by Sylvia Plath
The color white is just about everywhere in this poem. It's on the walls, the sheets, the nurses' caps. If you're thinking, well that's normal for a hospital, where they like to keep things clean, you're not wrong. But still, our speaker's obsession with the color tells us it has to be important. So let's take a look at the use of white in the poem to see if we might figure out its meaning.
In this poem, this color white connects with peace and calm and purity and emptiness. It's the color of freedom, of numbness. Its opposite is red, the color of pain and attachment and, of course, those terrible tulips. Once we start looking for the word "white," we can't help but see how the color helps to tie this whole poem together.
- Lines 2, 4: You know what's so great about these lines? The speaker actually talks to us. She wants us to notice just how much white there is all around her.
- Line 9: There's a super-creepy simile here. She compares her head, stuck between the pillow and sheets, to an eyeball stuck "between two white lids." While we commonly associate white with things like purity and cleanliness, here, the white eyelids makes us think of a corpse – the whiteness of dead skin. Or maybe we're just being morbid. What do you think?
- Line 12: How lovely. The speaker compares the nurses in their white caps to a flock of gulls flying in from the ocean. There's nothing sinister about sea gulls, right? So we're safely categorizing this one as a happy use of white in the poem.
- Line 38: Uh oh. White's bad news again. The speaker imagines the tulips being like a hideous little baby, wrapped in white blankets. Yuck. Normally, the idea of a baby in a white blanket would be cheerful, but this baby is definitely bad news. The baby/tulips simile is a weird idea in the first place, and the fact that she calls the baby "awful" pretty much seals the deal. Remember that white sheets can be used to wrap the dead, as well. Yikes.