¡§The Disquieting Muses¡¨ (2022)

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SYLVIA PLATH

¡§The Disquieting Muses¡¨

Study Guide

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Summary ¡U Pictorial Background ¡U Biographical Background

Mythological Source¡U Form and Diction ¡UCommentary

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Summary:

In the opening stanza, the speaker blames her mother for letting the sinister elements enter into her life from infancy. While the five negative prefixes ("illbred," "disfigured," "unsightly," "unwisely" and "Unasked") demonstrate negative elements, the repetition of "Mother, mother" indicates the speaker's anger and accusations against her mother. Instead of the presence of a loving mother, the haunting godmothers present themselves "With heads like darning-eggs to nod / And nod and nod at foot and head," like singing a distasteful lullaby to the baby. And they demonstrate a control over the infant by surrounding the cradle.

(Video) The Disquieting Muses--Read By Sylvia Plath

The speaker then portrays in the second stanza the idealistic childlike world that the mother wants to establish for the children. The mother provides the children with a world where there are only imaginative heroes and where evil does not exist or is easily dismissed. But the mother's heroic stories do not expel the evil muses; on the contrary, she is unable to perceive their presence and powerless to drive them away.

The third stanza illustrates a hurricane episode. The mother idealistically instructs the children that thunder is only a mythological god who is harmless, yet the wicked muses rupture the father's study windows as easily as breaking bubbles. Their destructive power is more vicious than the hurricane. By destroying the father's bubble-like windows¡Xa symbol of the paternal intelligence and the fragility of the mother's protection¡Xthe speaker affirms the persistence of negative elements in her life.

In the fourth and fifth stanza, the failure in dancing and piano lessons indicates the speaker's rejection of the mother's conventional culture. The muses not only accompany the speaker since her infancy, they also eventually make her one of them. While the speaker depicts her inability to inherit the mother's values, she describes herself with a likeness of the muses: "heavy-footed, stood aside / In the shadow," "my touch / Oddly wooden," and "my ear / Tone-deaf."

The last two stanzas visualize the contrast of the fragile, beautiful, idealized world that the mother lives in and the cold, hard, shadowy world where the speaker remains. The mother¡¦s bubble world is so unreal that it disappears whenever the speaker tries to get in. The repetition of "never" reinforces that the existence of such a world is impossible. The speaker has to face the indifferent blank-face muses and their twilight kingdom. The never setting sun suggests a timeless space, where life stops and nothing grows. However, the speaker determines that she will confront the ominous world when she tells her mother that "no frown of mine / Will betray the company I keep." The cold, flat tone of the last line, ironically, demonstrates a helpless cry.

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Pictorial Background:<![if !vml]>¡§The Disquieting Muses¡¨ (1)<![endif]>Sylvia Plath¡¦s poem is inspired by Giorgio de Chirico's 1917 painting with the same title. Although the background is located in an Italian city, Ferrara, de Chirico, actually, creates a hallucinatory, and even ominous, timeless space. The three muses are all featureless, bald, cold and sterile mannequins. The bright colors do not provide them with liveliness; on the contrary, the colors make the muses much more unhuman-like. While the faraway castle, the pale mannequins and the geometric objects construct a dreamlike vision, the turquoise sky, the red castle, the red chimneys, the orange ground, the unseen setting sun, and the long dark shadows provoke a kind of tense, disturbing, and even sinister atmosphere. The setting with mannequins in a metaphysical landscape creates an effect of placing motionless protagonists on a haunting stage. Everything is still. There is no action and no definite consequence foreshadowed.

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(Video) Sylvia Plath reads "The Disquieting Muses"

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Biographical Background:

The bedtime stories in stanza two are centered on Warren's (Plath's younger brother) favorite teddy bear, "The Adventures of Mixie Blackshort," which Mrs. Plath invented, and which ran into nightly installments for several years.

The hurricane episode in the third stanza is also a private event from Plath's childhood. In a BBC essay on the memory of sea, Plath recounts a hurricane in 1939: "The rain set in, one huge Noah douche. Then the wind. The world had become a drum. Beaten, it shrieked and shook. Pale and elated in our beds, my brother and I sipped our nightly hot drink. We could, of course, not sleep" (Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams).

