Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Poetry of Sylvia Plath'Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper'

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Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper. Sylvia Plath

Written on a parapet, overlooking the River Seine, on June 1st 156 (Ted Hughes Introduction to collected poems) Sylvia Plath’s ‘Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper’ invites an exploration into insanity and fear through the habits of Miss Drake as she tackles the obstacles in the world her mind has created. The poems opening phrase “No novice in those elaborate rituals which allay the malice of knotted table and crooked chair” highlights the repetitive battle Miss Drake faces as a regular fixture within the institution; the elaborate rituals are the everyday rules and regulations Miss Drake adheres to in order to control her fear of her surroundings.

The adjectives used to describe furniture (“knotted table and crooked chair”) show the altered vision of Miss Drake while also describing her both physically and psychologically.

The effect of these hallucinations on Miss Drake cause an extreme anxiety and nervousness; at the start of the second stanza, the letter ‘k’ is repeated, this hard alliteration accentuates the jerky, hesitant eye movement as our bird-like character scans the floor for danger, to ‘outwit the brambled plan’ of the floorboards.

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Miss Drake, “her bird-quick eye cocked askew”, appears like a small bird constantly scanning its surroundings for danger. Miss Drake’s journey to reach to calm atmosphere of the dining room appears fraught with danger, the paranoia conveyed as “she edges with wary edge” through the “perilous needles” which “grain the floorboards and outwit their brambled plan”, Miss Drake is thoroughly examining her surroundings, showing her fear and vulnerability. Miss Drake is “ambushed” and scared by the “bright shards of broken glass”, not sure of what is real and what is not, Miss Drake strives to reach the relative safety of the familiar dining room.

These hallucinations exhibit how Miss Drake has become consumed by her environment and has become institutionalised.

Sylvia Plath tries to influence our impression of Miss Drake and sketches a picture of her weakness’ to invite pity; Plath describes the trepidation by showing how Miss Drake has to outwit, fend off, ‘edge with wary breath’ and escape being ‘devoured’ and ‘dragged down’ by the carpets design. The only positive reflection of Miss Drake appears in the title, where her journey to the dinner hall is described as some formal event. This creation of an impression that somehow Miss Drake has some authority is a complete contrast to the reality of the situation; Miss Drake has very little control and no authority, even her environment has authority over her.

This poem is more than a sarcastic description of a mad woman stumbling to tea in a mental institution; to the reader there appears an element of humour, but taking into account Sylvia Plath’s own personal experiences, this humour only adds to the darkness of the poem. Miss Drake is afraid of her environment; she is afraid of the ‘perilous needles’ that ‘grain the floorboards’ and the carpet’s ‘design’ could be interpreted as either it’s pattern or as a sinister plot against her, either description is equally illustrative. Miss Drake even has her ‘secret combination of eggshells’ which allay her fears of the carpet’s ‘design’, a similar approach to the ‘elaborate rituals that protect her from the malice of the ‘knotted table and crooked chair’ � This typifies the methods of control Miss Drake has created to assure her safety in the surroundings she considers dangerous, when in fact they are figments of her imagination.

Sylvia Plath seems to approach delicate subjects, of which she has a thorough knowledge and understanding, with an element of distance � As though she is somehow detached from the emotions of the character. There is no mention of love in Miss Drake’s life, she is alone � She cannot find comfort in memories or look positively on what the future might hold; Miss Drake has no dreams or aspirations, only the primary thought of safety and sanctuary. The surroundings are bleak, repetitive and threatening to her, yet we are invited to look upon Miss Drake as a comical figure especially when the reader is invited to imagine Miss Drake as she ‘lifts one webbed foot in front of the other’ � This disregard for Miss Drake’s character shows the contempt Sylvia Plath has for her subject. This approach to describing insanity, especially when held in context with Sylvia Plath’s own life and experiences, can only echo the contempt she must have felt towards the emotions that come with incarceration and loneliness.

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