Sylvia Plath is best known for her confessional poems. She was born at Boston situated in Massachusetts. Readers will be surprised to know that she committed suicide at the age of thirty. She was born in 1932 and she died in 1963. She had tried to commit suicide so many times but somehow she was saved by people living around her. It seems that this world was not enough for her or she was a perfect mismatch for this world. Her life is full of stress and this poem Lady Lazarus can really be considered as a confessional poem. The very beginning of the poem is strange as the speaker -Lady Lazarus confesses that she has “done it again”. It is however not clear that what has been done by her. In the first stanza the poetess says that-
“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it-“
The above lines reveal that she is not happy in her life and that is why she tries to commit suicide once in every ten years. This time also she has committed or tried to put her life at stake. She manages to do experiment with death but every time she is saved by people living around her. In next lines she says that-
“A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face a featureless, fine
In the above mentioned lines the poetess says that whatever she tries to manage is miraculous and her skin turns bright because she is saved every time she attempts suicide. Thus, she is like Lazarus who was also resurrected by God. It is interesting to note that her body parts like skin, right foot; face is compared to Nazi Lampshade, paperweight and Jew linen because she considers herself like a material kept in a exhibition hall. People are interested in looking her like this. She is unfit in the society and people notice this strangeness. Nazi Lampshade also connects this poem to Germany where lampshades were made from the skin of human beings. It is written in the pages of history that Nazis used to make lampshades from human skin. In this poem the poetess has tried to connect herself that this life is futile and this approach of committing suicide can be seen in respect to the existentialism theory. Let us not go deep inside this theory. Scholars and critics have also tried to connect these lines to the theories like feminism where women are looked like an object kept inside the exhibition hall. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
“peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.”
In the above lines the poetess says that perhaps the society is her enemy and she asks the society to look at her face by uncovering the mask or the napkin which is kept at her face only to hide her identity. She is asking a question that is her identity a threat to the society? Again, it should be read and understood with feminine perspective where women often struggle for identity. The poetess says that nobody is permanent and her life will “vanish in a day”. Here, it is clear that she is talking about death. We know that she was suffering from mental illness because of her personal sufferings. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
“Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.”
The above lines can be explained easily that we can notice a sense of ambiguity here. She says that after death her skin will be eaten by worms present in the grave and her body will be decomposed. At the same time she also says that she is just thirty so she is young and she can die nine times like a cat. Actually it is believed that a cat can die nine times and it is also used as a proverb. So there is certainly a sense of ambiguity where at one hand she is talking about death where as at the other hand she says that she is just thirty. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
“This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.”
The poetess says in above lines that it was her third attempt of committing suicide and it also proved to be a trash. She is so obsessed with death that she wants to annihilate her life and she tries for it once in every ten years. In next few lines the poetess says that-
“What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.
These are my hands
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
Sylvia Plath says in above lines that she has now been fragmented into filaments and people are coming to see her strangeness. The crowd has been reflected as pea nut crunching crowd because these people are common men who are attracted to strangeness. They have come here to watch the body of the speaker who has tried to commit suicide. Her clothes are being removed and people are watching her hand and foot. She says that her hands, skin, bone and knees are as normal as an identical woman who might be watching her in form of the crowd. The first when she attempted this art of committing suicide she was just ten. She considers attempting suicide as like a form of art she is a good artist because she can fetch the attention of the crowd. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
“The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
In the above lines the poetess says that at the first time when she attempted suicide, it was like an accident. The second time she was determined that she is not going to come back or dive back to life. She was determined like a seashell which is very hard. She is corroding and worms are eating up her body but the society is calling her and trying to save her. She is searching life in death whereas the society is trying to kill her by saving her. She does not want to handle the pressure of the society. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.”
It has been discussed earlier that she considers death as a form of art. Committing suicide is not less than any form of art and she performs it “exceptionally well”. When she does it seems to her like she is enjoying her freedom in hell and it seems real to her. This world is a virtual world according to the poetess and she is still searching meaning in meaninglessness. She says that she has a call to believe in her own sphere of realism. In next few lines she says that-
“It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes”
The poetess says that committing suicide or attempting suicide in a cell or in a closed space is like performing some pious art and it is very easy for her. Every time she is saved by the society and looks like a theatrical comeback to her. It is like a theatre or drama where she is bound to come at the same place watching same faces and living in the same society like an animal. She further says that she is like an animal kept at any exhibition centre and people are coming to see her that she is the same women who always attempts suicide. People perceive her as like a strange creature and they need to pay some charge in order to watch her strangeness. They cannot take sadistic pleasure free of cost. They need to pay charge in order to watch scars at her eyes or hearing her story. In the next few lines the poetess says that-
“And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.”
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.”
She keeps on saying that people need to pay the charge in order to see her and take pleasure out of her pain. To talk to her or watch her blood, hair or clothes even her doctor need to pay the charge. The reference to doctor takes us to Nazis brutally handling the Jews. Doctors used to kill people by locking them in gas chambers and Jews were killed by brutal forces applied by the doctors. So here there can be such references. Further she says that she is like opus or music trying to amuse every passerby who is interested in watching her pain and extracting pleasure out of it. She is like a gold baby whose melting point is her painful shriek which give enjoyment to the society. She also says that she cannot underestimate the great concern of the society. The great concern of the society is to save her from death whereas she considers death as her life. In next lines she says that-
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”
In these lines she says that after burning nothing is left but Ash. People come and stir the ash and can find only bone which can be utilized for making soap in the laboratory. A wedding ring can be found which she might have worn. There can be a reference to Doctors during the time of Nazis. Jews were locked inside the gas chambers and burnt alive. These Doctors were like God as well as Lucifer, the devil. One must be alert to find some solace in the lap of death. She further says that she wish to rise from the ash with red hair which symbolizes that she wants to take revenge from the society and eat or kill men who always tried to suppress her.
Almost all the great writes have written about the idea of death because it is the ultimate reality of life that everything which is born has to vanish with the advancement of time. Lady Lazarus is the poem which can be seen as an artistic expression of sufferings felt by the poetess. It is like an allegory which reflects pain and suffering of women in a typical patriarchal society. This poem is confessional because there are certain autobiographical elements in it. On December 12, 1958 Sylvia Plath wrote that-
“Writing is a religious act: it is an ordering, a reforming, a relearning and revolving of people and the world as they are and as they might be. A shaping which does not pass away like a day of typing or a day of teaching. The writing lasts:”
By writing this poem Sylvia Plath has actually tried to put forward the condition of women or the condition of marginalized in so called civilized society.