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Author Topic: Tarot and Poetry Analysis  (Read 6238 times)
Sperran
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« Topic Start: November 01, 2007, 11:36:24 pm »

Hey folks,

I'm currently taking a confessional poetry class and we are covering Sylvia Plath.  Knowing that Plath read tarot, one of my class members proposed that figures from tarot appear in the poem "The Bee Meeting".  I would like it if you folks could take a look at the poem and see if you agree with this assessment.  If you do agree, I would be interested to know what card you assigned to what characters or situations within the poem.  Thanks!

Poem is here:

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-bee-meeting/

Sperran
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« Reply #1: November 27, 2007, 05:00:34 am »

Hey folks,

I'm currently taking a confessional poetry class and we are covering Sylvia Plath.  Knowing that Plath read tarot, one of my class members proposed that figures from tarot appear in the poem "The Bee Meeting".  I would like it if you folks could take a look at the poem and see if you agree with this assessment.  If you do agree, I would be interested to know what card you assigned to what characters or situations within the poem.  Thanks!

Poem is here:

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-bee-meeting/

Sperran

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I'm no English major (I only just finished A-level lit and wrote an elective research paper which I did on initiatory/shamanic elements in Plath's poetry), but thought I'd shoot my mouth off anyway.

Which Tarot figures are you thinking of in particular? Litcrit that I've read on 'The Bee Meeting' emphasizes the father/priest/god male figure of the rector, the subservient "magician's girl", and the atmosphere of sacrifice-cum-medical operation-cum-transformation. I suppose you could assign a tarot card to some of those: Hierophant/Emperor for the rector, The Devil/Magician for the entire context.

Personally, I don't actually think tarot figures appear in the poem, or any of her poems. The figures are archetypal father-husband-god, daughter-wife-goddess stuff (Plath was a big Jung fan), and insofar as the tarot taps into those archetypes that's why there's an overlap in the symbolism.
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« Reply #2: November 27, 2007, 07:59:32 am »

Personally, I don't actually think tarot figures appear in the poem, or any of her poems. The figures are archetypal father-husband-god, daughter-wife-goddess stuff (Plath was a big Jung fan), and insofar as the tarot taps into those archetypes that's why there's an overlap in the symbolism.

I don't have her analysis in front of me, but I definitely know that she gave the role of the empress to Plath.  I don't think the connection to tarot is that clear, either.  The same person also saw electroshock therapy in the Bee Meeting, which I didn't see AT ALL.

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« Reply #3: November 27, 2007, 09:45:17 am »

I don't have her analysis in front of me, but I definitely know that she gave the role of the empress to Plath.  I don't think the connection to tarot is that clear, either.  The same person also saw electroshock therapy in the Bee Meeting, which I didn't see AT ALL.

Sperran

The first few paragraghs may express the empress.  After that it's completely fuzzy.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2007, 09:48:16 am by darkplume, Reason: clarity » Logged


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« Reply #4: November 27, 2007, 10:17:43 am »

I don't have her analysis in front of me, but I definitely know that she gave the role of the empress to Plath. 


I have trouble seeing this, not just in the poem but also in her entire poetic corpus. The Empress is a card of fertility, motherhood, joy, etc. right? The speaker in 'The Bee Meeting' is clearly kinda traumatized and a victim of a sort, so I don't see the link. As for the rest of her poems, you have ones about infertility ("Barren Woman", "Childless Woman", maybe "Thalidomide"), and even the ones about children ("Child", "Mary's Song", "Brasilia", etc.) tend to convey a sense of fear and impending loss. I'd be interested in seeing her analysis if you have it (and can share it), but as it is I think you're right in being doubtful about a tarot connection.

Quote
The same person also saw electroshock therapy in the Bee Meeting, which I didn't see AT ALL.

Hmmm. You've probably read that the "shorn grove" (perhaps alluding to shaving before an operation), reference to "ether", "white shop smock", "surgeon" and "operation" have been used to give a very medical atmosphere to the whole thing. Electroshock therapy though...

Thinking aloud...well, the speaker does identify a little with the queen, and by extension the hive. Honeycomb = brain cells? The "cuffs" could be electroshock restraints. The "smoke" suggests burning, and if the hive is burning and the hive is a "mind" then it could be electroshock therapy...

