It happens. Will it go on? —-
My mind a rock,
No fingers to grip, no tongue,
My god the iron lung

That loves me, pumps
My two
Dust bags in and out,
Will not

Let me relapse
While the day outside glides by like ticker tape.
The night brings violets,
Tapestries of eyes,

The soft anonymous
Talkers: ‘You all right?’
The starched, inaccessible breast.

Dead egg, I lie
On a whole world I cannot touch,
At the white, tight

Drum of my sleeping couch
Photographs visit me-
My wife, dead and flat, in 1920 furs,
Mouth full of pearls,

Two girls
As flat as she, who whisper ‘We’re your daughters.’
The still waters
Wrap my lips,

Eyes, nose and ears,
A clear
Cellophane I cannot crack.
On my bare back

I smile, a buddha, all
Wants, desire
Falling from me like rings
Hugging their lights.

The claw
Of the magnolia,
Drunk on its own scents,
Asks nothing of life.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem Paralytic


  1. Anthony Duncombe-Moore says:

    It seems to me clear this poem speaks from another person’s point of view; a man on a hospital bed in a coma with pictures of his wife and two daughters at his bedside. I think readers of Plath’s poems too often assume she speaks only from her own point of view, which underestimates her capacity for empathy, whereas her poems often speak as if from another point of view. The language is very spare (I heard a radio interview in which she said she didn’t like “flowery” poetic language; perhaps referring to the Romantics?) and the imagery is often obscure, which is typical of Plath. For me there is a feeling that the body continues to function without the speaker’s participation; “My god the iron lung… will not let me relapse”, there is no communication possible with the outside world. The photographs that “visit me” may be just memories, not actually bedside photos

  2. dinossaura says:

    1 let me start by saying
    its *straight forward* btw

  3. Faiz Eslum says:

    The way I see it, this poem is a vivid description of Plath feeling paralyzed against the passage of time. The opening sentence; “It happens.” The brevity of the sentence, the period following the two words bears a sense of finality, while the sentence itself gives a feeling of being bored of the repetitiveness of life. Life is simply happening. There is nothing exciting. Time is going on around her, the world is moving—but she is not. Her mind is still and lifeless and as incapable of worldly thought as a rock. The desperation of not wanting life to go on in the first line carries a sense of loneliness. This is further explored in the fact that she has “no fingers to grip, no tongue.” There being no tongue could mean either that there is no one to talk to or that she herself doesn’t have a tongue; this is, she herself does not want to make conversation with anybody. She resents her lungs, her ‘dust bags’ for pumping oxygen for her and making her live. “The day outside glides by like ticker tape—” not only does this sentence allude to the aforementioned feeling of being paralyzed and helpless in the face of time, the use of the word “outside” suggest Plath’s depression has severed her ties with this world, with its day and nights, and she now is moving closer to her imminent suicide. Her loneliness has turned the lights into people, into ‘talkers.’ The image of the breasts reminds of babies, and it is noteworthy that at this point in time and at the time of her suicide Plath was living alone with her babies, whom though she loved, could not keep her company and could not understand or converse with her. Calling herself a “dead egg” is perhaps the most complete description of her state right now—like an egg, containing and capable of life, but at the same time dead, and lifeless. In the third last stanza, the cellophane that separates her from the “day outside” is not an uncommon metaphor for depression. “Wants, desires, falling from me…” Plath’s obsession with death may have very well resulted in a loss of love for life, and all the wants and desires and ambitions and goals that come with it. She is ready to die, and like the claw of the magnolia, she “asks nothing of life.”

  4. Subrata Ray says:

    The world is receding from the poetess , and she is perplexed and confused with the running adjustments of her fellow comrades . No where she can anchor her faith and feels sorrowfully disgusted .

  5. navajo tane says:

    To Mr. Cooper from the US, obviously its a depressing poem. The poem was about her imminent suicide. Kudos to the poem also, its as amazing as a white unicorn. xx

  6. Tim Cooper says:

    I found this a rather depressing poem, but nonetheless moving. And like he before be, I am aghast that this poem is so ignored. It is a work of art and truly one of Plath’s greatest pieces.

  7. jamie mcginlay says:

    first, let me start by saying
    it, like ‘cut’ as those certain elements. the exact placement of words that make it immacuate and un- faulted. short poetry almost has another life to itself. it direct and stright forward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Sylvia Plath better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.