The Women’s Rights Movement
Plath wrote ‘‘Mushrooms’’ in post-World War II England. During the war, both in England and the United States, many men of working age went away to fight in the war and women were left to run businesses and work in industry. Furthermore, many men died in combat, so women were needed in greater numbers in the workforce after World War II than they had been before it. These historical events were a major spur for the growth of the feminist movement during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It was argued that as women were doing the same work as men, they should be paid the same and enjoy equal rights.
During the 1960s in the United States, several federal laws were passed that were designed to improve the economic status of women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated equal wages for men and women doing equal work. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination against women by any company with over . . . Read More
In 1958 Plath attended Robert Lowell’s poetry seminar in Boston, where she met fellow poet Anne Sexton and became familiar with her work. Plath later identified Lowell and Sexton as poets whose work she admired for what became known as the confessional mode of poetry that they pioneered. The three poets are frequently linked by critics.
Confessional poetry engages in the unabashed exploration of the less salubrious aspects of the poet’s life, such as marital difficulties, mental illness, fascination with death, and addiction. It has to do with self-disclosure, without the usual societal filters of discretion or modesty.
While several of Plath’s poems fit this mold, the self-disclosure of ‘‘Mushrooms’’ takes a somewhat different form. This is best expressed by Ted Hughes (quoted by Kathleen Margaret Lant in her essay, ‘‘The Big Strip Tease: Female Bodies and Male Power in the Poetry . . . Read More
The main theme of ‘‘Mushrooms’’ can be seen as the feminist struggle and growth to greater selfawareness. This is treated through the symbolism of the mushrooms, which can be assumed to stand for women.
This interpretation, it might be argued, is the one that is most consistent within the context of the poem. However, symbols frequently have many aspects of meaning and different people interpret the symbol of Plath’s mushrooms in different ways. Some essayists have identified the mushrooms with the victims of the Holocaust, jostling for space in cramped conditions; those who suffer mental illness; and even the atomic bomb. The feminist interpretation does not necessarily negate these other interpretations, and the contrary is also true: the other interpretations do not necessarily negate the feminist interpretation.
‘‘Mushrooms’’ can be . . . Read More
On the most literal level, ‘‘Mushrooms’’ is a description of the natural process of the growth of mushrooms. The poem opens with a description of how mushrooms appear seemingly out of nothing, quietly, unexpectedly, and without fuss. They appear overnight. Their white color is noted.
Using imagery of body parts that normally applies to human beings, the poet describes the mushrooms as pushing through loam, a type of rich, fertile soil considered ideal for growing plants. Having taken possession of one element, the earth, they now emerge into, and take possession of, the air. The stanza makes clear for the first time that the voice of the poem is the first person plural. This means that the poet is speaking as if she is one of the mushrooms.
The mushrooms grow in secret, with no one noticing their presence. The idea is introduced that . . . Read More
Textually, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s ‘‘The Lotus Flowers’’ is a rich poem. Its diction (use of language) reveals its underlying themes, and its structure shapes its meaning. Although the poem is written in free verse, it is divided into two long stanzas of almost identical length (the first stanza is twenty-nine lines; the second is thirty). Both stanzas however, feature a broken line just past their first half, between their eighteenth and nineteenth lines. In the first stanza, the break occurs between the statement that the girls are gathering firewood and the statement that they are in the backwoods (a statement that later found to be erroneous). In the second stanza, the line break occurs between the observation that the snake is like a girl resting her head on her arms and the statement indicating that the speaker is carrying the bucket back to the campsite. In each case, the line break is disorienting. Furthermore, the breaks indicate a falsehood or at least an omission. . . . Read More
‘‘The Lotus Flowers’’ consists of two long stanzas and is written in free verse. Each long stanza, however, is divided, roughly in the middle, by an offset or broken line. In fact, in both stanzas, the broken lines occur between the eighteenth and nineteenth lines. The first stanza consists of twenty-nine lines, and the second of thirty. One of the poem’s central images, that of the water lilies, refers to the poem’s title (lotus flowers are a type of water lily).
The speaker describes a pond’s surface as being of a greenish hue. Algae of a vibrant green color stretch away from the shore and the expansive, rounded leaves of the water lilies touch across the pond. The flowers themselves are white and sit atop the leaves like cups on saucers. LINES 6–10 In line 6, the speaker indicates that she is not alone, that there is a group of people who are bickering and teasing . . . Read More
Langston Hughes has been widely acclaimed as the first true jazz poet, and there is little argument among critics that this is true. Hughes, a black poet of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote poetry unrivaled in its proliferation and depiction of jazz in the early 1900s.
Hughes came upon the heels of Sandburg, encouraged by the publication of ‘‘Jazz Fantasia’’ to extend the form of jazz poetry. His first publication appeared in 1926, five years after the publication of ‘‘Jazz Fantasia,’’ and he drew inspiration from it as the poem that first celebrated the true spirit of jazz.
Sandburg has been classed with poets such as Vachel Lindsay and Edgar Lee Masters, who were considered the voices of Chicago but not poets of jazz. Neither of these writers, nor any before them, wrote anything that referred to jazz as poetry or music, or the power jazz has to conjure deep emotion and express the soul. ‘‘Jazz Fantasia’’ does exactly that. Jazz was not a . . . Read More
Alliteration and Assonance
Alliteration is a poetic device that uses the repetition of consonant sounds that appear close together in the poem. It is similar to rhyming, but the sameness of sound appears at the beginning of the word rather than at the end. This technique gives interest and delight upon reading aloud. Sandburg’s writing is designed to be read aloud—he uses alliteration in the consonants of repeated stressed syllables. The letters b, d, and s are prominently used in the alliteration of this poem. Assonance, or the repetition of a vowel sound, is often combined with alliteration. In this case, u is used after d, a is used after b, and i is often used after s. When the poem softens in tone and the sound of the blues sets in, t is used after s.
Onomatopoeia is the use of a word that imitates the sound it makes. It gives richness and sensory perception to the poem as . . . Read More
The Jazz Age
The 1920s were the beginning of the Jazz Age, when musicians were experimenting with the earliest forms of jazz music. The sound came with the blacks migrating from New Orleans and mixed with the already established ragtime style. In ‘‘Jazz Fantasia,’’ Sandburg praises musicians of 1920, who had just begun to play what was recognized as jazz. His recognition of the genius of the movement and the obstacles it had to overcome compels him to press for more, to congratulate the artists, and to exhort them to play on. Of course, Sandburg can take no credit for the jazz movement, but it is notable that a Swedish American poet would grasp the brilliance of the music that would affect nearly every aspect of modern American music from 1920 to present day. As a poet, he loved the way the music could summon images, evoke strong moods, and soothe the soul.
In his poem . . . Read More
“Jazz Fantasia’’ begins with the drums, the instrument most critical to any jazz musical performance. The drums lead the music by their steady rhythmic beat. They set the tone and mood: the cadence of a dance or shuffle. The rhythm of the first part of the fantasia starts out a steady andante (moderate) jazz tempo. Line 1, if spoken in a standard 4/4 time signature (four beats in a row), should have a strict rhythm. In jazz, the first beat is always given more emphasis than the rest; it is stronger than the rest and serves as the downbeat. This convention is helpful in establishing the rhythm of the piece, and it also gives direction as how to dance or march. The repetition of d’s makes the tongue a percussion instrument on the roof of the mouth, just as the b’s make a drum of the lips.
The saxophones now join the ensemble with a wail. Jazz saxophones usually have a sad, . . . Read More