Study Guide

Tulips Versions of Reality

By Sylvia Plath

Versions of Reality

Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe (37)

Things are getting really weird, guys. Flowers don't breathe. They just don't. There's no way to know exactly what's happening to the speaker, who thinks the tulips <em>are</em> breathing, but we can tell that something is definitely not right.

The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me (44)

Yikes. Tulips don't breathe, sure, but they <em>definitely</em> don't turn toward a person. So does our speaker really think this is happening? Or is she being a bit more metaphorical? And if she is being metaphorical, what in the world does she mean?

The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. (49)

Not cool, tulips. But really, our speaker has bigger problems. Clearly, we're not just talking about tulips here. We're talking about a complex, powerful stew of emotions, so it's probably not that surprising that sometimes it sounds like she's left reality behind completely.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves (57)

So it's not just the tulips: the walls, too, are coming alive (at least in the speaker's mind). Of course they only <em>seem</em> to be, so maybe our speaker is actually regaining her grasp of reality?

They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat, (59)

What are we dealing with here: a crazy hallucination or just a pretty poetic image? This poem definitely tiptoes along that line; sometimes our speaker sounds downright nuts, and sometimes she sounds merely imaginative. But wait a second – is it possible she can be both at the same time?

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