What are the poetic devices, imagery of Sylvia Plath's poem "Night Shift", why are they significant and how do they help convey the overall meaning of the specific piece? And why is this poem...

What are the poetic devices, imagery of Sylvia Plath's poem "Night Shift", why are they significant and how do they help convey the overall meaning of the specific piece? And why is this poem unique compared to all of her other poems?

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

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

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

Till the thudding source, exposed,
confounded in wept guesswork:
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. Men in white

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

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Unlike many of Sylvia Plath poems, "Night Shift" does not address feminist issues such as the domestic realm, nor the confessional quality that prevails in much of her poetry.  Instead, "Night Shift" focuses upon the effects of industrialization, its disruption of natural order, and its dehumanizing effects on "Main Street’s Silver factory, immense."

The imagery in this poem is mainly auditory; in fact, it is sound which disturbs the poet enough that she investigates. It is a noisy and unnerving "metal detonating" and "thudding" with "hammers" and "greased machines" moving incessantly in a "muted boom" "that clangor," disrupting the still night air. Indeed, this subjection to noise and to work is one that surrounds the new developments such as suburbs and shopping centers, so that now people do not live natural existences as the peace of the inhabitants' lives is constantly disturbed by this industrialization that promises to remain, having taken "a root": 

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

In addition, there is a blurring of the humanity of the men with the mechanical workings of the wheels and heavy equipment. This depersonalization of the men is further evident in the mention only of "Hammers" and wheels in symbolic falling "their vertical/Tonnage" seemingly on  their own. It is only in the final stanza do the men in white undershirts appear in visual imagery as they 

Without stop those greased machines,
Tending, without stop, the blunt
Indefatigable fact. 

Yet, in the final line personification is given to the machines and, again, the men are subsumed in the huge, monstrous, noisy mechanization that disturbs the night. Indeed, "it was not a heart beating."

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,994 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question