‘Child’ by Sylvia Plath, despite being a short one, filled with impressively a lot of images and emotions. The poem bespeaks her undeniable love for her children, especially for her son Nicholas. He was just a year old when she wrote the poem. The poem depicts her expectations and disappointments’ over providing a better life for her children. She has written the poem shortly before her death.
Summary of Child
Sylvia Plath in her ‘Child’ depicts her love and all the beautiful things she hopes for her son/daughter’s future. She imagines her child to be the most beautiful thing with a beautiful clear eye that is not polluted by the outside world. It looks like she wants to fill them only with beautiful and colorful things. She plans to take the child to the zoo, especially to the new one. In the zoo, the child could get to see the different life that co-exists alongside humans. She imagines the child learning the names of the animals and the plants such as April snowdrop, Indian pipe, etc. She wants her son/daughter to observe everything without being affected by the surroundings and keep up the innocence. Further, she wants her son/daughter to have a life of grandeur where every reflection will reflect prosperity. In the fourth stanza, she wants the child to be free from her present situation of anxiety and terror that she was going through due to her failing health.
You can read the full poem of Child here.
Form and Structure of Child
‘Child’ by Sylvia Plath is a short poem of twelve lines. The poem is written in four three-line stanzas. There is no set rhyme scheme in the poem as it is written in free verse. The irregular rhyme pattern reflects the poet’s sense of disorder within. The first three stanzas outline how Plath cherishes her child. In contrast, Plath reveals her personal troubles anxieties in the fourth stanza ending it in an unhappy tone.
Themes in Child
Sylvia Plath in her ‘Child’ despite its brevity touches upon various themes that revolve around her child and life. The poet’s troubled spirit and her anxiety over providing a better life to her children is the major subject of the poem. She contrasts her life with her son/daughter’s, and hopes for her son/daughter to have a better life. Plath sees childhood delight and excitement in the eyes of her child while imagining her life as a ‘dark ceiling without a star.’ The poem also deals with the complex human emotion, for Plath seems to be fascinated and dreadful at the same time. The poet contrasts a happy childhood with unhappy adulthood in ‘colour and ducks’, and ‘this troublous Wringing of hands.’
Tone/Mood of Child
The tone in poetry suggests the poet’s attitude towards the subject and mood. In ‘Child’ the poet’s mood switches between being bright and happy to dark and depressed. One could sense her happiness in her tone as she describes her son/daughter’s eye as an “absolutely beautiful thing”. She seems hopeful as she thinks of filling her son/daughter’s life with happiness. Compared to her initial cheerful and optimistic tone, the tone and mood switch towards the end. It reflects her anxiety: ‘this dark ceiling without a star’ ‘troublous wringing of hands’
Imagery in Child
Imagery, as a poetic device, helps to understand the poet’s perspectives with our senses. In ‘Child’, Plath’s use of diction enables the readers’ imagination to feel what she feels. Her choice of words such as, “grand”, “classical”, “troublous”, and “wringing” are all descriptive and creates specific images.
In the first stanza, Plath presents an image of the ‘clear eye’ which she wants to fill with ‘colour and ducks.’ The imagery here represents the delights of an infant as it observes the world around. She further talks of the new Zoo where she would like to take her child. The word “Zoo” fills the reader’s mind with various animals as she and her excited child go around the zoo. In the second stanza, she pictures her son/daughter meditating the names of plants and flowers: ‘snowdrop’ and ‘Indian Pipe’. She presents the contrasting images of aging in the words ‘wrinkle’ and ‘classical.’ ‘Wrinkle’ means to age poorly while ‘classical’ means to age well. Another image in the poem is presented in the final stanza. Plath provides the image of “wringing of hands” symbolically represents her anxiety.
Metaphor in Child
A Metaphor, as a figure of speech, contains an implied comparison. In ‘Child’ Sylvia Plath makes metaphorical comparisons in the third and fourth stanza. “Pool in which images/Should be grand and classical” doesn’t mean the physical pool but the child’s eye that reflects what it sees. Here the poet expresses her hope for filling her son/daughter’s life and surrounding with exemplary things.
In the fourth stanza the poet talks of a “Ceiling without star.” Normally the stars appear in the sky that is vast and limitless. But, here, the poet projects her limitation through the word “ceiling.” This closed situation is in contrast to words of her child that is splendid to behold, and filled with variety, vast and open, like a ‘zoo’.
Analysis of Child
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
( . . . )
The zoo of the new
In the first stanza of the ‘Child’ the poet describes the beauty of her child and the happiness of childhood. The poet begins by describing the child’s “clear eye” as the one completely beautiful and perfect thing she knows. She wants to fill that clear eye with colors, ducks, and “the zoo of the new.” The poet seems to be hopeful about the future of her son/daughter. Zoo implies the world that eventually the child has to see. She hopes to expand her son/daughter’s horizons by revealing to him the mysteries and magic of the world, similar to a “zoo.”
Whose names you meditate —
( . . . )
The second stanza of the ‘Child’ represents the poet’s hopefulness in her child. The poet imagines her child memorizing the names of the plants and flowers. As a continuation of the “grand and classical” she mentions two sweet, white exotic flowers: “April snowdrop”, and “Indian pipe.”
Stalk without wrinkle,
( . . . )
Should be grand and classical
In the third stanza, she meditates on her child’s perfection. Like a “Little / Stalk without wrinkle” she wants her son/daughter to be spotless. She hopes that everything her child sees should be “grand and classical.” Here, the “Pool” that reflects stands for the “clear eye” of the child. The images are reflections of what the child sees. Whatever son/daughter sees, the poet wants it to be “grand and classical”
Not this troublous
( . . . )
Ceiling without a star.
The fourth stanza details the contrast between the world she hopes for child and the reality that she knows. She presents reality as something apprehensive and bleak. The poet doesn’t want her son/daughter to have a troublous life. The “Wringing of hands” represents the poet’s anxiety that she was facing basically due to her health issues. “dark/ Ceiling without a star” reflects the limits that exist in life. Often it is self-created than what it is in reality. Star often stands for something positive and a guiding force in the darkness. She doesn’t want her son/daughter to have such a dark life but a hopeful and cheerful one.
Plath’s poems are often known for her rich use of imagery and symbolism. “Elm“, “The Times are Tidy“, “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are some of the notable poems that can be read to understand the poet’s writing style and her emotional shifts.