I guess I can see it, but only through a lot of associative stretching. But the bee sequence which this poem belongs to (The Arrival of the Bee Box, Stings, The Swarm, and Wintering) has a clear plot of the woman undergoing apotheosis and supplanting the male, so in that context I wouldn't emphasize the electroshock therapy thing too much. But heck, it's a cool interpretation which I'd never have seen in the text!
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« Reply #5: November 27, 2007, 11:40:12 pm »

I have trouble seeing this, not just in the poem but also in her entire poetic corpus. The Empress is a card of fertility, motherhood, joy, etc. right? The speaker in 'The Bee Meeting' is clearly kinda traumatized and a victim of a sort, so I don't see the link.

Nope, completely agree with you.  I don't see the connection at all. I'm trying to rack my brain for one of the lower Arcana, but the only thing that comes to mind is two of swords or maybe nine of swords.  Blah, I'm giving up now.

Where is TC's resident tarot expert?  Grin
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« Reply #6: November 28, 2007, 06:04:55 am »

Where is TC's resident tarot expert?  Grin

There are a few of us that could claim that title with various degrees of either hubris or humility, but if you're referring to me  (as the most vocal of the lot Cheesy) the problem is that I'm completely unfamiliar with Plath. 

If I put the amount of study into her that Treekisser has it is possible that I could work up a kind of 'tarot profile' of her work, or the various periods of it, but starting from a single poem and seeking tarot imagery as something 'placed' there can lead to a lot of stretching and twisting to fit.

Just from this one reading, it seems that the Empress suggestion could fit as a reversal rather than straight up.  Uncertain, barren, embracing victimhood, and a sly kind of 'control from beneath' might fit this one poem, but I haven't read the rest of the poems of this cycle so that is a very superficial observation.  Other Major Arcana reversals could fit as well, but as I said, it is a stretch.

So, no help here, I'm afraid.

Absent
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« Reply #7: November 28, 2007, 08:13:30 am »

Hey folks,

I'm currently taking a confessional poetry class and we are covering Sylvia Plath.  Knowing that Plath read tarot, one of my class members proposed that figures from tarot appear in the poem "The Bee Meeting".  I would like it if you folks could take a look at the poem and see if you agree with this assessment.

I looked. Thought about it a while. Read it again. I just don't see much of a Tarot contention there. I could read one into it, but even that would be hard.
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« Reply #8: November 28, 2007, 08:34:20 am »

Just from this one reading, it seems that the Empress suggestion could fit as a reversal rather than straight up.  Uncertain, barren, embracing victimhood, and a sly kind of 'control from beneath' might fit this one poem, but I haven't read the rest of the poems of this cycle so that is a very superficial observation.  Other Major Arcana reversals could fit as well, but as I said, it is a stretch.

Absent

I sort of wondered if she wasn't making the connection based on the bee's relationship to fertility and etc.?  One of my decks has the Empress wearing a dress decorated with bees and she is standing near a hive.

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« Reply #9: November 28, 2007, 11:44:56 am »

I sort of wondered if she wasn't making the connection based on the bee's relationship to fertility and etc.?  One of my decks has the Empress wearing a dress decorated with bees and she is standing near a hive.

Sperran

Ooh, that is possible. But (just FYI, in case you don't already know) within Plath's oeuvre, the bee poems aren't linked to the poems about children. Outside the text, her father was a beekeeper and by becoming a beekeeper she usurps him; within the text, when she takes on the mantle of the queen bee, it isn't fertility or motherhood she's thinking of, but simply being queen.

Quote
...but I
Have a self to recover, a queen.
...

Now she is flying
More terrible than she ever was, red
Scar in the sky, red comet
Over the engine that killed her ----
The mausoleum, the wax house.

That's from the poem "Stings". Even if she is a mother, this queen is "terrible" rather than full of maternal comfort, and she abandons the hive, which is seen as a deathly "mausoleum" as opposed to the ground of life. OK, so this is lit and you can argue whatever you want, but just thought I'd point out that intertextually Plath's queen bee isn't really the motherly type.  Undecided

Absent's reversed-Empress thing sounds interesting though. Could a mother who abandons her children to strike out on her own be an inverted Empress? I dunno. ABSENT!  Grin

...

