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Tulips

Tulips

by Sylvia Plath

Stanza 9 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 57

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.

  • Now, even those cool white walls are "warming themselves." It's as if the whole room were catching on fire, thanks to the awful red tulips. Her white world is starting to be, well, not so white.

Lines 58-59

The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,

  • The tulips must be stopped! (That's definitely going on a t-shirt.)
  • The speaker feels like these red flowers are so dangerous that they should be put in cages, locked away like animals, because they are such a threat to her peace and quiet – her happiness, to be precise. It's a shocking simile because, let's face it, who knew flowers could be so darn dangerous?
  • And yikes! Our tulip-hallucination continues. We've had people turn to pebbles and tulips come alive. Now her simile compares them to big, scary cat mouths. Are they about to swallow her whole?

Lines 60-61

And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.

  • Here comes an amazing turn. Up until now, all of the peaceful moments in this poem so far have felt a little sad or scary to us, as if this woman were losing touch with reality entirely. But now, we suddenly dive inward for a moment of what feels to us like real peace, true quiet.
  • The speaker, in an instant, becomes aware of her own heart, and feels its opening/closing rhythm. But because this line comes right after the line about a predatory cat opening its mouth, it still retains some eerie qualities, too.
  • She imagines her heart as a vase of flowers just like those tulips – a "bowl of red blooms." So how come her heart loves her, while the tulips have it out for her?
  • At any rate, it's a lovely line. After all that swinging back and forth, all that torturous hallucinating, the speaker is suddenly filled with what feels to us like the pure, thrilling joy of life. But of course, this metaphor doesn't make everything automatically better. This is a Plath poem, after all.

Line 62

The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,

  • For so much of this poem, water has been a threat, something that drowns you or swallows you up. Now, all of the sudden, water becomes comforting, even if the simile is a bit strange.
  • The speaker tastes salty warm water, and it reminds her of the ocean. Where's this water coming from? Maybe it's her own saliva; maybe it's a dream. We don't know.
  • All we know is that this moment is comforting, which is surprising after all the sinister images we've seen.

Line 63

And comes from a country far away as health.

  • This salt-water taste she's getting from whatever water she's drinking is from "a country far away as health." How sad: the idea of wellness is so far away that she can barely imagine it.
  • She's been taken over by sickness, but the hint, the promise of health is still there, in the taste of salt and the beating of her own heart. And that is undeniably hopeful. Do you think she'll find it? Do you think she'll be healthy again?

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