Read Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” then select one specific symbol and explain what the symbol represents in the context of the poem.

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The single most powerful symbol which captures the essence of the entire poem is found in the concluding tercet of Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus":

Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.

These lines refer to the Greek mythological fire-bird, the Phoenix which towards the end of its 500 year life cycle self destructs by building  a nest and then setting itself on fire and being reduced to ashes. From these ashes a new young Phoenix rises which lives out its life span of 500 years at the end of which the same cycle is repeated - reduced to ashes from which a new Phoenix arises. Thus, the Phoenix is a well known symbol for rebirth, renewal and immortality.

After a very disturbed and volatile life during which she attempted suicide many times only to be rescued at the nick of the moment, Sylvia Plath finally succeeded in killing herself on February 10, 1963. Her failed attempts at committing suicide can perhaps be compared to the repeated rebirth of the Phoenix. She remarks on the regular pattern of her failed suicide attempts thus:

I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it--

This poem "Lady Lazarus" written in October 1962 was published after her death in the year 1965 and although her body had returned to the dust she rises Phoenix like in this anthology entitled "Ariel." In a sense, Sylvia Plath has been restored to life, by the power of her own pen, by the power of her own words. That such a vital force was struck down by depression perhaps makes her short life all the more tragic.

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