Compare Plath and Larkin Essay
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Compare and contrast the ways in which death is portrayed in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’ and ‘Ambulances’ and Sylvia plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’ and ‘Death and Co’ The poems i am going to analyse are: •Lady Lazarus •Death and Co •Ambulances •Days It is understatement to say that both Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin have immense depth and subsidiary meanings to their poems, both writers expertly structure their poems and used varied techniques to convey their themes of death and instil their messages to their readers.
Plath goes about it an autobiographical manner and parades death as a theatrical show leaving the audience in shock and awe however Larkin presents death in a rather trivial manner in comparison to Plath. He juxtaposes the everyday street scene with horrific. He uses the ambulance as a momentary that death is every present and our lives ultimately lead to the journey of death. The oxymoron Lady Lazarus is significant to the poem. Lazarus, originally a man who is raised from the dead by Jesus is feminised and turned into Lady Lazarus.
Plath summarises what she feels; “the terrible gift of being reborn”.
The alliterative form of address “Lady Lazarus” liberates herself from the irrevocable influence of the male figure portrays her idea of feminine superiority over men and how women should excel over men in whatever they do however Larkin’s title “Ambulances” is a noun that is commonly associated with the negative imagery relating to accidents,hospitals ,blood, injuries and most importantly death. Both writers use lexical techniques to convey their outlook and opinion on the theme of death; some of which consists of rhyme, rhetorical devices and their choice of vocab.
Rhyme is used in the first stanza as Plath declares “I have done it again/One year in every ten” she emphasises to the equal repartition of her near-death experiences and holds connotations of her suicide attempts, “one year in every ten” and one being premeditated at this stage. Plath speaks in hyperboles to emphasize her suicidal intention and her need to control her death and become a “walking miracle”. The pre modifier “walking” illustrates the fact that despite her many near death experiences she is still alive and ready as ever to attempt another suicide experience.
The uoyant noun “miracle” that Plath describes herself as, demonstrates to the reader just how romantically Plath thinks of death to be and how her ending her own life is a seemingly phenomenal way of dying. In comparison to this, Larkin contrasts his lexical techniques in oppose to Plath, he begins with the first stanza being a dramatic, alliterative opener. The vehicles are “Closed like confessionals” and are “giving back none of the glances they absorb”; like a corpse. The alliterative statement “closed like confessionals “illustrates the Roman Catholic idea of confessing sins to a priest in a “closed” box.
This also outlines the poems religious nature and demonstrates to us the religious idea of death which connotes it of being like a “closed” off box – a coffin. This also depicts the closed off nature of death and how once a person dies everything, they are sealed off from the world, an end to everything. Larkin uses enjambment to emphasize the disconnection between people and death throughout the poem. In the first two lines, the lack of punctuation ironically causes the reader to stop at the end of each line.
This symbolises the separation between the ambulance, and the city it is travelling through, as well as the “glances” the ambulance takes in. In the fourth stanza, Larkin uses enjambment in five out of the six lines, demonstrating the isolation of death throughout society. Specifically in the last three lines and into the last stanza, Larkin reveals that what unites one another across the years, at last falls apart there (in the ambulance and at the hospital), while connecting all four of those lines.
Vocabulary is also an element used by Plath to depict death; her language register is bold and informal. The vocabulary and rhythms make out the conversational speeches within the poem and make them out to be colloquial and everyday spoken, the frequently end-stopped lines, the repetitions which have the effect of mockingly counteracting the violence of the meaning, all establish the deliberately dismissive note of death which Plath strives to achieve..
At times the tone is hysterically strident and demanding: “unwrap me hand and foot— The big strip tease. Gentlemen, ladies These are my hands My knees. Iambic pentameter is also used in Lady Lazarus because it mimics the rhythm of conversational speech and makes it closer to spontaneous speech. This also highlights Lady Lazarus aural quality as it is meant to be read aloud which emphasizes it rhetorical intensity and perhaps the power that Lady Lazarus has gained throughout the poem “ I am your opus
I am your valuable The pure gold baby” The spontaneous structure of the poem emphasises the emotional and physcological disintegration of Lady Lazarus and how she speaks spontaneously out of pain that she is feeling form her suicidal attempts On the contrary, Larkin also used five groups of six lines of poetry (sestet) of iambic trimeter and roughly–there are some irregularities, a, with the first and last lines of each sestet rhyming, and the middle rhyming “a–b-a-b” like a ballad.
The second stanza, only the first and last lines have been ended with punctuation leaving everything in the middle flowing. The “women in the shops” are detached from the “Wild white face” inside the ambulance. The third stanza all ends with punctuation, excluding the first line. This one exception is very isolated within the stanza as it is the only line left to flow. The flow emphasizes that the “solving emptiness” is not an obvious encounter which we face every day.