Gosh I'm obsessed. Excuse me while I go get a life.  Embarrassed
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« Reply #10: November 28, 2007, 12:12:13 pm »

Ooh, that is possible. But (just FYI, in case you don't already know) within Plath's oeuvre, the bee poems aren't linked to the poems about children. Outside the text, her father was a beekeeper and by becoming a beekeeper she usurps him; within the text, when she takes on the mantle of the queen bee, it isn't fertility or motherhood she's thinking of, but simply being queen.

That's from the poem "Stings". Even if she is a mother, this queen is "terrible" rather than full of maternal comfort, and she abandons the hive, which is seen as a deathly "mausoleum" as opposed to the ground of life. OK, so this is lit and you can argue whatever you want, but just thought I'd point out that intertextually Plath's queen bee isn't really the motherly type.  Undecided

Absent's reversed-Empress thing sounds interesting though. Could a mother who abandons her children to strike out on her own be an inverted Empress? I dunno. ABSENT!  Grin

...

Gosh I'm obsessed. Excuse me while I go get a life.  Embarrassed

I think that if I had to pick, it would be a queen also...just from her association with the queen as you mentioned.  Yeah, we could all probably afford a life.  Smiley
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« Reply #11: November 28, 2007, 12:49:33 pm »

I think that if I had to pick, it would be a queen also...just from her association with the queen as you mentioned.  Yeah, we could all probably afford a life.  Smiley

I think I would go queen/hive

There is something very maidenly in the first stanza talking about crossing a bridge in a sundress, summery with no protection.

Then being bundled for her own protection by worldly people of affairs, armored in white, compared to the hive - the white hive that is white and 'snug' as she has been bundled to be.  VIrgin as she was when she crossed the bridge, self contained  Multiple uses of white.

Then a flurry of disorienting action, a magicians girl, the virgin sacrifice, wanting to please in spite of fear and wanting to run.

Do you think she refers to herself in speaking of the old queen as well?  She has been dressed by others in the face of her unpreparedness yet doesn't trust them or belong.  Scrutinized. An insider, and an outsider.

I wouldn't go Tarot at all on this one, unless it was in relation to her other poems, but other than that I'm not feelin it.

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« Reply #12: November 28, 2007, 06:19:18 pm »

Could a mother who abandons her children to strike out on her own be an inverted Empress? I dunno. ABSENT!  Grin

It could, but it would require a few other cards/imagery to support it.  The Sun reversed, or the 6 of Pents reversed for abandoned children, the Tower or the Devil, depending on whether it was a catastrophe or a considered act, or on whether she was abandoning children who still needed her or ones who needed to be left.

Mandi's post makes me think more of the High Priestess than the Empress, but the lack of power/experience would make that a reversal as well.  Does Plath tend to write a lot of 'perspective twists' on concepts generally considered proper or traditional?

Absent
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« Reply #13: November 28, 2007, 06:29:17 pm »

It could, but it would require a few other cards/imagery to support it.  The Sun reversed, or the 6 of Pents reversed for abandoned children, the Tower or the Devil, depending on whether it was a catastrophe or a considered act, or on whether she was abandoning children who still needed her or ones who needed to be left.

Mandi's post makes me think more of the High Priestess than the Empress, but the lack of power/experience would make that a reversal as well.  Does Plath tend to write a lot of 'perspective twists' on concepts generally considered proper or traditional?

Absent

Well...there is Lady Lazarus, which is basically a celebration of her suicide attempts; I guess that could be an example.  There are some other poems like "The Applicant" that hinge on a bizarre perspective of traditional themes.  Add to this, the poet was deeply ambivalent about her role as a writer vs. traditional wife and mother.  She sort of flipped back and forth (especially mentally, as one can tell from her journals and letters) between Betty Crocker housewife and dramatic poet. 

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« Reply #14: November 28, 2007, 07:28:42 pm »


There is something very maidenly in the first stanza talking about crossing a bridge in a sundress, summery with no protection.


Maidenly...that reminds me, Plath was very much influenced by Graves' The White Goddess.

Incidentally, as much as I love Plath, that is one FAT book I could never bring myself to read.  Cheesy

Quote
Do you think she refers to herself in speaking of the old queen as well? 

That's what the interpretations I've read indicate, and the other bee poems support it.
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