Study Guide

Tulips

Tulips Summary

The poem opens with a speaker complaining about "excitable" tulips, which are totally out of place in a snowy, wintery world. Then the speaker tells us a little more about herself. We learn that she is lying alone in a hospital bed after surgery, and that she doesn't have a whole lot to do.

She is most definitely not a happy camper. She watches the nurses go by all day, and occasionally one of them stops to give her an injection. She feels disgusted by the few possessions she has with her, and even hates the family picture by her bed. Her mind wanders back to the moment just before her surgery. After that, she thinks about how pure and clean she feels now.

Mostly, though, she thinks about how much she hates those hideous tulips. She feels like they are watching her, torturing her, stealing her air. She imagines them opening their mouths, growing eyes, breathing like animals or babies. Then, gradually, even those dark, painful thoughts fade away as she focuses instead on the calm rhythm of her own heart.

  • Stanza 1

    Line 1

    The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.

    • Plath splits this opening line into two sharp, clear, simple statements, so let's tackle them one at a time.
    • First she tells us that "the tulips are too excitable." If there's a word that jumps out there, it's probably "excitable." It's kind of a surprising choice, if you think about it. When you say that something (usually a person or an animal) is excitable, it means that it gets excited easily. But tulips are flowers, so how exactly are flowers supposed to get excited about anything?
    • Ah, but that's just it; that's the beauty of this line – it makes you imagine tulips so bright and vivid that they look excited. Cool.
    • Okay, now onto the second half of the line. In contrast to those worked-up tulips, she tells us, "it is winter here." What a perfect balance, huh? Winter is the opposite of excitable; it makes us think of still, cold, empty whiteness.

    Line 2

    Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.

    • Check this out: the speaker is actually talking to us here, inviting us to see just what winter looks like to her. It's almost as if we're sitting right next to her, staring out the window.
    • And just what do we see out that window? A completely silent world covered in white snow. We certainly won't find any tulips out there.

    Line 3

    I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly

    • Here, for the first time, the speaker tells us about herself. Apparently she is lying somewhere (we're not sure where yet), quiet and alone.
    • There's also a neat word choice here that's worth noting. She says she is "learning" to be peaceful. The word choice tells us even more about our speaker because it hints that she isn't a naturally peaceful person. Maybe it's even a bit of a struggle for her to be that way. Maybe she's more like those tulips than she is like, say, that winter scene out the window. Or maybe she's like the tulips on the inside, but she's trying hard to stay cool, calm, and collected – winter-like – on the outside. We're not sure: what do you think?

    Line 4

    As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.

    • Okay, now we're really setting the mood (and it's not a good one). Everything seems just a little too bright: she uses the word "white" for the second time in two lines. We're practically squinting in the glare off the page.
    • Plus, notice how the light doesn't shine, it "lies" on the walls and bed and hands. Plath is lobbing another interesting word choice our way. This word reminds us of the way the speaker is lying in bed, but it also makes the light seem strangely heavy.
    • Oh, and one more thing: notice that she doesn't talk about "my hands," just "these hands," as if they didn't belong to her. As if the hands at the end of her arms are someone else's entirely. Strange.

    Line 5

    I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.

    • Now we're really getting bleak. The speaker picks up on the hint she gave us in the last line, but now she disappears from the world completely; she's not anybody at all. In this white wintery room, her identity has been totally erased.
    • The rest of the line is a bit more mysterious. What does it mean that she has "nothing to do with explosions"? Naturally, this sneaky poem doesn't tell us directly. But we'll hazard a guess. We think it might link back to that image of the tulips – so bright and excitable that they seem to be exploding.

    Line 6

    I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses

    • Excellent. More information for us hungry readers. The speaker, we find out, is in the hospital, because she tells us that she has given her clothes to the nurses. If you've ever had to put on a hospital gown, you know that's standard procedure. But you also know it can make you feel kind of silly, and very, very exposed.
    • For our speaker, though, it's more than that – she feels like she gave up her name with her clothes, almost as if she has given up her identity.

