Ted Hughes ‘Sam’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Whiteness I remember’ Essay Sample
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Ted Hughes ‘Sam’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Whiteness I remember’ Essay Sample
“Representations of any event, personality or situation are affected by the ways composers make selections, often resulting in conflicting perspectives” Discuss this statement in reference to Ted Hughes ‘Sam’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Whiteness I Remember’.
Composers construct their own representations of events, personalities or situations; they manipulate the features of their texts in order to achieve a particular effect/impact on the responder. These constructions can be influenced by many factors and thus this leads to conflicting perspectives amongst texts. Ted Hughes poem ‘Sam’ and Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Whiteness I Remember’ demonstrate the way in which differing perspectives can lead to conflicting representations of similar events and personalities. Both composers creatively reflect on a key event that occurred in Sylvia’s life and portray conflicting perceptions of Sylvia herself and the meaning behind the ride that is intertwined throughout their work. Hughes and Plath are both influenced by differing factors, their representations are therefore contradictory to each other and thus this leads to conflicting responses from their audiences.
Sylvia Plath’s ‘Whiteness I Remember’ is a firsthand account of the first time she rode a horse and the exhilarating yet frightening experience that she had. Sylvia tells the facts of the ride and also attempts to recreate the sensation of how it felt physically and emotionally. Plath emphasises the idea that the horse, ‘Sam’, was chosen as he was normally very stable and suitable for first time riders, this idea is constructed through an accumulation of images and adjectives. For example, she emphasises his ordinariness when describing his history as ‘Humdrum, unexceptionable, his/ Tried sobriety hiring hum out to novices’. Sylvia also recreates the scene and the feelings she experienced via alliteration and simile, she states ‘First horse under me, high as the roofs,/ His neat trot pitching my tense poise up’. This allows audiences to visualise better the great size of Sam as well as Plath’s unsettled nerves, thus enhancing the wildness of the ride. Plath speeds the pace of the poem through emotive language, ‘To a giddy jog’, and then through metaphor she attempts to capture the speed of the horse’s gallop, ‘Green grass streaming, houses a river/ of pale fronts…’
Plath also compares the hooves beating below her head to a blacksmith’s anvil, ‘the hard road an anvil, hooves four hammers to jolt me off into their space of being’, this captures her closeness to the road and the danger of her position. Sylvia uses her poem as a tool to recapture her personal experience with Sam and the ‘great run he gave [her]’, she was terrified but at the same time exhilarated by the thrill of the danger.
‘Sam’ is Hughes retrospective interpretation of the event in Plath’s life, which she represented in ‘Whiteness I Remember’, that occurred before she had met him. Hughes offers a conflicting perspective of Plath’s personality, he is portrayed as the victim of Plath’s unstable, out of control and provocative behaviour. The sustained metaphor of the horse ride establishes this perspective of Plath’s erratic behaviour. He begins the poem with a direct address to Plath, ‘your white horse, the white calm stallion, Sam/’, suggesting that she had chosen not to admit being the cause of the event. The underlying bitter and accusing tone emphasises this idea of Plath being the reason why Sam ‘Decided he’d had enough/and started home at a gallop’. This conflicts with Plath’s description as she expresses the idea that ‘…for ill will’ and much to her surprise Sam chose to set off into a wild gallop.
Despite this it is evident that Hughes seems to accept Plath’s account of the event, ‘I can live/ Your incredulity, your certainty/ That this was it/’, and he does adhere closely to her description of the ride. However, the repetition of ‘you’ in ‘…You lost your stirrups…/You lost your reins, you lost your seat/’, combine to represent Plath as a terrified victim unable to control or take responsibility for the consequences of her own actions and therefore leaving her emotionally fragile and destructive. In contrast to this Plath’s poem suggests she was exhilarated by the speed and danger and identified with the horses’ rebellion against the ‘humdrum’ of suburbia. It is evident that Hughes is recounting his observations of the event, he includes physical details of the horse, surroundings and the physical violence Plath endured. This detail exemplifies the truth of the poem’s report; however Hughes poem is distanced from the actual event.
