Sylvia Plath

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Provide a detailed summary and analysis of the poem "Lesbos" by Sylvia Plath.

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The poem is narrated by a woman alone with her children. She describes the suffering of herself and her children, particularly the young baby. She is frustrated and angry, at one point wishing she could be like the Nazi concentration camp guards who had the power to hurt others but who were themselves immune from violence, although the narrator does not really want to be like them. The poem expresses that nothing has meaning in this condition of life. The narrator ends by projecting or externalizing some of her own anger onto her husband, imagining what he might say to justify his own escape from responsibility into freedom and adventure while she remained trapped in domestic responsibilities.

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"Lesbos" is one of Sylvia Plath's poems collected in Ariel, a book edited by Plath's husband, the English poet Ted Hughes, and published after Plath's death by suicide. It was not actually included in Hughes's English edition, but it was published in the first American edition and subsequent editions of the collection.

The poem is written in free verse and narrated in the first person. The narrator is a woman with two young babies, and the narrative voice has several autobiographical elements. The woman is probably alone in the kitchen and feeling trapped by her domestic role. She is holding an imaginary conversation with the father of her children (husband or ex-husband) and to a degree projecting her anger onto him—perhaps imagining him as articulating some of her rage, or perhaps existing within a genuinely abusive relationship. As the narrator is unreliable, readers cannot be certain how much of the narration reflects actual events and how much is simply externalization of the narrator's emotional state.

The poem begins with the narrator making dinner. A female baby is crying and upset, perhaps having a tantrum, and the narrator wonders if the baby is actually insane or likely to develop some form of insanity due to the sheer intensity of the baby's anger in the lines:

Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic

Another (male) baby is described as smiling like a "fat snail."

The parents have acquired kittens to amuse the babies, but the kittens "crap and puke and cry," creates even more frustration. The narrator remembers an earlier period in the marriage, before the babies, filled with freedom, pleasure, and adventures for herself and her husband as a young couple. She contrasts that time with their current situation, using hallucinatory Holocaust imagery and other violent metaphors.

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