    Line 7

    And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

    • The speaker plows right along, emptying out everything that makes her a person. She's already lost her name. Now she tells us that she gave her history to the anesthetist (the guy who puts you to sleep – we usually say "anesthesiologist"). Of course she could be referring to just her medical history, but she leaves out the word medical. It seems to go deeper than that.
    • Apparently she's recovering from surgery, because she has given up her body to the surgeons, too. Can't this lady hang on to anything of her own?
    • Let's face it: this is a pretty bleak and scary way to end the first stanza of a poem.
  • Stanza 2

    Line 8

    They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff

    • Awesome. This line is pretty straightforward. The hospital staff has simply "propped" the speaker's head between her pillow and the edge of the sheet. Pretty basic, right?
    • Yep, it's basic. But it's also a great image that picks up on everything she's already said about what she's given up – her identity. You can just picture it: she doesn't even have a body in this line; she's just a head poking out of a sheet.

    Line 9

    Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.

    • This is a really cool simile (or at least Shmoop thinks so). She imagines her head being like an eyeball, stuck between two always open eyelids. So creepy! Just imagine a staring, empty eye that never closes. It's enough to give you nightmares.
    • Plus, the word "white" creeps in again here – between the snow and the walls and the sheets, the speaker is totally trapped in a world of endless white.

    Line 10

    Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.

    • The speaker calls her head a "stupid pupil," which is a pretty great play on the word "pupil."
    • A pupil is, of course, the center of an eye, and she has just described her head as an eye in the previous line. But it also refers to a student, and in this case, one that's perhaps not too bright.
    • Plus, don't forget, she's totally stuck in this hospital bed; she can't move or talk, so she has to just lie there and take everything in.
    • Oh and one more thing: what do you think about the tone of this line? It seems kind of resentful, right? Like she's frustrated with her current state of affairs? And can you blame her for feeling that way?

    Lines 11-12

    The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
    They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,

    • These nurses don't bother her; they just move endlessly by. But if the nurses don't bug her, something else must, because this woman is definitely peeved.
    • At a basic level, the simile in the second line tells us that the movement of the nurses reminds her of the way gulls fly in from the ocean.
    • But something a tad more interesting happens at the end of the line. Check out the last phrase: "in their white caps." What do you think that refers to? Maybe it just means that the nurses are wearing white caps, but it also makes us think of the ocean waves, the "white caps" that the seagulls have left behind on their way ashore. Isn't that cool? We love the way Plath can send us spinning off in all directions with a few little words. Her images have so many angles, so many faces.
    • And how could we forget? There's that word "white" again. It's everywhere! There's simply no escaping it.

    Line 13

    Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,

    • This line makes us feel a bit fuzzy-headed, as if we, too, are sick. You know, the way the world can seem a little blurry when you aren't feeling so hot?
    • First, the speaker notices the nurses "doing things with their hands." It's an odd thing to notice, and an odd way to put it. Come on, what else would the nurses be doing? Notice, too, that it's a little vague. Instead of saying exactly what the nurses are doing, our speaker just says they are doing… something.
    • She also points out the sameness of the nurses; they're just a stream of people with no identities, all wrapped in white just the way she is. This is not a place where people express their individualities with crazy hairdos and funky scarves. This hospital is all about uniformity.

    Line 14

    So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

    • Again, the nurses are not individuals with personalities – just figures that she watches passing by. She can't count them or tell them apart at all. Let's face facts: there are no comforting or familiar faces in this hospital. We're starting to feel downright disoriented, and very, very alone.
  • Stanza 3

    Lines 15-16

    My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
    Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.

    • Everything here is so impersonal, apparently it makes the speaker feel, metaphorically speaking, like she's a pebble – an inanimate object. She imagines the nurses caring for her like water that rolls and tumbles that pebble, wearing it down, however gently.
    • Just like she did before, the speaker erases her own humanity (and the nurses', too) with this combination of metaphor and simile. People become objects. What's so strange about this image is that while it's totally chilling, it's also strangely peaceful and beautiful.

