The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage —-
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free —-
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I hve no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

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


  1. Nikki says:

    Plath’s poems were confessional meaning that they were like her journal and autobiographical. Her life should be interwoven into this story because her feelings become such a strong point in the poem.

  2. Becky says:

    I don’t think that one should take into account details about the author while reading the poem. Although the poem does give clues that the speaker of the poem may in fact be Plath when she was in the hospital with a miscarriage, one should read the poem without trying to merge those thoughts into it. The poem should be read for what it says, not what the reader knows about the author.

  3. Faye Miller says:

    I can very much relate to her thoughts.
    Having had over 26 miscarriages and stillbirths,
    and later on becoming totally disabled, my trim athletic body bedridden for a time and decades later still suffering from periodic semi paralysis and blindness episodes…..
    And having more than once contemplated suicide…..
    I understand her.

  4. KayleighAnne says:

    This is a truly beautiful poem, another fntastic show of jut how amazing Plath’s work is. She is he only poet i can truly enjoy. It shows how the peace and escape from life she craves is almost snatched from her by a bunch of tulips, more full of life than she is. They suffocate her and distract her from trying to stay calm and enjoy her alone time. Although i don’t consider her my role model, she is an inspirational woman to me nd her work inspires and moves me.

  5. jenny says:

    Is there no straight answer of what this poem’s about? I don’t want to write how this relates to her miscarriage and find out it was a historectamy!!

  6. Anni says:

    There is nothing wrong with taking Plath as a role model. Taking someone as a role model doesn’t mean entirely duplicating his or her life! Plath was a dedicated, driven, passionate and inspiring person and writer and she has most certainly been a role model for me! I understood your point though…. 🙂

  7. Laura says:

    Ok i have been doing research on sylvia plaths work for an extended essay for english literature. During the time she wrote this poem she was in hospital for an appendoctomy hence the imagery which suggests she is in one. “I am nobody” and ” i have given my name and my day clothes up to the nurses”. Plath longs for a loss of personal identity this is because she is tied down by people she wants to be free, free of all the problems and responsibilities she has. In the poem she also makes reference to people i beleive the nurses “my body is a pebble to them, tend it as water”. pebbles begin life as rocks they are sharp have rough corners but when they fall into a river the water molds them to become smooth and without sharp edges. This is what people are doing to her trying to change the imperfetions she has. She says that they bring her numbness in their needles. Its not a negative statement she enjoys the sedative state which they bring her, she can escape from her troubles. Its like she is living a dead like existance. The reason she hates the tulips so much is because they create memories for her. The memories she remembers creates feelings of sadness or happiness it makes no difference they are still ruining her sedative life. Plus we have all experienced the feeling when something reminds you of something you didnt enjoy in your life and you stomach sinks and you get a rush of sadness i believe this is what the tulips are doing to her creating that feeling. Once again the idea of her objectifying herself is explored again when she says she wants to efface herself. Anyway i hope that gives an insight but go with your first instincts on poetry its usually the right one.

  8. Erin says:

    Sylvia Plath’s 1961 poem ‘Tulips’ is a morose story told by a women on her hospital bed seeing the world as if she would rather not be a part of it. She is haunted by the tulips whom she says “eat my oxygen” and she is “sick of all the baggage” that her life has burdened her with. The tulips remind her of everything that she has left behind in the world outside of “white walls” and the sterile hospital environment where she is able to be “numb” and forget her troubles. She feels an inadequacy and the tulips are mocking her and bring her senses back to the world that she has purposefully made herself “utterly empty” of.

  9. prasanna says:

    This poem is not bad. because its nice of this poem. i can analysis essay and easy to reads and wrighting. until than its nice of this poem. sylvia plath is very smart and looking nice women. we are like this sylvia plath. so you are encourages me and my friends.

  10. Tori says:

    Although Sylvia Plath did have a miscarriage, I’ve often heard that this poem is in fact about her appendectomy. Less deep, but I think Plath’s depressive background clouds people’s readings of the poems.

  11. Suzanne says:

    the woman described in the poem is in the hospital because she has just suffered from a miscarriage, this of course shows the autobiographic and thus confessional aspect of Plath’s poetry, and this poem in particular!the photo she has include her husband and her child! the narrator describes how this woman has escaped from her individuality, her own personal identity. the colour white represents this nothingness, she now lives in her own reality, doesn’t want to be reminded of the real world because this will hurt her too much. she’s afraid of society’s jugdements, the (mental) pain she has suffered from since she was little. the tulips remind her of daily life, the real world, reality; the colour red resembles reality, and the pain that comes with it. the bright red colour disturbs the peacefulness of the room, of the woman’s formal state of mind. it reminds her of what has happened to her, how she has failed to give birth to her baby and all the pain she’s had to go through during her life. A sad, but beautiful poem!

  12. Barnaby says:

    I think that this poem is less deep than some people think, but still very meaningful. To my mind, she is has suffered an accident, perhaps in a boat, and her husband and child have died. “Their smiles catch at my skin, little smiling hooks.” I think that these recollections are taken from the time that she goes under the anesthetic, and she is remeniscing about seeing her “teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books / sink out of sight.” But rather than becoming morbid or depressed about the loss of her husband and child, (which, by the way, had been successfully born, how else could their be a photo?) she is recovering, “learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly.” She does, however, have moments where she is struggling with the loss. “The peacefulness is so big it dazes.” Any thoughts?

  13. Barnaby says:

    Hi, just a small note. I am studying this poem for a recital tomorrow, and i noted a spelling error :p
    7th stanza, line 5 i think, “I hAve…”
    A beatuiful poem, and one that takes on new meaning every time you write it or hear it or speak it. B

  14. John says:

    This poem made me cry… the unrelenting despair tore through me… how slyvia recognised that every moment of life was suffering… but was lost for a way out of such a dreaded realisation. Existence is suffering. What then? Her answer here seems to be nothingness… is existence is suffering, then nothingnes is the only solution. Such an idea is at the root of much despair in this world, and must be faced, and overcome.
    I cried because I felt such despair, such a helpless wish to be done with existence. If only she could have seen that there was hope in the face of suffering….

  15. bonnie says:

    role model? i understand if you like her poetry..its pure genious but i dont think she should be your role model unless your goal in life is to be depressed and die

  16. anna says:

    The tulips are a physical reminder of what she has lost. They “correspond” to her wound, make her think she is deficient in some way because she lost her pregnancy. I sense bitterness toward whoever gave them to her (probably her husband), because their associations and bright, blood-red color seem inappropriate to her.

  17. Jackie says:

    To me, the tulips remind Sylvia of her past before her father passed away. They burdern her, and she wishes for her hands to be ’empty’ because they remind her of her past. They remind her of her childhood when she did not suffer from insanity. She longs for to be sane and healthy again.

  18. Stephanie says:

    The heading of the poem says it all “tulips” they are representation of mootherhood. PLatj challenges the traditional symbol of romance associated with the flower. The flower remindes her of her sexaul personna which in her case is cause of her physical pain becuase of a medical condition

  19. Oliva deroza says:

    I think this poem is significant to Syvia Plaths history, I think its her sucide note showing her fealings, sad poem

  20. lisa Byrne says:

    this poem is excellent im only 15 and im already intersted in this women, she is my role model!! a hreat poem for everybody to read

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