The “solving emptiness”, a description of death, “lies just under all we do,” not exposed. Moreover, Plath employs and uses unique language features to express her emotion; “soon, soon the flesh/the grave cave… ” repetition is used to emphasise her point across to the audience, she also repeats “soon” twice to comfort the audience as well as herself; this also correlates to Plath’s idea of death and how it is a welcoming experience not to be terrified by, something that makes her feel “at home”.
To the readers and audience itself it is something disorientating and a lonely discomforting concept, but to Plath and her persona Lazarus, it is something they embrace with open arms and are anticipating it “soon”… However, Larkin goes about his language features differently; so much so that Larkin hardly uses devices such as repetition, exclamation , but rather settles for an indirect approach to his language, the only apparent use of language feature is the distinctive italic fronted text “poor soul” ,this highlights and emphasises the point Larkin wishes to make and also is his idea od the reaction given to the audience and the reader.
This again relates to Larkin’s idea of death and his opinion being in total contrast to Plath. For Larkin, death is a dreadful thing, a cold, merciless, selfish thing and when death strikes it only can be described for the prey of death as “poor” which Larkin does, to have pity on those death has taken. ”Soul” has In Lady Lazarus the audience are the spectators watching the performer show off her daring acts in order to prepare her to die. She in other words entertains the audience by producing her own death in a rather erotic manner.
The audience is shown the grim reality of death through the pre-modifier ‘peanut-crunching’. This illustrates to the reader just how engrossed the audience is in watching Lady Lazarus attempt her suicide and are absorbed in the strangeness of her death and robotically carry on ‘crunching’ on their peanuts oblivious to just how dismal the death of Lady Lazarus is . Showmanship is portrayed through the use of first person “I” throughout the whole poem and the audience seems to develop a “charge” from the gothic striptease Lady Lazarus puts on for them or perhaps a charge the audience have to pay for watching.
Using the metaphor “charge” gives connotations of the audience wanting a show, watching “Lady Lazarus” unwrap herself ,restored to life “The big strip tease” indicating sexual connotations of the audience being largely male and receiving some sort of sexual fulfilment from this. Plath also portrays her rather freakish desire for death by questioning the audience directly “O my enemy/ do I terrify? ” The vocative “O” along with the possessive pronoun “my” directly challenges the audience as if the audience are somewhat responsible for the suicidal state that Plath is now in, intimidating them as she challenges them.
The “O my” could also be taken as a form of loving address to her lover. If put next to ‘enemy’ it reflects her feelings about death as if it I something to long and lust for however death is all something that is utterly terrifying at the same time as it is a mystery to all of us. It also adds a sense of awkwardness throughout the poem as the reader begins to wonder about death and what appears in the afterlife. The audience also feels partly responsible for Plath’s terrible state and are also blamed for causing her death in such a manner.
The rhetorical question “do I terrify” not only involves the audience directly, but also threatens the audience rather mockingly as if the answer to the question should be nothing but a yes. The verb “terrify” portrays Plath’s dual state, just like the Nazis she will not hesitate to inflict pain upon herself in order for her to die yet just like the Jewish race she fades beneath a strong force as she begins to doubt whether she is capable of ending her life. This again increasingly adds to awkward uncomfortable nature as audience beings to wonder what kind of miserable state she will be left in when she dies.
However the audience in “Ambulances” are the people (mainly middle class) that are around where the death has taken place. They are the “children strewn on steps” and “women coming from the shops”. Here the normality of life trivialises the horror of death as ordinary people carry on living their life. They are watching horrifically as the body comes in. The audience here is rather sympathetic and empathise with the person that has just died. “Poor soul/they whisper at their own distress”.
Using the verb “ “whisper” Larkin wishes to portray how the audience not only whispers out of remorse, pity and respect for the person that has just died but also whisper because they feel a sense of relief and thankfulness that the person that has just expired was not themselves or their loved one. Here Larkin shows us the selfish nature of man and how man despite everything shall always care about them; in essence leaving everybody walking on their own. Through this Larkin shows us how death is, death shall leave every person unaccompanied and everyone shall be no one.
Death is selfish and when the appointed time, death shall not wait and indeed “All streets in time are visited”. The visitor being death personified through the use of a vehicle, the Ambulance. The ambulance here is death. And Larkin portrays the randomness of death and how unexpected it can be by the use of the preposition “in” and the noun “time”. Here Larkin reminds the reader than death is inevitable and is always there, a god like figure. Larkin also presents the idea that the audience, the “onlookers” forgot about death yet are reminded when a death appears around their life and the “fastened doors recede”.
The audience are perhaps morbidly fascinated by death as it appears strange to them but then the audience then begins to realise the “emptiness/That lies under all we do” and for a moment the audience understands that life has only one certainty; death. The title of the poem Death & Co title is an etymological, lexical technique in itself and is employed by the writer to change the perception of the reader, for the reader to be open minded and to grasp the writers idea. The “co” referred to in the title refers to a business which begins to establish the ironic and mocking mood of the poem,.
