Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Couriers Part Three

Last week we went through more of the symbols in The Couriers by Sylvia Plath to try and understand what this poem means. We saw how the second stanza mirrors the first and we began to see Plath's attitude towards love and matrimony. Today we'll look at the rest of the poem and see if we can hit our third Base: Reading for Understanding. If you're joining us for the first time you can read Part One here and Part Two here.

The Couriers by Sylvia Plath

The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it. 

Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

A ring of gold with the sun in it?
Lies. Lies and a grief.

Frost on a leaf, the immaculate
Cauldron, talking and crackling

All to itself on the top of each
Of nine black Alps,

A disturbance in mirrors, 
The sea shattering it's grey one--

Love, love, my season.

The last line we looked at was, "Frost on a leaf, the immaculate/ Cauldron, talking and crackling" and we saw how Plath was talking about empty promises and cold words. The next couplet reads, "All to itself on the top of each/ Of nine black Alps,"
"All to itself" is referring to the frost on a leaf. The frost covered leaf is alone on top of nine mountains. It's a strange picture, I grant you, but like the rest of the poem it is trying to convey an emotion.

The leaf is alone, which is symbolic, but it is also on top of each of the nine Alps. This suggests that on top of every mountain is a lonely frost covered leaf. This isn't something out of the ordinary, it isn't a one time occurrence. This betrayal of love is something that Plath believes is as inevitable as winter, as frost on the mountains. Winter will always come. Love will always be betrayed.

Then the last couplet: "A disturbance in mirrors, The sea shattering it's grey one--" The sea cannot shatter, but a mirror can. If you take something like the sea, something eternal and powerful, and shatter it, that is a powerful image. Maybe the love that she thought was boundless as the sea has ended. Since the sea cannot end, it must have been an illusion. She must have seen only what she wanted to see, her dreams reflected in a mirror that she mistook for the real thing. Maybe that's what the "grey one" is: The promises and gifts and words from the first stanza that she thought would never end. The bright outlook she must have once had in regards to love is now grey and shattered.

This has not been a very hopeful poem. Plath seems to be in direct opposition to love and all that goes along with it. But then we read the final line. "Love, love, my season."

Love, that is what the poem is about. Love, that is what she lost to the inevitable winter of betrayal. But love, even after all it's done to her, even after all she's gone through is still her season.

I cannot express how powerful this line is to me. The entire poem is about her bitterness. The whole time she is telling us why we must not fall for the trap of affection, why we will always lose what we once loved, why it will never end in a "happily after." But what she was really doing throughout this poem was telling all of these things to herself. She was trying to convince herself to let go, to stop being so emotional, to do what is clearly the logical thing and stop believing in something as frail and fragile as love.

She does not succeed. All of these words, all of these symbols cannot change the fact that the summer is not less beautiful because it ends. Even after all the grief and pain, love is her season!

Picture yourself in High School. There's someone you've got a crush on, even though you know you shouldn't. Maybe they're dating someone else, maybe you're from two different worlds, either way you know it's not a good idea. That's what you're telling yourself, in this poem. There's no hope, you'll never be together, you'll never live happily even after, so why bother? This is your rant to your best friend, this is your journal entry trying to will yourself to like someone else or to magically become a Vulcan so you won't have to feel your stomach drop every time your crush walks into the room.
But after you're done you realize the same thing that Plath does here. Love, even unrequited love, even love lost, is a wonderful thing. Even though sometimes it hurts to love other people, it's always worth it. It's worth the butterflies in your stomach. It's worth the secret glances with your best friend in the hallway, or the surprise when you run into your crush unexpectedly. There is something wonderful about love, even if it doesn't last.

This poem is, at its core, incredibly hopeful. Tennyson famously said,
"'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."

I believe that. Sylvia Plath did too.

Now it's time for Base Three: Reading for Understanding. Base Three is something that I can't do anymore to help you with. It's something you have to do on your own.
We've looked at the symbols, we've analyzed the structure, you have all the tools that you need.
The next step is reading the poem again one more time, or twenty more times, and discovering what these words mean to you.

Words, books, and poetry belong to their readers. This poem, and every poem that has ever been written or ever will be, belongs to you now. It's up to you to hear what they say.

Until next time,

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