Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.
Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?
Sylvia Plath’s “Conversation Among the Ruins” is one of her less known poems, but it is none the less for that. Published in 1956, this 14-line sonnet contains several of the key motifs that Plath exhibits throughout her works. But first, I noticed that this poem follows the sytactical format of most of her earlier work. The phrases and lines and relatively long and the diction and tone is well thought out and sophisticated as compared with the short, choppy phrases that characterise her later works, such as the infamous “Daddy” and “Edge”. I view this as Plath’s slow but steady fight to regain control of her life from her second suicide attempt on August 23, 1953. With the elegant lines and attempt at sonnet beauty, Plath is trying to gather some form of stability, if only in her poetry.
Another motif I see is the mention of the rooks. Plath mentions rooks in a great deal of her poems, and though I am not sure exactly what this might mean, I theorise that Plath hold a fascination with the dark delicacy of the rook; perhaps, she too, considered herself vulnerable. Another theory focuses on the other definition of ‘rook’. A rook can be the chess piece commonly known as the castle, the dual guardians at either end of the black and white battlefield. Plath, also, has a recurring symbolism throughout her works of a royal court. A prime example is her poem “The Queen’s Complaint”
Another motif is the Grecian themes and symbols featured in many of her poems. here in “Conversation”, Plath writes, ‘While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit/Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot’ I see her various mentions of Greek symbols as a subtle reference to her previous attempts at suicide. The Greeks were relatively unique in the fact that they did not damn suicide but rather viewed it as a noble and gracious deed, worthy of a hero. Perhaps Plath is intermixing into her works that she is still unrepentant of her attempt at death and that she finds nothing wrong with the thought of suicide.
The broken sonnet form with the imperfect format, reflects the actual story of the poem-a conversation among relics of the past, as broken and cracked as the sonnet Plath writes. I have heard, too, that this poem is based off a painting of Georgio de Chirico. De Chirico is often considered the father of the metaphysical painting movement-the movement which soon influenced the more modern surrealism. Metaphysical paintings are often characterised by a strange light which permeats the canvas and seems to pulse over it like a miasma. Also, there is usually a strong sexual conotation in the piece; as well as various symbols like the replacement of human beings with either mannequin dummies or statues. I have noticed that Sylvia Plath has held an affinity toward the metaphysical and surreealist world of Georgio de Chirico as can be seen from “Conversation Among the Ruins” and “The Disquieting Muses”, and from “Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies”, which is based on a Rousseau painting, “The Dream”. I find this affintiy apt, as I consider her writing style rather surrealistic itself.