    Line 17

    They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.

    • The nurses give her injections that make her numb and make her fall asleep. The whole poem seems to be filling up with a kind of numb emptiness. We need another glimpse of those tulips, to liven things up.
    • We love the phrase "bright needles" – it's totally scary and beautiful and fascinating all at once. We can imagine her almost enjoying the glitter of the steel, shiny and strong.

    Line 18

    Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——

    • Finally, a (slight) shift in tone. The numb loss of identity is starting to almost please the speaker – as if she has been set free. She's totally "sick of baggage," tired of the things that were weighing her down. And we can definitely relate to that.
    • What's so awesome about this line is that it takes something that sounds awful and almost makes it sound appealing. Okay, maybe not appealing, but at least freeing. You can see what we mean, right? She's lost herself, and that's helping her lose her baggage.

    Line 19

    My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,

    • The baggage she wants to leave behind is partly literal: the little black case that she took with her to the hospital. Patent leather is a very shiny, fake leather, and she imagines it looking like a box of pills, which brings us back to that numb, drugged feeling she's been building up for almost twenty lines.
    • At this point, it seems like no matter what our poor speaker looks at, it reminds her of her unfortunate circumstances.

    Line 20

    My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;

    • And now we take a turn for the dark. There's another kind of metaphorical "baggage" our speaker wishes she could get rid of – her family. That's not so literal, but it's definitely depressing.
    • She lists her husband and her child (who are in a photo by her bed) right after the suitcase. It's as if they were just another set of things to carry around, another set of things weighing her down.
    • Plus, she's doing it again – turning people into objects. She does it over and over again, turning herself into a pebble, the nurses into water, and her family into pieces of baggage.
    • She must be in a really tough spot. She's so alienated, so numb, that even her family, or at least her picture of them, seems like a weight she wants to toss off her back.

    Line 21

    Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

    • Man, this image is a doozy. She feels the smiles of her husband and child reaching out of the picture frame and sinking into her skin, like "smiling hooks." It's a chilling metaphor for sure.
    • Not only does that sound painful, it sounds just plain horrifying. Her life must be pretty awful if the smiles of her loved ones cause her pain.
    • In any case, we think this is a brilliant way of making you feel the speaker's suffering, the way even happy things have been twisted into pain and ugliness.
  • Stanza 4

    Line 22-23

    I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
    stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.

    • She throws us a bone, here, when she lets us know she's thirty years old (that's one of just a few personal details we get in this poem).
    • Let's break this one down. She feels like she has hung on to little bits of who she is, like a name and address, but even those have now been taken away from her.
    • Notice how she refers to herself as a "cargo boat," too. It's a weird metaphor for sure, but it does remind us of the baggage in line 18 – baggage is a kind of cargo after all. And yet again, she turns herself into an object.
    • Here, we slip into the trap of relating this poem too much to Sylvia Plath's life. The year she wrote this poem, she had a miscarriage. Could this metaphor of a cargo boat that lets its contents slip be related to Plath losing her baby? It's important not to project her life on her words, but we have to keep it in mind as a possibility.

    Line 24

    They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.

    • Goodness, this just keeps getting worse and worse. Now all of her connections to her life and her family and her world – in other words, things she loves – have been "swabbed" away. But how?
    • When doctors and nurses prepare your body for surgery, they literally swab it clean with disinfectant. But for the speaker, this washed away her past life, too; it took away her being somehow.

    Line 25

    Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley

    • It's flashback time. We head back in time, just a little bit, to the moment just before the surgery she is now recovering from. She lets us know she felt frightened and vulnerable, with her skin bare.
    • She sees herself back on the gurney, with its green plastic cushions. Now that sounds uncomfortable. But there's something kind of sinister and gross about the image of green plastic.
    • We bet anyone who has been in the hospital can relate to these scary, unnerving moments. After all, hospital gowns aren't exactly modest.

    Line 26-27

    I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
    Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.

