I'm going to throw you a curve-ball here. Plath's poem, "Lady Lazarus," is a joke. I mean that literally. It's a humorous poem.
The reason that few people read it this way is due to the tragedy of Plath's experiences with mental illness and her suicide.
But the fact remains that "Lady Lazarus" can't be fully understood unless its humor is taken seriously.... So that's where we're going to start with our exploration of this very important Plath poem. This will be the penultimate poem I tackle in this blog-post series on Plath, which will end next Monday with a final post.
For now, the important thing is to read over the poem (click the pic above) and see if there's anything in it that makes you laugh straight off the top. Then read it again and consider if there are things you might like to laugh at, but don't think you should.
Finally, read it over and see if there are things you wish you could laugh at. Pretty much you should laugh at every line.
The poem represents the culmination of the loss of identity theme we've previously discussed. Plath is emerging from the "blackness and silence" of the abyss -- and in this rebirth she brings power, creativity, and joy. But most of all, there is a rejection and mockery of the banal "totems" of life. We think of doctors, gods, and death as the highest forms of power imaginable. But mainly death because doctors and gods are supposed to have some influence over death, like lawyers that plead with death on our behalf.
But what if there is no death?
What if at the most elemental level of existence there is only being? Limitless being... This is the "self" beyond the façade and beyond the mendacity of social constructs. That being finds the constructs quite laughable. And it "eats men like air" not because of feminist castration fury, but because the abyss, the Ever Being, eats everyone like air. But not because they die, but because they cast off their egos and social totems, along with their cruelties, lies, and perversions -- not according to a moral judgement of God, but just according to existence. Being is so big, no fool no matter how rich or titled can even dent it with a shadow. Not even Herr Lucifer. Or Elon Musk.
So that's it in a nutshell. Plath had moments of poetic realization where she went beyond personal identity and found Being Without End. This is not so unusual in history, and was found by other mystics, including the Melissae I keep mentioning.
What's interesting is that Plath did it with the American idiom because no-one really did it here previously, not even the Transcendentalists who were more or less chasing a philosophy rather than a visceral experience. They talked about it over tea, Plath actually did it. Without psychedelics, which would have a first heyday only a few years after she died.
What this poem means beyond that -- and more importantly -- what comes after this kind of realization, is what we'll talk about next time as we close out the series by finishing up "Lady Lazarus" and taking a very quick peek at Plath's masterpiece "Wintering."
Meanwhile, if you're enjoying this series of posts on Plath won't you please consider making a small donation to the cause?
Poem tally as of today: 8-21-23:
Poems Written: 355
Poetry Submissions: 51
Rejections: 26 (15 tiered)
Poem written today: "Water Colors"