Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Am Vertical: T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath


But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them--
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once,
and the flowers have time for me.

Sylvia Plath wrote "I Am Vertical" while in the midst of a depressive episode.  In her poem, the voice of the Narrator longs to become one with nature, to earn earn its attention, and to take on its longevity and daring.  Notice how Plath compares herself to the flowers and the trees.  In each comparison, she finds herself lacking in beauty, simplicity, and peace.  T.S. Eliot describes similar sentiments in the "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," when he writes "I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas."  Neither Eliot's Prufrock nor Plath feel they belong or fit in, one with a lover or the other with nature.  What ties the two poems together, in my opinion, is the sense of hopelessness.  Happiness and peace cannot be obtained.  Or as Plath once wrote in her journel: "God, but life is loneliness."     


  1. Hmmm - think Prufrock's isolation is from Society, rather than from a lover - you're not thinking of Portrait of a Lady, are you?

    A good source of material on Eliot is the website of the The TS Eliot Society UK, where you can find links to both of those poems (along with other Eliot material).

  2. Thank you for your comment. While I agree that Prufrock is isolated from society, I would also argue Eliot plays up his inability to connect in romantic terms.