I dislike mentioning suicide when speaking about Sylvia Plath. But, today, it’s truly inevitable because the poem I chose for this week is in fact about suicide. Not hers, however.
The suffering soul here is a nameless man who is disgusted by life, its sounds and waste, “that landscape / Of imperfections his bowels were part of.” Surrounded by the cacophony and filth of living, the man views death as a legitimate and desirable way out. Nor does he glamorize death. It is simply a permanent break from a world to which he does not want to belong.
As always with Plath, the structure, cadence, alliteration and assonance of her innovative diction move the poem’s themes forward. For me, aggression is present in this piece as in few other works by the poet.
Here is the text, which begs to be read out loud:
Suicide off Egg Rock
Behind him the hotdogs split and drizzled
On the public grills, and the ochreous salt flats,
Gas tanks, factory stacks- that landscape
Of imperfections his bowels were part of-
Rippled and pulsed in the glassy updraught.
Sun struck the water like a damnation.
No pit of shadow to crawl into,
And his blood beating the old tattoo
I am, I am, I am. Children
Were squealing where combers broke and the spindrift
Raveled wind-ripped from the crest of the wave.
A mongrel working his legs to a gallop
Hustled a gull flock to flap off the sandspit.
He smoldered, as if stone-deaf, blindfold,
His body beached with the sea’s garbage,
A machine to breathe and beat forever.
Flies filing in through a dead skate’s eyehole
Buzzed and assailed the vaulted brainchamber.
The words in his book wormed off the pages.
Everything glittered like blank paper.
Everything shrank in the sun’s corrosive
Ray but Egg Rock on the blue wastage.
He heard when he walked into the water
The forgetful surf creaming on those ledges.