The Couriers

I am going through a bit of writer’s block at the moment, so I am doing the next best thing- Reading. I am currently reading Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and I am absolutely smitten by her work. Today, I want to talk about the second poem of the book – The Couriers. If you haven’t read the poem, you can find it here.

This poem is concise; it’s written using simple words and yet it is marvellously enigmatic. So being a curious person, I naturally wanted to understand it.

This is my humble analysis of the poem.

Here goes nothing.

The first three stanzas portray contrasting elements, which can not exist together; and the courier- the poetess is trying to caution the reader about the same. The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf is not trustworthy, because it is sure to have reached the recipient in an adulterated, half-eaten form. The snail and the leaf are doomed from the start, because the snail will eat the leaf- its primary food- slowly and surely.

The second stanza talks about Acetic acid stored in a sealed tin. The poetess doubts the genuineness of acetic acid- because it is stored in a sealed tin. Tin being a soft metal can not withstand co-existence with acid. The acid will end up bending the Tin at its will. The Tin would lose it’s identity, shape and would be left unrecognizable. And if that’s not the case, then surely the acid is not genuine. Or it is weak and watered down.

The third stanza talks about a ring of gold with the sun in it. The promise of eternal sunshine is false; because the sun will surrender eventually to the night. And a gold ring with the sun in it might look spectacular at first, but how long can the gold withstand a high-tempered sun before it melts?

The poetess based on the evidence provided proposes that- promises are nothing but lies that lead to grief.

Fourth and fifth stanza summarizes grief, with the conclusion of the leaf as:- ‘Frozen, empty (like an immaculate cauldron), crazy-talking to itself at the end of the mountain.’ The nine black alps might signify nine such episodes shrouded in darkness. Or maybe it refers to the idea of having nine lives (like a cat) and repeating the same mistake in all of them? Maybe it refers to the inevitability of reaching the same conclusion? Maybe it’s a throwback to the dark emotions of Lady Lazarus? My guess is as good as anybody’s. Maybe it’s referring to all these things. I’d like to think it is.

The sixth stanza flips the poem upside down and does it so beautifully. It refers to a disturbance in the mirrors. I think mirrors mean sky here. The nine shrouded alps are shrouded no more. Maybe the night is ending and the disturbance is the dawn. Maybe the disturbance means the lifting of the grey clouds.

I think the grey sea means the sorrows of the mind. Just as on arrival of light, the sea changes its colour; The shattering of the mirror means- that with the arrival of hope, the mind will cast aside its sadness.

With a beautiful finishing line, the poetess admits her affection for love. Signifying no matter what happens, love remains a human being’s basic need. Showing no matter what happens the capacity of a person to love- and by implication- to forgive remains endless. In this way, the poem that questions and denounces love at every turn- restores the reader’s faith in the idea of love at the end.


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