath committed suicide in February 1963. In this poem we get a clear idea that she looks upon death as her creature and deliver.
(1) Plath has committed suicide again. She does commit suicide once every ten years. She can very manage it.
(2) Suicide is a kind of walking miracle for her. After undergoing suicide her skin is of white colour like the colour of a Nazi.
Her right foot is a Nazi paper weight.
Her face is like a Jew linen quiet featureless.
In these stanzas, Plath refers to The Hitler gas chamber where Jew prisoners were burnt alive, their bones were used as paper weight.
(4) Fourth Stanza – The skin of Nazi were peeled of their bodies and Plath wishes to do it.
She puts the question. Thus she terrifies other. Plath is referring to the victims of sticpner and where the noise the eye wit and set of these and the breath of body.
All Vanish in English
(6) Plath believes that soon her body in great
She will find pleasure there.
(7) Plath will be a smiling woman at home
She is only thirty years of her age.
Just as cat die nine times and comes to life again.
Similarly Plath will come to life again. She has been living for three decades but this period has been useless.
Actually she has destroyed each decade.
(8) The large crowds of million of people she desires to see me (She-Plath).
(9) The big crowd wishes to see hand and foot. These crowds are of gentlemen and ladies.
(10) People can see my hands and my legs
And I am only spaniel bone. (
11) But even then I am same identical woman
My best time passed away when Plath was ten
And this was all accident.
(12) Again second time I wanted to end my life
And I never wanted to come
She wanted to close her life.
(13) People wanted to meet come back and shake of all the worm of my body.
(14) The death is an art Plath wants to do it very beautifully.
(15) She wants to die and commit suicide that is like a hell. But Plath feels it real
(16) Plath feels that it is easy to commit suicide in itself. It is easy to die but she can put to stop it.
(17) Plath says that she has recovered from death
She has come to the same place
She has got the same face, same hands
and her voice is the same.
(18) This coming to life again is miracle
She is surprised at this miracle
And it is a charge on her.
(19) After coming to life again she looks as stars
There is a charge on her
Her sensibility has become weak.
(20) My eyes and my scarce tell me that I have some duties to perform because my heart has lost its power to inspire me.
(21) Plath has got a big charge and responsibility. She can speak or touch again.
(22) Again she has a charge and responsibility of cloths
for she has the same hairs and
The doctors are her enemies.
(23) Plath believes that she is a song sang by death.
She is a possession of death
She is pure gold lady.
(24) With a cry death makes her
turns and burns
She appeals death that she knows.
(25) After death nothing is less only ashes
death stirs and forces ashes
But there is nothing there.
(26) After burning on the burning rings and a piece of coal.
(27) Here Plath praises God and also praises devil Lucifer. She is gone. They should be warned.
(28) Clear. In the last stanza Plath believes she will rise from ashes like a phoenix. She will come out of death while insect with her red hair and then she will eat man just as she eats air.
Lady Lazarus Explanation
“I have done it…… I manage it.”
Reference to the Context. This stanza occurs in the beginning of the poem Lady Lazarus. This poem is most important as it is a statement of Sylvia Plath about her approach to death. It was composed in 1962 as a few months before Sylvia Plath committed suicide. The poem throws much light on the motives and reasons of her suicide. The poem gives us a correct account of Plath’s previous occasions when she wanted to commit suicide.
In these three lines of the first stanza from the poem Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath, the poetess describes how Plath has made attempts to commit suicide. The desire for suicide has not yet ended. In the very first line of the stanza she says that she has imaginatively committed suicide. She has done so once every ten years. This time she has managed it. The theme of this poem being death that poetess introduced it in the very first stanza in the poem.
- The pronoun in the first line of the stanza has been used for suicide.
- The word ‘manage’ means that with the help of doctors she has come out of death.
“Do it ………………. I have a call.”
Reference to the Context
This is the sixteenth stanza taken from Lady Lazanis composed by Sylvia Plath. In the previous stanza, the poet has expressed her conception of death that dying is an art just as art is present in worldly creative activities, she also expressed her ideas that she can perform the act of dying exceptionally well.
Sylvia Plath says that she can perform the act of suicide very well, although it looks like hell she can do the act of suicide because it is a real thing of life. People can think that talking about death Plath is quict clearly hearing a call of death.
- Death is horrible therefore Plath has compared it to hell.
- I have call this part of stanza shows that she was hearing a call of death. It was like a premonition of death because actually she dies after a few months of composition of the poem Lady Lazarus
“I shall rise …………….eat man and air.”
Reference to the context
This is the last stanza of the poem Lady Lazarus after having described her conception of death Sylvia Plath expresses her firm faith in Death as creature of life. She has already asserted that she is the opus of death.
Plath believes, after death she will be born again just as a bird “Phoenix’ and would live for five hundred years. Similarly she will also be reborn after death. In this stanza, the poetess has used Phoenix’, a mythological bird to show and prove her idea of rebirth.
- In the beginning of the poem, Plath has used Biblical story of Lazarus who was resurrected by Christ himself.
- In the last stanza, she uses ‘Phoenix’ a mythological bird to prove that she will be born again.