Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
- Awesome. This line is pretty straightforward. The hospital staff has simply "propped" the speaker's head between her pillow and the edge of the sheet. Pretty basic, right?
- Yep, it's basic. But it's also a great image that picks up on everything she's already said about what she's given up – her identity. You can just picture it: she doesn't even have a body in this line; she's just a head poking out of a sheet.
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
- This is a really cool simile (or at least Shmoop thinks so). She imagines her head being like an eyeball, stuck between two always open eyelids. So creepy! Just imagine a staring, empty eye that never closes. It's enough to give you nightmares.
- Plus, the word "white" creeps in again here – between the snow and the walls and the sheets, the speaker is totally trapped in a world of endless white.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
- The speaker calls her head a "stupid pupil," which is a pretty great play on the word "pupil."
- A pupil is, of course, the center of an eye, and she has just described her head as an eye in the previous line. But it also refers to a student, and in this case, one that's perhaps not too bright.
- Plus, don't forget, she's totally stuck in this hospital bed; she can't move or talk, so she has to just lie there and take everything in.
- Oh and one more thing: what do you think about the tone of this line? It seems kind of resentful, right? Like she's frustrated with her current state of affairs? And can you blame her for feeling that way?
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
- These nurses don't bother her; they just move endlessly by. But if the nurses don't bug her, something else must, because this woman is definitely peeved.
- At a basic level, the simile in the second line tells us that the movement of the nurses reminds her of the way gulls fly in from the ocean.
- But something a tad more interesting happens at the end of the line. Check out the last phrase: "in their white caps." What do you think that refers to? Maybe it just means that the nurses are wearing white caps, but it also makes us think of the ocean waves, the "white caps" that the seagulls have left behind on their way ashore. Isn't that cool? We love the way Plath can send us spinning off in all directions with a few little words. Her images have so many angles, so many faces.
- And how could we forget? There's that word "white" again. It's everywhere! There's simply no escaping it.
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
- This line makes us feel a bit fuzzy-headed, as if we, too, are sick. You know, the way the world can seem a little blurry when you aren't feeling so hot?
- First, the speaker notices the nurses "doing things with their hands." It's an odd thing to notice, and an odd way to put it. Come on, what else would the nurses be doing? Notice, too, that it's a little vague. Instead of saying exactly what the nurses are doing, our speaker just says they are doing… something.
- She also points out the sameness of the nurses; they're just a stream of people with no identities, all wrapped in white just the way she is. This is not a place where people express their individualities with crazy hairdos and funky scarves. This hospital is all about uniformity.
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
- Again, the nurses are not individuals with personalities – just figures that she watches passing by. She can't count them or tell them apart at all. Let's face facts: there are no comforting or familiar faces in this hospital. We're starting to feel downright disoriented, and very, very alone.