Death is often viewed with incongruity, something that coldly takes away life yet offers comfort to those who are in pain or believe in an afterlife. This again links to the idea of death being a business because the persona asserts that “there are two” referring to the two individuals that make up the entity called “Death and co”. To the persona it is “perfectly natural” that there are two people because a business must be compromised of at least two people. In Death & Co the persona asserts that, “there are two,” personifying death the two individuals who make up the entity called Death & Co.
She comments that it is natural that there would be two, as most companies are made up of at least two people. The individual “exhibits // birthmarks,” and the speaker proclaims that they are “his trademark. ” This claim subsumes the title of the poem, metaphorically revealing the business which is “Death & Co. By doing this the ide of death is bought closer to the persona as it now becomes a threat that is visible and is standing before the narrator. ” Sibilance is used to describe the trademark “the scald scar of water”.
The effect of the assonance is that it creates harsh violent sound and emphasises the cruel and punitive nature of the partners in Death & Co. Larkin however does not use his metaphoric objectified technique in the title but rather from within the poem itself. In the second stanza Larkin uses the “priest” and the “doctor” as symbols of different sentiments and values of “death”. The priest being a man of religion and the doctor symbolic to a man of science who both serves in “solving that question”; two people obsessed with the mystery of death appears after the question has been solved.
The “priest” coat is black which represents death and he helps the person from moving from this life to the next. The “Doctor” coat is white which represents life as the doctor tries to revive the person. This again has connotations of conflict between science and religion Plath begins by using repetition of numbers “two of course there are two”. She is reasserting that death has come in two living forms before her. One of them looking grotesque, “whose eyes are lidded” and the other is attractive having “long and plausive” hair yet dangerous .
She does this to juxtapose the idea of life and death, the fact that two mortal creatures are bring about her lifeless state. The two figures create a sense of fear within her as she finds it difficult to name the two. “he tells me how badly/He tells me how sweet”. The repetition of Second person pronouns and the juxtaposition of her divergent feelings towards death emphasises how at times death appears inviting and perhaps more easier alternative to life difficulties yet the sheer fact of suicide perhaps restrains her form ending her life as the fear of the unknown in the afterlife haunts her .
Which perhaps emphasizes her fearful yet unrecognisable feelings towards death. She fears death and the reader can see that Plaths posseses a frightened predatory victimised outlook on death so she cannot find a specific name to address them as or perhaps there is no personal attachment to death as death is metaphorically recognised as a business, it performs it function and then leaves. On the other hand Larkin uses the same rhetorical feature of repetition but in a rather different manner.
Days are repeated three times in the first stanza and this repetition forces the reader to think about the meaning of the word “days” which is the futility of existence ,the inevitable truth that all life must end in death. The reader is compelled to think about what would happen after the days has ended. Larkin gives day a spatial dimension as he describes days as “Days are where we live”. This raises about how time is measured the nature of it and its artificiality. Days are not a place,not a “where” but a when and it is in this paradox that leads to the blank response to the second question. ”Where can we live but days”.
From this question the answerer is now question themselves as they come to realise the inevitable truth behind days ,there is a lack of choice to the answer and the answerer realises that on the other side of dyas is the night which holds high connotations of death and the afterlife something which clearly fright and perhaps intrigues the answerer Once a person no longer has any days left to live in,the only other place that a person can occupy will be a place in his grave The use of a voice or persona is clearly present in both poem’s although again both poets use this craft differently to suit their own methods of portraying death.
Larkin does not clearly portray the identity of the voice or the voices the reader perceives in “Days” however what we do know is that there is a clear distinction bewtween the voice that asks the questions and the voice that answers the questions. The questions that questioner asks are literally simple,naive and appear to be that of a child asking questions rather simple questions. Of course the underlying meaning which lies behing these unpretentious questins is the metaphor of death in the background. The second voice appears to be different and fluctuates throughout the development of the poem.
This voice appears to be the answerer to the questions that are asked and answers the question in a rather straightforward manner . The answer to the first question: “Days are where we live” denotes a matter of fact, mollifying tone as the simple question is answered by an equally simple although equally worrying answer. At first the voice appears to be kindly positive reassuring the childish questioner that days “are to be happy in” which again holds connotations of death. It tells the questioner and the reader also that the inevitability of death is true so we should live our lives while we have it and enjoy and “be happy” within it.
In the second stanza the answerer adopts a worldly macabre tone almost mocking and cruel as it dryly observes that the only place people can inhibit apaprt from days is death. the questioner is trying to find a simple answer and uses the filler “ah” to contemplate on what happens after days,the question become a lot of bigger then it initially seemed and the answerer realises there is no simplistic way to answer it and so the “preist” and “doctor” are suppousedly the only people that hold the answers to the question However Plath uses two male persona in her poem to portray death and reveal the double or schizophrenic nature of death.
The use of male persona’s was chosen deliberately to emphasise the painful awareness of man’s seemingly innate Judas quality just as death can be cruel and snipe away happiness at the last moment.