Literature is a word derived from the Latin word ‘litteratura’ meaning ‘writing formed with letters’. According to James Ellis, Literature is the garden of wisdom. Roberto Bolano utters that Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely, eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms, and little wildflowers. Literature records the thoughts and feelings of great minds which influence the society directly or indirectly as a mirror.
American literature is literature written or produced in the United States and its preceding colonies. American poetry, the poetry of the United States, arose first as efforts by colonists to add their voices to English poetry in the 17th century, well before the constitutional unification of the thirteen colonies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath are some of the American poets. Among them Sylvia Plath is an extraordinary architect of American poetry. “American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath” by Carl Rollyson claims, “Sylvia Plath is the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.”
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. She was born in Boston on 27 October 1932. Her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath was a second-generation American of Austrian descent, and her father, Otto Plath was from Grabow, Germany. Plath’s father was an entomologist and a professor of biology at Boston University who authored a book about bumblebees.
When she was eight-year-old, Plath published her first poem in the Boston Herald’s children’s section. Over the next few years, Plath published multiple poems in regional magazines and newspapers. In 1950, Plath attended Smith College and excelled academically. She died on 11 February 1963.
The Collected Poems published in 1981 which was edited and introduced by Ted Hughes. The collection contains poetry written by her from 1956 until her death. Plath was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, posthumously. The volume encompasses four collections of poetry: The Colossus, Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees.
Iam Vertical is one of the poems in the collection. Iam Vertical is beautifully weaved by using various poetic devices which speaks about the self-deprecating life of Sylvia Plath. The poem was designed by Sylvia Plath in an ecofeminist perspective.
Ecofeminism is a term that links feminism with ecology. This movement seeks to eradicate all forms of social injustice, not just injustice against women and the environment. The term is believed to have been coined by the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974).
This paper is an attempt to the detail study on Ecofeminism in Sylvia Plath’s Iam Vertical. In the poem, Iam Vertical, Sylvia Plath portrayed her unpleasant life by describing the pleasant beautiful view of nature.
The first line of the poem is very stylistic and directly opposite to the title. “But I would rather be horizontal” is the first line of the poem. The first line suggests the paradoxical expression of Sylvia Plath in this poem. The title of the poem Iam Vertical gives the meaning ‘standing up’. In contrary, the word ‘horizontal’ in the first line gives the meaning ‘lying down’. Here the line strongly suggests the poet’s yearning to go away from the world eternally.
The poem contains only two stanzas but it depicts beautifully the inner feelings of a woman who suffers cruelty under the patriarchal society indirectly through the description of nature by the author. The first stanza of the poem, which depicts the craving of a woman for affection as well as her value in the society, strangles our heart with gulping pity for the woman.
In the first stanza, she describes about a tree which is rooted in the soil, sucks up the minerals and motherly love from the soil in the following lines:
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
She compares her life with the beautiful blossoming tree. The first stanza clearly depicts her envy of nature. She is longing for love and care which is revealed in this stanza. She envies that a tree stands vertically and very pleasantly in the garden can sprout new and fresh leaves in March. The tree is admired by everyone who comes to the garden. She feels that she cannot find out such a pleasure in her life. She wants to interact with the people around her as well as the nature. Her gloomy and melancholic life has no fruit of love. She is suppressed by her own father in her real life. She is also not contented with her marriage life with Ted Hughes.
The end of the stanza focuses on the immortality of nature. She says, “Compared with me, a tree is immortal”. She wants to livelong like a tree and she wants to startle like the flower head. This kind of emotion in her heart reveals through her expression in the following lines:
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
The seventh line paradoxically uses metaphor as the narrator imagines herself as a flower bed. She is using empathetic imagination to put herself in the place of a garden bed that is too ignorant to its own transience. This stanza clearly portrays her fear for death. She wants to possess everything around her. The stanza very clearly depicts the pathetic conflict in the poet’s mind. It reflects the very nature of the human life.
Every human must cross this crucial conflict in making decisions in their life. Ambiguous situation in life must be handled very carefully by subjugating the emotional thoughts and by holding up the hopeful spirit. She feels very bad that she cannot gain hope and confident in her long journey of life. This leads her to yearn very badly for her death.
She wants to finish her life in this world because she feels that she is not worthy to live in this world. She personified every inch of nature in order to show that she is worthless in comparing to that blossoming and odour giving tree and flower. The tree is rooted vertically and very strongly in the soil. She feels that she cannot stand as strong as the tree. It also reveals as a woman she strives for her identity because she is dominated by her father. It may also reveal her unhappy marriage life. The poet is uprooted from her mother’s home. She finds it difficult to stand very firmly in the family where she is again rooted. She cannot find peacefulness in her new life. So she decides to leave the world.
The second stanza depicts her desire to be one with the nature and her sense of inferiority. Here again the trees and flowers are depicted by the poet. She feels that she is not noticed by anyone who surrounds her. The trees and flowers are spreading their cool odour in air. She feels that she is not worthy to spread happiness to her surrounding just like the flower. So she is not paid any attention by anyone who surrounds her. She is longing for love throughout her life. Her disappointment in gaining love from her surrounding leads her to the conflict of taking wrong decision in her life. The following stanza depicts beautifully the pleasant atmosphere of nature as well as the unpleasant life of the author.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them
In the second stanza, the poet confesses that she is admired by everyone only after her death. In this stanza, the narrator describes that she lies down and let herself converse with the starry sky. She says that she might be useful only as a fertilizer to the trees after her death and only after she decomposes. She utters,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
She says that she is not noticed by the trees and the flowers while she is alive. She can convert herself as minerals to the trees after her death. It will help the trees and the flowers to spend their precious time to suck her as a fertilizer for their nourishment. This leads us to look back the first stanza in which she describes the tree which has taken minerals from the mother earth to nourish. Here poet conveys that her motherly love will be revealed only after her death to her loved ones in her life.
The second stanza describes a universal idea of human nature. People never try to understand the loved one while they are alive. They used to feel after their entrance into the eternal life that they have missed a worthy person. The poet is suggesting the idea of death when she mentions she ‘lies down finally,’ therefore lying horizontal compared to the plants. When the poet personifies the flowers and trees, saying that they do not notice her, she is showing us that the thoughts of the plants dwindle at night.
The tree is used to symbolize a prospering life, for trees are known for their lifespan and durability. The flowerbed is used to represent daintiness and beauty, since flowers are credited for their range of colors and daintiness. Plath uses these symbols as a representation of what she doesn’t have, proving how she is feels she is useless in the eyes of the flowers and trees.
In the end, Plath’s poem I am Vertical uses literary devices such as personification and symbolism to express her feelings on her value in the world.
A continuous introspective study of herself may have been stimulated by her sense of rootlessness at the death of the father, a painful experience that led to a feeling of abandonment and alienation from the world. Plath’s obsession with the tree and the root suggests that she was entangled in the chaos of the unconscious (symbolically represented by roots) and never realized the kind of harmonious self signified by the full-grown tree.
Sylvia Plath tries to explain that the force of women resides in nature. One of the reasons why this confessional poetry is considered as feminist literature is because of its “self-defining confessional mode”. Sylvia Plath depicts the wealthy nature in this poem. By the beauty of her imagination, she indirectly inserts her feminist views. This poem is the very perfect example of Ecofeminism.