All night your moth-breath Flickers among the flat pink roses. […]
Hold on to your seats, Shmoopsters. We're about to throw a super-fancy poetry term at you. Notice how the description of the baby's breath is visual? You don't really hear moth wings flutter, do you? You see them. Especially when they described as flickering over the sorts of "flat" roses that you might find, say, on wallpaper. If you're a fan of floral wallpaper, that is.
But wait…our speaker's describing a baby breathing in another room. Unless she's got super powers, there's no way that she's seeing the breathing. What's going on here?
We're so glad that you asked. The spiffy technical term to describe what's going on here is synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is sort of a fancy way to describe mixed-up sense impressions, like hearing a puppy's eyes speak or seeing the sound that breath makes. Use it well, friends. Pointing out synaesthesia is a sure-fire way to score huge points with English teachers everywhere. Huge.
[…] I wake to listen: A far sea moves in my ear.
Once again, baby sounds mimic the natural world. This time the baby's breath is a "far sea" – which is sort of soothing, isn't it? That's why they sell all sorts of white noise CD's with exactly those sorts of noises on them.
Notice how the line break here makes us hover with the speaker in a brief moment of suspense? Here's what we mean: sometime in elementary school, your teacher probably taught you that colons mean that you should pause in the middle of a sentence. They're a sign that something else is about to happen – just not yet. Unlike periods, colons indicate ongoing action. When our speaker tells us that she's listening, and then she pauses, Plath forces us to listen with her, waiting for the sounds of the "far sea" to sound in the next line. The poem's form mimics the speaker's waiting. Pretty cool, huh?