Cut – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

For Susan O’Neill Roe

What a thrill —-
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian’s axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz.

A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Kamikaze man —

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when

The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump —
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.

Sylvia Plath  – 24 October 1962
(1932 – 1963)

Short sharp snappy words cut to a core … appropriate construction considering the event being described … there is no time for long deliberation. She would not have had time to compose the poem at the time of the incident but it certainly provided material for her to write a poem. It was dedicated to her nanny Susan O’Neill Roe who looked after her two young children and perhaps provided the time for her to write this work.

‘Cut’ was one of many productive poems generated in October 1962 when SP lived in London after the separation with Ted Hughes and is included in her Ariel collection.

S1 … it looks like an accident when cutting an onion … but it comes as a thrill as though something exciting has happened in a dull life … or, knowing SP’s history, during a depressive state … so instead of looking on the initial experience with horror SP steps back and lets the cut open a window for exploration … the hinge indicating an escape

S2 … this is what happens as she views the cut as the first pulse of blood comes into the dead white skin … flap like a hat – nice one syllable internal rhyme

S3 … the thumb is a little pilgrim (re: American history and the scalping of missionaries by Indians) … the thumb takes on personification … a drop of blood falls on the carpet into wool and a very apt description of the red flow into wool – like a turkey wattle

S4 … perhaps SP inadvertently treads on the blood on the carpet … she might at this stage try to stop the bleeding too … her thumb becomes a bottle of ‘pink fizz’ … so there might have been quite an initial squirt … to die out as she deals with the flow by clutching on to her thumb perhaps with her other hand

S5 … SP likens the blood flow to the Redcoats (British) in the American Civil War escaping through a gap as her blood is escaping through the cut … and as she is now escaping from the drudgery of life by this event that has given her such an unexpected thrill

S6 … well, which side is the blood on … it is her blood and escaping from her … she now realises that all is not well and she has started to feel pain so takes a pill … the thumb now becomes a little man (homunculus) … some commentators have equated this reference to Ted Hughes as he has been cut-off … but like her thumb SP cannot completely cut-off TH or the flap of skin.

S7 … a thin papery feeling – apt description of the sensation as she touches the thmb … and again the male reference to a saboteur and more extreme a kamikaze – a suicide … again thoughts go to TH … whether she would like to remove TH is this fashion or alternatively whether TH has caused the cut himself by leaving her … part of her missing

S8 … it seems she has now put a gauze dressing on the thumb to stem the bleeding and that it soaked and stained the material … another male reference this time to the exclusive group the Ku Klux Klan (an extreme group that advocated white supremacy) and the gauze takes on a Russian flavour – babushka (a headscarf tied under the chin, typical of those traditionally worn by Russian women) … the thumb becomes a head wound

S9 … the flow of blood … the heart pulp … is eventually contained … the blood mill is silenced, the fizz gone … the heart equated to a mill continually circulating … and the bandage, or babushka, dirtied … and like the first stanza there is strong emotion in a jump … a jump in her thought …

S10 … the trepanned veteran (trepan – to ensnarl) … and, following my poetic fancy, – she has been caught by the TH /Assia Wevill adultery and is now a dirty girl … SP is soiled by this experience, part of herself left hanging … and then the last line – the thumb reverts to just a stump rather than any implied poetic considerations of earlier stanzas – something she just has to live with – just as she has to live with the broken relationship with TH.

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