Study Guide

Tulips Stanza 5

By Sylvia Plath

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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.

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