Study Guide

Lady Lazarus Death

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I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it— (1-3)

The poem begins and we're immediately talking about death. ("It"=death.) But death is introduced with a pronoun—"it"—so first-time readers of the poem may be a little unclear about what's going on, which makes the big reveal all the more horrifying.

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade. (19-24)

In these stanzas, the speaker compares herself to a cat, which, as the old timey saying goes, has nine lives (or, in Lady L's perverse version, nine deaths). Right now she's up to number three. Hold on readers, we know now (if we didn't already) that this poem is going to be dark.

The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

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. (35-42)

Of Lady L's near-death experiences, only one was a suicide attempt. In it, the speaker tried to shut out the world—and a mysterious "they" eventually saved her. Though we can't help but wonder: how much did she or didn't she want to be saved?

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. (43-47)

Well, in Sylvia Plath's words, dying does seem like an art—this is a pretty great poem. She's channeled her pain into these fierce, repetitive lines. And check out those rhymes and slant rhymes. If those don't pack a punch, then we don't know what does.

I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling. (71-78)

Here Lady L imagines that she's a Holocaust victim and that she's been burned in a concentration camp crematorium—all that's left of her body is ash and a few gold remnants. At this point, her body has totally disappeared; there's nothing left of her.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air. (82-84)

The poem does a switcheroo here; before, Lady L's body had been burnt up, but here, she, like the phoenix, rises from the ashes. She resurrects herself (unlike Lazarus, whom Jesus resurrects). She uses her power to fight back and return from the dead. Maybe Lady L isn't ready to give up on her world just quite yet.

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