    • As she lay there waiting for surgery, she imagined herself and all of her possessions going under water. She literally feels like she's drowning. That's definitely not good. Or is it?
    • We can't know for sure, but our best guess is that the speaker is describing the moment when the anesthesia takes over and she starts to lose consciousness. People call it "going under," and that's absolutely how it feels for the speaker. Again, we've got this unshakeable feeling of emptiness and loss. Her possessions and her identity are slipping slowly away.
    • And we're starting to wonder – just what kind of surgery is she having? This seems like some serious business.

    Line 28

    I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

    • The speaker's not actually a nun, right? Right. So then why the metaphor? What in the world is she really saying? Well, a nun leaves everything in her life behind to be close to God, so maybe our speaker has given up everything in her life, too?
    • Wait, no. That can't be right. Maybe she's just being sarcastic, using pure in the literal sense of all scrubbed and clean, while inside she really feels just plain awful.
    • Either way, the idea of being pure echoes all the stuff she has been saying about the white, silent, clean world around her. But we can't shake the feeling she might be being just a tad ironic, or that there's something else going on here. What do you think?
  • Stanza 5

    Line 29

    I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted

    • By this point, we think we've got a pretty good idea of the speaker's situation, of how she is feeling in this painful moment. And we've lost sight of those explosive tulips entirely.
    • So now she takes us back to the flowers we met in the title and in the first line.
    • She tells us (although she's already made it pretty clear), that she "didn't want any flowers." But why not?
    • And then the line takes an interesting turn – it's enjambed (or connected) with the line that follows. It cuts itself short. For a split second, we're left hanging, wondering what does she want?

    Line 30

    To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.

    • Now we know. She doesn't want flowers or family or any other happy stuff. She just wants to lie in bed with her hands facing up, feeling "utterly empty." That sounds a lot like the feeling that has been running through the whole poem, the desire to be free – or maybe just to be left alone.
    • Or maybe those two things are the same? Are emptiness and freedom alike or different?
    • Just something to ponder…
    • Oh, and another thing to ponder: maybe it's just us, but doesn't this image remind you a bit of a corpse?

    Line 31

    How free it is, you have no idea how free——

    • She's really trying to sell us on the idea that empty blankness means freedom. She's in a place beyond family and names and tea sets, and she wants us to know it feels awesome.
    • But we are totally not convinced. Frankly, it's a little hard to believe – sounds more scary than free to us.
    • At the same time, a poem has the kind of magical ability to put you in a new state of mind, to imagine a kind of freedom you've never dared to even think about. Fair enough. We'll keep an open mind, Plath.

    Lines 32-33

    The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
    And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.

    • This is starting to sound almost religious, this feeling. In her numb, empty state, she's starting to feel quite at peace. And that feeling is such a huge one, it leaves her stunned, shocked, dazed.
    • In fact, this is starting to sound a lot like Nirvana (No, not the band – although that would be a kind of awesome soundtrack to this poem). We're talking here about the religious state of being.
    • The peaceful feeling doesn't ask for anything from you, and that has got to be a relief. All you have to do is hand over your name and possessions. Our speaker doesn't mind that at all; she'd be happy to give up her name and her things to get a taste of that feeling.

    Line 34-35

    It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
    Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

    • There's definitely a slightly morbid, creepy side to all this purity and emptiness stuff, and our speaker is finally acknowledging it.
    • Just to drive that home, she uses a simile to compare the sense of peace to what dead people feel (and remember, the way she described how she wants to lie there with her hands up reminded us of a corpse). Dead people, she imagines, swallow that feeling of peace like you would swallow a Communion wafer.
    • Notice how the last stanza ended by talking about nuns (line 28). Now this one ends with another Catholic image. If you take some time to learn a little more about communion, you'll see that she's drawing a strong connection between purity, the loss of possessions and baggage, and death.
  • Stanza 6

    Line 36

    The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.

    • Still, she can't just float away into empty, white peacefulness because something is stopping her. It's those darn tulips. They keep poking their heads back into the poem, interrupting the speaker, stopping her spacey meditation.
    • It's the bright red that gets to her, that breaks up all the soothing white around her. They're so red, so bright that they hurt her. But how can a bright color hurt?