The choices that Hughes has made differ from Plath’s as he is recounting the event and Plath’s personality from a different perspective. Hughes also intertwines his relationship with Plath and is influenced by the history of their relationship. Plath’s poem however, is a first-hand account of an event which took place before her and Hughes’s met, thus both composers are influenced by differing context leading to different poetic choices and conflicting perspectives. Plath’s ‘Whiteness I remember’, is a representation of a highly significant moment that occurred in her life. The reality of her situation was that she had no control over it, and in that life and death situation, the world suddenly came into focus for her. The intensity of the situation allowed Plath to focus on what mattered most at that moment, hanging on. Plath metaphorically states that the world had stopped in the path of Sam, ‘The world subdues to his run of it’, and thus it was during these moments where she ‘…hung on his neck’ with great determination to survive.
This concept of being fiercely determined or resolute to survive is what Plath describes as a moment that ‘Simplified me (Plath), this event has become fixed in her memory and has potentially changed significantly Plath’s thinking. “Spinning to still in his one whiteness” completes Plath’s metaphor of a spinning colour wheel that blends the rainbow riot of colour in the terrifying ride into the “whiteness” of her now calmer memory. This idea is also reflected in the title ‘Whiteness I remember’ as the “whiteness” of Sam and the clarity that it brought is her most significant memory of the event. The entire poem is a metaphor for life and those moments that most affect us most, for Plath this ride both exhilarated and terrified her. It brought about a new sense of awareness of what really mattered, she metaphorically describes ‘…fear, wisdom, at one’ and thus she saw the fear and the wisdom all at once, all contained within that which she could see “his one whiteness”.
The theme of Hughes’ ‘Sam’ differs dramatically from that of Plath’s ‘Whiteness I Remember’. Hughes has a different purpose in recounting the story, he is telling a different truth from Plath. Hughes metaphorically compares his relationship with Plath to the ride on Sam; early in the poem the horse represents Plath’s tumultuous and emotional behaviour. During the third stanza Hughes begins with a series of rhetorical questions, ‘…Did you have a helmet? / How did you cling on? /…What saved you?’. It is evident that Hughes’ persistent queries probe Plath’s life at large, he is questioning how Plath managed to cling to her existence in spite of its terrors. He suggests that it was not through any ability of her own but ‘Something in you not you did it for itself’. This metaphor is insinuating that it may have been Plath’s poems, ‘hammocked in your body’, determined to endure and be expressed that saved themselves and thus Plath.
Hughes also alludes to Plath’s self-destructive impulse that twice drove her to attempt to escape her depression through suicide. The metaphor ‘That gallop/ Was practice, but not enough, and quite useless’ insinuates that similar to the ride Plath endured her suicide attempts were not enough, she did not learn enough about herself in order to survive. In a subtle shift within the last stanza, the metaphor of the horse becomes Hughes who is represented as damaged and silenced by Plath’s fatal action. Plath ‘rode’ Hughes but as he jumped she ‘strangled’ him for ‘One giddy moment, then fell off,/’. Unlike her ride on Sam, Plath wilfully ‘Flung yourself off and under my feet’ in order to trip Hughes and ‘lay dead’.
Hughes positions Plath as an erratic and tempestuous personality who swept him aside in a paranoid rush. The event has been transformed into the situation of their troubled marriage, as Hughes’ remembers the sequence of marriage, break-up and suicide it would appear to be ‘Over in a flash’. In this way, and through the use of metaphor, Hughes exonerates himself from blame of Plath’s death and positions readers to view him as the victim, not Plath. Through this final stanza, it is evident that composer’s motives and thus their choices influence the texts they produce. Plath and Hughes both had differing reasons for writing a poem about the same event and thus this has led to conflicting perspectives.
Representations of any events, personalities or situations and the choices that composers make in order to convey these elements are influenced by a mired of factors. This consequently results in conflicting perspectives and thus positions the responder to view these events, personalities and situations from different outlooks. Ted Hughes ‘Sam’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Whiteness I Remember’ both recount Plath’s first horse ride and the sensations of the event. However, Plath uses this poem as an opportunity to express a significant moment in her life that both terrified and humbled her.
She was both exhilarated and petrified; her physical vulnerability brought about revelation and consequently is thought about as a positive life changing experience. Hughes’ choice of techniques consequently leads to a conflicting perspective, the influence of his and Plath’s relationship also adds to the contrasting nature of his poem. Hughes positions the responder to view Plath as destructive, erratic and emotionally unstable. Her personality is contrasted in both poems and Hughes insinuates that he is in fact a victim of Plath’s behaviour and thus is not to blame for her death. Conflicting pressures within both composers’ life have led to different poetic choices and this quite evidently has resulted in conflicting perspectives.