Plath’s poems are usually written on a confessional note. Hence the speaker of the poem was assumed to be her in the beginning. This assumption is right, when we look into Plath’s life, and are able to relate to the events and situation referred to in the poem.
Lady Lazarus consists of twenty-eight stanza or tercets, of three line each. The structure, the lyrical quality and relatively simple diction could be suitable for a light hearted poem. The iambic structure of the poem provides a more masculine tone to the speaker. The loose rhyming scheme suggest the uncertainty and fear. It does rhyme at various locations but with no set pattern.
Lazarus was a man who was resurrected by Jesus. So when we first see the title Lady Lazarus, what comes to my mind is that, this poem is a feminist approach to resurrection and it is a biblical allusion. Because she calls herself “a sort of walking miracle”, the title seems apt. From the title alone it becomes safe to assume that this poem involves about death and resurrection. Lazarus in the bible was a servant man covered in sores, like leprosy. Plath describes herself as having some sort defect that causes the “peanut crunching crowd in to see”. Lepers were often treated like outcasts biblically. Plath feels as if she is also some sort of freak for the public.
The first seven stanza’s from ” I have done it again” to “and like cat I have nine times to die” introduces us to the poem. “I have done IT again”, “once in every 10 years”. Plath seems to be doing “IT” every ten years. What is this it we still don’t know. She then uses Holocaust allusions, and describes her skin as a Nazi’s lampshade, and her foot as their paper weight. She thinks of herself as a Jew, a victim. “Soon, soon the flesh the grave cave ate will be at home on me” The internal rhyme of grave cave is personified as a flesh eater. But the whole idea of associating comfort with it, tells us that she is used to the odds, probably of death. “I am only thirty” tells us that she had already attempted suicide twice. (once accidently when she was 10, and another when she was 20-pill overdose) and this line might foreshadow her final suicide attempt. It is only when we come to the line “and like the cat I have nine times to die” we understand that the IT in the poem is a reference to death.
“what a trash to annihilate each decade” suggest that Plath’s once a decade suicide attempts are actually a waste. Tells us that she views suicide as nothing but a mechanism to completely erase whatever progress life had made. After this she hypothetically imagines the crowd watching her “number three” suicide attempt. ‘Peanut-crunching’ makes it gives an element of a show meant for entertainment purposes. Further we find out that it is the “big strip tease”. This intense imagery portrays her veracity towards the world. The show her resentment towards the society.
She then recollects her previous suicide attempts. And tells us that even after resurrecting twice she is the “same identical” woman. “I rocked shut as a seashell” this simile is very powerful. It suggest that lady Lazarus was all curled up(under her mother’s bed- suicide attempt #2), trying to shut the world out, trying hard to die.
‘Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well’. Now ironically the art of dying was not done well, because she was still alive. But then again, she did her task well, it was because of the resurrection that she was still alive. Usually an art is said to be a form of escape from reality. So dying for Plath, is a form of escapism. When Plath says that the whole act of dying is theatrical, it implies that it need not be real. The use of enjambment here is smart. When we read dying we expect something depressing to follow, but instead here dying is an art.
There is a sudden shift of tone from this point onwards in the poem. She is furious. Both the times Plath was resurrected back to life. This resurrection has got her furious. We are back to the realm of public show. ‘A miracle’ is said by a spectator amazed by her resurrection at the show. She says that this amused shout, had “knocked” her down. She was back to the “same place, same face, same brute”. The repetitive use of the word same shows her frustration and rage. Because she did not just want the crowd to view her as a victim. She wanted to escape the societal eyes, but that same society did not let her do so.
She seems to be plotting her revenge from here onwards. “There is a charge”, for “eyeing her scars, hearing of her heart, charge, a very large charge for a word, touch or bit of blood.” The strip tease image of the charge is a mode of payback for the crowd. This sudden tone of seriousness tells us that she no more wants to be an immature artist. She between the brink of a massive breakdown and an evolution to someone fierce. Again she comes back to the holocaust imagery, the obscure metaphors. The source domain bring to mind the indescribable human suffering. She addresses the “doktor, enemy, god, Lucifer’ to “beware”.”I turn and burn” hints us that she is on her way to becoming a demon.
“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air”
These lines tie all the loose ends of the poem. Red here symbolies ultimate rage. We realise that all her enemies previously mentioned were men. The doktor was particularly her enemy, because he kept brining her back to life even when she wished for death. So now that she is a fierceful demon, she will eat all the men or enemies like air, ultimately to come out of their shadow and do as she desires. She represents herself as a Phoenix. Just like the Phoenix, when burnt alive can reborn in the ashes, so does she. The allusion to phoenix is also a resurrection to something even more powerful and mightier than ever.
Hence concluding, Lazarus could possibly be a personification of Plath’s alter ego. The whole idea of metaphorically putting oneself through self-mutilation is to gain control over self. Because Plath seems to be losing control over the male dominant society. This poem is almost a form of dramatic monologue. The element of exaggeration was necessary to portray the veracity that she was going through aptly. Act of committing suicide is usually connoted as a coward’s act, but here the case is different. The act of killing oneself is to be resurrected back to life, with a revengeful rage. It is almost like, the death gives her strength to face the society’s veracity.
On a personal note, I have two things to say. First, I think there is a conventional use of metaphor in the poem, when Plath considers life to be theatrical. She probably was also trying to look at a larger context and give her audience a message that “life is a play”. She probably was trying to convey that make sure your show/drama/play in worthwhile enough for you to display it, hence the audience would not have to face the “peanut crunching crowd’s” “strip tease”.
I also think that the reason for Plath’s insanity is not her depression, but the male oppression. The fact that her memories are constantly occupied by male(her father’s/husband) brute memories and the fact that she had to live under the shadow of men all the time.
After analysing this poem, I feel that Plath’s seemingly interesting and tragic life overshadows her work. Her work is partially ignored, and she is often sympathized and then appreciated by the crowd. Plath’s work if only looked at from the literary point of view, was beyond excellence. Not every poet can write down poems that capture the reader’s undivided attention. Creating intense imagery’s that mutilates oneself, is not everyone’s cup of tea.