What is a line-by-line analysis to help understand the poem "Night Shift" by Sylvia Plath? 1 It was not a heart, beating. 2 That muted boom, that clangor 3 Far off, not blood in the ears 4...

What is a line-by-line analysis to help understand the poem "Night Shift" by Sylvia Plath?

1 It was not a heart, beating.
2 That muted boom, that clangor
3 Far off, not blood in the ears
4 Drumming up and fever

5 To impose on the evening.
6 The noise came from outside:
7 A metal detonating
8 Native, evidently, to

9 These stilled suburbs nobody
10 Startled at it, though the sound
11 Shook the ground with its pounding.
12 It took a root at my coming

13 Till the thudding source, exposed,
14 confounded in wept guesswork:
15 Framed in windows of Main Street’s
16 Silver factory, immense

17 Hammers hoisted, wheels turning,
18 Stalled, let fall their vertical
19 Tonnage of metal and wood;
20 Stunned in marrow. Men in white

21 Undershirts circled, tending
22 Without stop those greased machines,
23 Tending, without stop, the blunt
24 Indefatigable fact.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The meaning and implications of Plath's poetry is usually profound.  "Night Shift" is no different.  There are many layers to this poem, starting from the sound in the first stanza.  This sound ends up constructing the entire narrative of the poem.  The speaker of the poem, perhaps someone like Plath herself, hears it.  The first stanza describes this sound as something that resonates:  "that clangor/Far off, not blood in the ears/Drumming up and fever."  It is a sound that impacts the evening air, something heard and cannot be blocked out.  Plath injects the "Native" to the "suburbs" of the poem's setting.  This sound is something intrinsic to the people living there.  The sound has become part of the environment:  "These stilled suburbs nobody/ Startled at it, though the sound/ Shook the ground with its pounding."  

The speaker of the poem investigates the source of the sound.  It is at this point where it becomes clear from where the sound is coming: 

Framed in windows of Main Street’s
Silver factory, immense

Hammers hoisted, wheels turning,
Stalled, let fall their vertical
Tonnage of metal and wood;
Stunned in marrow.

The presence of the factory and the lifeblood of the factory, the workers, is where the sound originates. The machinery that produces something undefined makes the sound, defining everyone who comes into contact with it.  The sound is ongoing, "indefatigable" and reflective of a condition that transcends being in the world. The sounds seems to define it.  The "Night Shift" aspect of the poem reflects how this sound and its source are embedded, ongoing and relentless in what it done and what is represented.  The individual who notices is almost dwindles in comparison to its magnitude and presence, one that underscores consciousness in the town and those in it.

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