The Thor song is a song that relates to Plath¡¦s father. In a short story about her father, "Among the Bumblebees," Plath describes how the protagonist's father teaches her to sing the Thor song: "Alice learned to sing the thunder song with her father: 'Thor is angry. Thor is angry. Boom, boom, boom! Boom, boom, boom! We don't care. We don't care. Boom, boom, boom!' And above the resonant resounding baritone of her father's voice, the thunder rumbled harmless as a tame lion" (Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams).

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(Video) The Disquieting Muses

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Mythological Source:Muses: In Greek mythology, they are nine by number. The muses are the daughters of the Titan Mnemosyne and Zeus. They are the goddesses of all arts and sciences, and give the artists and scientists their inspiration.

Calliope - epic poetry
Euterpe - lyric poetry and song accompanied by flute
Erato - love poetry
Polyhymnia - sacred poetry and dance
Melpomene - tragedy
Thalia - comedy
Clio - history
Terpsichore - dance and choral songs
Urania ¡V astronomy

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Form and Diction:

The nursery rhyme is juxtaposed with the flat conversational tone. Repetitions like "to nod / And nod and nod," "whose witches always, always / Got baked into gingerbread," "Thor is angry: boom boom boom! Thor is angry: we don't care!" "you cried and cried," "I learned, I learned, I learned," "flowers and bluebirds that never were / Never, never, found anywhere," are in contrast with the dialogized lines.

Vocabularies are divided into two groups. One group describes the idealistic world¡XMixie Blackshort the heroic bear, gingerbread, bubbles, cookies and Ovaltine, fireflies, glowworm, twinkle-dress, balloon, flowers and bluebirds, soap-bubble. The other group intimates de Chirico's muses and their sinister world¡Xdarning-eggs, mouthless, eyeless, stitched bald head, shadow, heavy-footed, dismal-headed, tone-deaf, gowns of stone, blank faces, and the setting sun.

(Video) Sylvia Plath + The Faction - The Disquieting Muses

The word "mother" repeats in the poem nine times. The repetitions of "Mother, mother" that appear in the first and last stanzas explain an eagerness to arouse the mother's attention. However, the word "mother" also carries a sarcastic intensity, especially the "dear mother."

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<![if !supportLists]>n <![endif]>Commentary:

Sylvia Plath¡¦s ekphrastic poem illustrates a non-communicative mother-daughter relationship. While de Chirico's painting strips the objects of meaning and portrays an enigmatic vision between surreal subconscious and inaccessible memories, Plath's poem borrows the haunting figures in the picture as a representation of the dark force of life. These bare, indifferent mannequins become not only delegates of ominous women, but also representatives of the bad fairies and the evil mothers, who are the opposites of the well-meaning natural mother. The poem therefore suggests a contrast between light and dark, ideal and familiar. The three muses are surrogates of a cold, indifferent, painful, realistic world. These evil mothers overshadow the natural mother, who lives in a fairylike, cartoon world and is not aware of the presence of them. Like the good fairies in "Sleeping Beauty¡¨ and the muses of Greek mythology, the muses in the poem are the speaker's patrons; but unlike the good fairies, the three muses do not give her good gifts. Plath herself commented the three dummies represent a twentieth-century version of other sinister trios of women: the Three Fates, the witches in Macbeth, and de Quincey's sisters of madness. With many details from her childhood, the first-person speaker describes her growing awareness of the conflict between two worlds, and later realizes that she belongs to the dark, ominous one. And by accepting the existence of the dark side in her life, the speaker thus symbolically destroys the natural mother's idealistic world and creates her own world, with the three muses as her company.

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(Video) The Disquieting Muses

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FAQs

What is the theme of the disquieting muses? ›

A dark and sad poem about the passing away of the poet's mother, and the subsequent intensifying of the darkness that has always surrounded the poet since her birth.

Where is the Disquieting Muses? ›

The Disquieting Muses by Giorgio de Chirico

The Disquieting Muses is an oil painting produced between 1916 and 1918 by Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. A copy of this painting is still located at the Italian Trade Commission (ITC) office in New York City.

When was disquieting muses painted? ›

Videos

1. The Disquieting Muses - Sylvia Plath
(poem notes)
2. The Disquieting Muses
(Drouth - Topic)
3. The Disquieting Muses
(Silvija Zaķe - Topic)
4. Jigsaw Puzzle Time Lapse - The Disquieting Muses, by Clementoni - 1000 pieces
(Cronicas Puzzleras)
5. The Disquieting Muses
(Silvija Zaķe - Topic)
6. The Disquieting Muses by Sylvia Plath
(David Hart)

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