On Poetry

May 29, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

As Robert Frost put it, a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. I had been feeling this feeling of sickness for some time now, probably because of the exams and whatnot, and even after they’ve ended there seemed to be an emptiness, a void somewhere too dark to locate in the depths of my consciousness.

At times like these I usually resort to reading or writing poetry, amongst all other things like taking a bath, eating lots of desserts and going to the gym.

I am no expert in poetry but I’ve always loved literature and one of my favourite poets is Sylvia Plath. I always return to her, not because we’ve had similar experiences, but because I can somehow relate to her in spite of our vast differences. For those unfamiliar with her work, she mainly writes about feminism, depression, and her struggles in her marriage with another renowned poet, Ted Hughes. Her semi-autobiography, The Bell Jar, is also an intriguing read that shows how being depressed and kept in the psychiatric ward is like. The book was based on Plath’s own experiences since Plath herself suffered from manic depression, having taken her own life at the age of 30. 

One of the poems that has struck me the most was a poem covered in my secondary school syllabus – Poppies in July.

Little poppies, little hell flames,

Do you do no harm?

You flicker. I cannot touch you.

I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns

And it exhausts me to watch you

Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.

A mouth just bloodied.

Little bloody skirts!

There are fumes I cannot touch.

Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?

If I could bleed, or sleep!

If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!

Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,

Dulling and stilling.

But colorless. Colorless.

At first glance one might not fully grasp Plath’s meaning. Indeed I am not entirely sure if my interpretation is sound either – nevertheless, the pain in her tone is inescapable. The speaker has become so numb with pain that she cannot feel the flames burning even when she has placed her finger in the fire. Note, too, the source of her depression sprang from her husband. To put this into context, the poem was probably directed at her husband in response to his infidelity.

The most striking image in the poem is the colour red – there are the “little bloody skirts” and “bloodied” mouth, which hints that love or passion, if gone awry, can become a dangerous, destructive force.

One can also feel her pain as she tells of being numbed by the actions of her husband. She speaks of life being “colourless” to her now that her husband has betrayed her trust; it is also interesting to note that the entire poem was written in couplets except for the final line, which was left dangling singly, as if embodying the state of Plath herself at that time – though she was married, her husband chose to have an affair with someone else, thus leaving her all alone.

The reference to the “glass capsule” also reminds one of her semi-autobiography The Bell Jar, in which the bell jar is used to symbolise entrapment within one’s madness. Here, the glass capsule can be interpreted in a similar way, which highlights the immense pain of unrequited love as well as the destructive power of love.

After reading poetry I always feel a bit poetic myself. The following are just some (fictional) poems I wrote for leisure in the form of limericks (i.e. the first letter of each line forms the title of the poem).


L – ying alone, curled up in bed, I hear you

O – ver the strangers talking on the radio

N – o one knows I’m here. I’m here, on my own

E – xhaling slowly as I dared to breathe, to clear my head, but –

L – ingering in my memory, I still feel your touch. I still hear

Y – ou. Your voice, as it rolled sweetly over my name.

Sweet dreams

S – ometimes, I wish I could stay in dreams forever

W – here I can finally be with you – a hopeless endeavour, in the

E – veryday – thing – we call, life. I savour

E – very night we spend together.

(T – hough it be false)

D – arling, ever since you were gone, the bed – you

R – emember? That one you used to sleep in with me

E – very night, we used to sleep in each other’s arms, your

A – rms that wrapped around me tightly,

M – arking me as yours. And you would murmur into my ear

S – weet dreams.

These also illustrate how devastating love can be. Poems about lost love seem clichéd nowadays, because it seems to be all that people can ever talk about. But I suppose there’s justification for that – a lover, a friend, or even a family member breaks everyone’s heart in one way or another. It’s just an inevitable stage everyone goes through.

This is precisely why I love poetry so much. One can always relate to the feeling a poem captures. For me, a poem is like a little capsule that captures the feeling of any particular moment. It is like a little box of memories, formed by an intricate web of rhyme and rhythm.