The American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, Sylvia Plath, better known for the genre confessional poetry, proved her merit again in this short poem ‘The Times are Tidy’. The poem was written in 1958, during the period of political and economic self-satisfaction in the history of America. This period of contentment, quiet and comforting for the people, caused dissatisfaction to Plath, for the modern world has no exciting activity going on to be inspired. The adjective ‘tidy’ may look odd to be added with ‘time’ in the title, yet the poet used it to demonstrate that everything about the period is well set and nothing is out of the ordinary.
Explore The Times are Tidy
‘The Times are Tidy’ signifies the time of order time just after a major world war in which America partook. The poet draws a comparison between the past and the present to express her perspectives. The poet begins the poem with her dissatisfaction with the period being uneventful with a lack of inspiration. For, the hero mentioned in the first line could have been destined for greatness, but the current scenario has not given him the chance. In the same way she compares life to a rôtisserie that goes round and round without any alteration in the pace or direction. In the next stanza, she feels how history has made all the hazards, a memory of the past. Though she is not happy with this monotonous life that prevails, she concludes with the resigned note that the children are better for this period.
Form and Structure
‘The Times are Tidy’ by Sylvia Plath is a short poem with her prevalent way of conveying her emotions and idea through imagery. Through the image present in each stanza, she makes a comparison to the past and the present. The poem’s 15 lines are distributed among the three stanzas, with five lines each. The rhyme of each stanza can be marked as “ABCDB,” where only the 2nd & 5th lines in each stanza have matching rhymes.
The themes in ‘The Times are Tidy’ focus on the time post World War and the Great Depression. The people living at that time had not the adventures of life, compared to those who lived in the past. This monotonous life and the poet’s dissatisfaction with it is the major theme present in the poem. It is also added to with the poet’s perspective on War and Heroism.
The tone of the poem ‘The Times are Tidy,’ ranges from ironic to nostalgia to sarcasm. Yet the concluding line makes it sound like resignation, rather being sarcastic. The first line “Unlucky the hero born/In this province of the stuck record” expresses the irony of the time, and the society being fruitless without inspiration for the talented ones. The second stanza employed the tone of nostalgia as she looks back at the war and the war heroes. In the final, concluding stanza, we could see the sarcasm in her tone for there is no opportunity for inspiration as the last witch also has been hunted. Yet, the last lines, are kind of ambiguous as she feels the children of the time seem suitable to it, and the time vice versa for it gives the comfort they expect.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Unlucky the hero born
( . . . )
And the mayor’s rôtisserie turns
Round of its own accord.
Plath begins her poem ‘The Times Are Tidy’ with an ironic note “Unlucky the hero born” at the so-called heroes of her time who had no adventures to take part in the post-world war. She feels they are unlucky, for they have no opportunities to prove their merit. The time she describes is the boring and uneventful period, following the World Wars and the Great Depression. So she feels that no hero gets to prove his valor at this time of “stuck record.”
In the 3rd line, Plath talks of the talented cooks going jobless, for the talented hands have no work to do but are kept idle at that time. It is also the poet’s reflection upon her own writing where she didn’t get much inspiration to write poetry. In the last two lines of the first stanza, the poet draws a connection between life at that time and the turning spit. Like the “mayor’s rotisserie,” life at that time was going “Round of its own accord.” The “round” means the cyclic motion of without much change in the progress.
There’s no career in the venture
( . . . )
To leaf-size from lack of action:
History’s beaten the hazard.
The second stanza of the poem ‘The Times Are Tidy’ brings forth the life of Dwight Eisenhower, who was the notable American army general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, during World War II. He was also the president of the United States, at the time she has written the poem. Here, she pictures how even the great commander has no work compared to his ventures in the world war. She suggests that the heroes born at this time have a role to play by making a comparison to the heroes of fairytales who fight the lizard. Similar to that the wartime heroes have no role to play in this quiet age. Due to “lack of action” even the heroes like “Eisenhower” have become “leaf-size” and what they have achieved has become “History’s beaten the hazard,” the things of the past.
The last crone got burnt up
( . . . )
But the children are better for it,
The cow milks cream an inch thick.
Similar to the first two stanzas, in stanza three too, Plath makes a comparison between the past and the present. She talks of the witches that burnt at the stake over 80 years ago, referring to the period of McCarthyism. At the same time, she goes way back to the fairy tales where the ‘crone’ with her herb pot and a speaking cat will be the main reason for making the story eventful. Comparatively, the period before the time the poet speaks of was filled with events like war and witch-hunting, etc. Yet, she starts with the “but” which presents her dissatisfaction with the current time. At the same time this period, she feels to be a better period for the children of the time. For, “The cow milks cream an inch thick” denotes that the period is of stability and comfort.
The poem ‘The Times Are Tidy’ written in 1958 by Plath intensifies the socio-political situation of America in the mid-20th century. America at this time was booming with prosperity in all walks of life, especially in the socio-economical condition. On the whole, it helped to create a widespread sense of stability, contentment, and consensus among the people of the United States. This stability and contentment, in the views of Sylvia Plath, seems to be monotonous and less inspiring.
Sylvia Plath’s poems are more personal in nature and intensive in the use of imagery. Her poems ‘Elm,’ ‘Child,’ and ‘Poppies in July’ reveal her fear and worries expressed through rich imagery. Similarly, the poems ‘Chicago’ by Carl Sandburg and ‘A prayer for my Daughter’ by W. B. Yeats, and ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou also reveal the poet’s personal experience and emotions.