Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Poem of the Day: “Fever, 103˚” by Sylvia Plath, Poet of the Month


The Songs of Eretz Poem of the Day for September 2, 2014 is “Fever, 103˚” by Sylvia Plath, Poet of the Month.  The poem was first published in Poetry in 1963 and then was reprinted in 1966 in The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, edited by Ted Hughes.  A link to the poem including an audio recording of it by the poet may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/179981#poem.  Certain words appear underlined and in bold print--hover your cursor over these words for additional information.  Also, the audio version of the poem includes four extra lines that are not shown and which did not appear in the original Poetry version or in the 1966 collection.  A brief biography of Plath and references may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-songs-of-eretz-poet-of-month-for.html.

The title might refer to fever literally, as in being sick with a febrile illness.  This notion is supported perhaps by the use of the word "aguey" in the third stanza.  The title also might refer to being hot with desire or lust.  This notion is supported particularly by the tenth stanza.  The title might also refer to the fires of Hell as is apparent from references in the first two stanzas.  

However, most likely, the title refers to Plath's perception of herself.  The last words of the twelfth stanza, "I am a lantern," the first line of the fourteenth stanza, "Does not my heat astound you!  And my light!", the reference to "hot metal" in the fifteenth stanza, and the enjambment of the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth stanza "I / Am a pure acetylene" support this idea.

As is typical of Plath, raw images of death, pain, and suffering abound, but there is also the raw beauty of the "camellia" in the fourteenth stanza and of the Japanese lantern described in the thirteenth stanza.  Camellia sinensis (pictured) has beautiful flowers, and its leaves are used to make tea--perhaps another reference to heat.

The poem ends on a positive, hopeful note, with an image of the poet ascending "To Paradise."  This ascension is described in the last four stanzas, its beginning announced quite literally in the first two lines of the fourth-to-last stanza.  The penultimate line of the poem suggests that she is purified as she rises--a neat reference back to the question posed in the poem's opening line.

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