    Line 37

    Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe

    • Now, like in a horror movie, the tulips start coming to life. Zombie tulips – yikes!
    • She tells us she could "hear them breathe" through the paper they were wrapped in. Tulips should definitely not be breathing. So what's this personification all about?

    Line 38

    Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.

    • This line is sneakily enjambed with the line above it. "I could hear them breathe" reads fine all by itself. It's not until this line that we learn the breathing is faint and soft.
    • The paper that it comes through is white (like everything else here, it seems) and it reminds her of "swaddlings" (the cloth in which you would wrap an infant).
    • And then we get the creepiest simile of all time: "like an awful baby." Not only are the tulips alive, but they're breathing like an awful baby. These tulips are just the worst.

    Line 39

    Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.

    • Let's ratchet up the intensity, shall we? Let's make this hallucination even weirder, if that's even possible.
    • Now she goes a step further in her personification by imagining that the red of the tulips is talking to her surgical wound. She tells us that the red of the tulips "corresponds" with her wound. That word jumps out at us, so let's take a moment to talk about it.
    • "Correspond" can mean a couple of things. It can mean that the red color of the tulips is somehow communicating with her wound, as the first part of the line seems to say. But it can also mean that the redness of the tulips somehow matches her wound. Perhaps the blood in her wound is the same shade as the tulips.
    • At any rate, the bleeding red of her wound is linked to the red of the tulips; it looks like it, but it also seems to be talking to it. This is getting strange, that's for sure. And a little gross, too, if we may say so.

    Line 40

    They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,

    • She calls the tulips "subtle," but how can tulips be subtle? Does she mean they're not very noticeable? Probably not: the tulips are bright red in a room full of white. They are definitely noticeable. Okay, then maybe she means that there is something a little bit unknowable about them.
    • They are mysterious. That much is obvious from the fact that somehow they are both floating and weighing her down. This is what we call a paradox – lightness and heaviness happening at the same time – and these paradoxes are all over this poem. Can you find some more?

    Line 41

    Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,

    • These tulips really bug her. Frankly, they're starting to bug us, too.
    • The way she describes them here reminds us of startling little critters, with their "sudden tongues" darting out. Again, the tulips seem alive and kicking. And they're determined to upset our speaker. It's the color, too, always the color, that really gets to her, that makes these flowers so upsetting. Red is definitely not her shade.

    Line 42

    A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

    • Even more upsetting is this metaphor of the tulips as twelve lead weights around her neck, pulling her underwater. This isn't the first time we've heard about sinking. In line 27, the speaker uses this same image of drowning, only this time it's the tulips, and not the anesthesia, that are getting the job done.
    • Let's take this chance to point out another little quirk of this line – the phrase "red lead." It rhymes, which makes it kind of fun to say. But it's also a weighty line. You have to say it nice and slow. Red. Lead. See how the sound mirrors the meaning of the line, as if it were dragging us down? See if you can spot other moments like this in the poem, and check out "Sound Check" for more on the sounds of this poem.
  • Stanza 7

    Line 43

    Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.

    • Creepy, creepy, creepy. Our speaker feels like she's under surveillance. Because she says it's a new feeling for her, we know something has changed.
    • To be fair, she could just be referring to the fact that because she's in the hospital, nurses are always monitoring her physical health. But after all these tulip-related hallucinations, the line has a decidedly sinister tone.

    Line 44

    The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me

    • The horror movie tulips are back. They turn around to face her. Can you imagine how scary it would be if the flowers in a vase turned around to stare at you? This is sounding more and more like a nightmare. We are never buying tulips again.
    • Even worse, she feels the window behind her watching her, too. We're definitely not just talking about nurses here.

    Line 45

    Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,

    • What a subtle, beautiful way to describe what it would be like to spend day after day in the same room. She watches the sun come and go, and the patch of light it casts gets bigger and then smaller again as the sun plods its way through the sky.
    • Like a lot of things in this poem, it sounds kind of peaceful, and kind of like torture, too. Life in the hospital sounds ridiculously boring.

