Comment on the last two lines of "Crossing the Water" of Sylvia Plath.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Poetry can be very difficult to analyze for often the poet is speaking so figuratively, based upon their personal perceptions, that it can be difficult to fully appreciate what the poet is trying to impart. And for Sylvia Plath, I wonder how much she wrote for the public and how much she wrote to quiet her own demons, for she struggled with depression for a very long time, until she successfully committed suicide.

In "Crossing the Water," I find that the images she presents are very dark. The first things she describes are black—this could be an emotional response (figuratively), but literally they may appear black because they are hidden in shadow: for the shadows of the black trees "must cover Canada." (This exaggeration is called hyperbole.)

The next stanza brings a lightening of the mood, for illumination appears:

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.

The poet personifies the leaves, but the somber mood returns as we read that the leaves are "full of dark advice." The light is forgotten as the poet recognizes "blackness" in people and even "fishes." Could she be saying that the basic component in all things of this world is blackness? A dark thread runs continually through this poem.

A snag, something that sticks out of the water, catching things that float by, is personified as well...

...lifting a valedictory, pale hand...

"Valedictory" refers to a farewell or leave-taking. This may refer to death, most especially in that the snag (perhaps a branch sitting in the water) is raised in farewell, but is pale—bringing to mind images of death.

Light appears again: stars appear among the lilies. Could these be fireflies (lightning bugs) or lights glinting off of the black water? For how could stars shine through flowers? However, the light does not comfort the poet—she asks if we are not...

...blinded by such expressionless sirens...

The reference to "sirens" is one mythological allusion, for example, to the story of Odysseus as he traveled many long years to get home from the Trojan War, and met with mystical and monstrous creatures. Odysseus was famous...

...known for guile, tact, and diplomacy more than for courage...

He even bested the sirens. 

Of the sirens it is written...

Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.

To hear the sirens' song was to lose one's mind, to join these bird-women, and die at their hands.

Plath refers to the stars which she sees as "expressionless sirens," something of a contradiction as the danger of the siren was not her expressionlessness, but her ability to corrupt the sanity of sailors, which lead to their death. "Siren" brings to mind the inability to resist a call or a song, but in this case, the stars fail to endear or deter.

This is the silence of the astounded souls.

This line is open to many interpretations, but I find myself seeing souls who are silent because they are bemused—perhaps because the call of the sirens (in the stars) does not overwhelm them, or that everywhere in life—in us—there is unavoidable blackness. Light shines through occasionally, but is no match for the darkness that she sees everywhere.


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