About the Poet:
Sylvia Plath is one of the most admired poets of the twentieth century, who had established this reputation by the age of thirty. Her violent emotions and obsession with death is something that caught the eye of multitude readers. She is believed to be one of the most controversial postwar poets. In this section, I am going to look at the poem analysis of “By Candlelight” one of her famous poems.
Summary of By Candlelight:
This is winter, this is night, small love —
A sort of black horsehair,
A rough, dumb country stuff
Steeled with the sheen
Of what green stars can make it to our gate.
I hold you in my arm.
It is very late.
The dull bells tongue the hour.
The mirror floats us at one candle power.
The poet is trying to draw an image of a cold and dark night in these lines. She calls it as black as “black horsehair”. She is writing this poem dedicating it to her son, and in these lines she expresses that she is holding her son in her arms, keeping him warm when the bight is chilly and dark, there is silence and loneliness everywhere, which is occasionally broken by the sound of the bells far somewhere. These bells are the marker of time and hour. There is only one thing that keeps them guided and lighted, a sole candle whose light is dancing in the room.
This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither
Only to blow
Them huge again, violent giants on the wall.
One match scratch makes you real.
At first the candle will not bloom at all —
It snuffs its bud to almost nothing, to a dull blue dud.
In these lines, the poet is speaking about her introspection about the time when she had conceived her son, and who was slowly growing in her womb. She feels her son in her womb, in the fluid where he grows slowly day by day, enlarging her belly. She holds the candle and sees the shadow of her womb on the wall, and observes it growing slow by slow. With the scratch of one match stick, the existence of her son comes real by forming a shadow on the wall.
I hold my breath until you creak to life,
Small and cross. The yellow knife
Grows tall. You clutch your bars.
My singing makes you roar.
I rock you like a boat
Across the Indian carpet, the cold floor,
While the brass man
Kneels, back bent as best he can
The poet is giving a description of her childbirth, where she goes through immense pain to bring her son to the earth. She clutches the bars of the bed in pain until the child creaks into life. She rocks him in her arms to calm him down when he is crying. She rocks him like a boat and makes him sleep. And there is only one spectator who watches this, the man of brass molded to be kneeling on the ground, bending.
Hefting his white pillar with the light
That keeps the sky at bay,
The sack of black! It is everywhere, tight, tight!
He is all yours, the little brassy Atlas —
Poor heirloom, all you have
At his heels a pile of five brass cannonballs,
No child, no wife.
Five balls! Five bright brass balls!
To juggle with, my love when the sky falls.
The poet is now writing about leaving the brass candle-stand as the only heirloom for her son, as the candle stand had been a constant thing in their relationship, watching them grow together through joy and sorrow. She wants to leave the candle-stand behind as a memory of their time together. This candle-stand, she hopes, would give him the strength to go through the hard times in life.
The poem is an emotional writing of the poet, where she is talking about her attachment with her son, and she binds the relationship with the candle-stand as their souvenir, which has been a constant element in their dark and happy times. The candle-stand has been her source of light when her child was growing in her womb, and the light from the candle standing erect on the candle-stand threw light when she was giving birth to her child. Since then, in every dark and cold day, the candle-stand would be their constant source of light.
The poet describes the time when she would not be around her child anymore, which is somewhere like she has predicted her death in this poem. She writes that when she is no more around him, this candle stand would give him the strength to go through all the dark times in life, and her blessings and love would be on him through this.
Critical Analysis of By Candlelight:
Rhyme Style and Structure of By Candlelight:
In the entire poem, the poet has not maintained any strict rhyming style or structure. In the first stanza, the poet has followed a rhyming structure like:
Poetic Devices in By Candlelight:
The theme of By Candlelight:
The theme of this poem is that deep sorrow of the poet that she will not be able to spend her life with her child, whom she bore for nine months inside her, and for whom she bore immense pain to bring him to this world. She grew as a mother with him, but she wouldn’t be able to continue the rest of her life with him. Hence, she leaves the candle-stand behind, which has been their constant source of company, hope, and light through their journey together. This poem is like her announcement of death, and what she wants to leave behind for her son.