    Line 46

    And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow

    • Man, is our girl down in the dumps. She feels like she looks ridiculous, as if she was nothing but the shadow of a paper cutout. Again and again the speaker's metaphorical imagination turns her into an object, allowing her to disappear, to drift off into oblivion. She's not only as thin as paper – she's actually just a shadow, practically nothing at all.

    Line 47

    Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,

    • The speaker is caught in her hospital bed, between the "eye of the sun" and the "eyes of the tulips." If you take this at face value, it sounds like plain old paranoid raving. We mean, you've got to be kind of nuts to feel like flowers are watching you.
    • Still, we're so deep inside the speaker's head by now that maybe all this personification makes a certain amount of sense, too. These tulips are up to no good, so why not give them sinister qualities?

    Line 48

    And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.

    • This feels to us like a kind of riff, a free association in her mind. One word, one sound, leads her right on to the next.
    • First, the "eyes of the tulips" in the last line connect to the idea of a face, and she feels like hers is gone. Okay, we can roll with that, even though the image is pretty darn creepy.
    • Then she uses the sound of the word "face" to jump to the word "efface," which means to erase something, or to make something (or someone) disappear. Only it's not anyone else who's erasing her; she wants to erase herself. But why would she want to make herself disappear?
    • Our hunch is that her desire to erase herself connects back to her desire to lie alone and be totally empty inside. The two sound pretty similar, right?

    Line 49

    The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

    • What an awesome line, right?
    • There's something so totally frightening about flowers sucking all the air out of the room. We can feel her panic. It's not that she just doesn't like these flowers – it's that they are so bright and intrusive that she feels like they are choking her to death.
    • But if you think about it, she kind of has a death wish, right? After all, she wants to erase herself entirely. So maybe the fact that the tulips are gobbling up all the oxygen is a good thing. But that's just our theory – what do you think?
  • Stanza 8

    Lines 50-51

    Before they came the air was calm enough,
    Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.

    • Apparently, before the tulips showed up, the air in the room was "calm." We're assuming it's the arrival of the tulips that makes everything go a bit wonky.
    • Also before the tulips, there was no "fuss." She could breathe easily enough. Sounds nice. So why'd those pesky tulips have to come in and mess everything up?
    • It's worth noting that there's a fight going on in this poem between calm images like this – moments of empty restfulness – and really scary moments where the speaker suddenly feels like she's drowning or dying.

    Line 52

    Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.

    • Ever heard of something called synaesthesia? It's a big word, but it's worth knowing, because the idea is cool, and can help us understand this line. Basically, it's a kind of abnormal overlap in your senses. For example, someone experiencing synaesthesia might hear a sound and suddenly get a taste in her mouth, or read a word and suddenly see a color.
    • It's also a useful trick for creating memorable poetic images or similes, like this one. Flowers just don't make noise on their own. There's no getting around that. Here, though, the speaker tells us that these tulips were so bright, so intrusive, that they "were like a loud noise," as if the flowers were setting off fireworks in her clean, white hospital room.

    Line 53-54

    Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
    Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.

    • This imagery is crazy cool, by which we mean it's both totally insane, and totally awesome.
    • She uses a simile to describe the air in the room flowing around the tulips as like a river running around a "rust-red engine." What a gorgeous line. The very air itself is swirling around, and she's building on the water imagery we've already seen: remember when she said she felt like a pebble in the water? Now it's the tulips that are submerged.

    Line 55-56

    They concentrate my attention, that was happy
    Playing and resting without committing itself.

    • Ah, now we get the real issue. Finally. The real problem with the tulips is that they are interrupting the speaker's meditation. She's busy trying to enjoy the feeling of being empty and free of the world, but the tulips force her back into it.
    • How do they do this? They "concentrate her attention" which used to be free to wander.
    • There's an angry red splotch in her pure white room, and it's ruining just about everything. Stupid tulips.
  • Stanza 9

    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?