“Dream With Clam-Diggers”- A Review.

Dream With Clam-Diggers

Sylvia Plath

This dream budded bright with leaves around the edges,
Its clear air winnowed by angels; she was come
Back to her early sea-town home
Scathed, stained after tedious pilgrimages.

Barefoot, she stood, in shock of that returning,
Beside a neighbor’s house
With shingles burnished as glass,
Blinds lowered on that hot morning.

No change met her: garden terrace, all summer
Tanged by melting tar,
Sloped seaward to plunge in blue; fed by white fire,
The whole scene flared welcome to this roamer.

High against heaven, gulls went wheeling soundless
Over tidal-flats where three children played
Silent and shining on a green rock bedded in mud,
Their fabulous heyday endless.

With green rock gliding, a delicate schooner
Decked forth in cockle-shells,
They sailed till tide foamed round their ankles
And the fair ship sank, its crew knelled home for dinner.

Plucked back thus sudden to that far innocence,
She, in her shabby travel garb, began
Walking eager toward water, when there, one by one,
Clam-diggers rose up out of dark slime at her offense.

Grim as gargoyles from years spent squatting at sea’s border
In wait amid snarled weed and wrack of wave
To trap this wayward girl at her first move of love,
Now with stake and pitchfork they advance, flint eyes fixed on murder.

Review- Aiesha Allison-Bramwell

For a while, I have been mesmerised by the tragic life of Sylvia Plath. It almost feels wrong to so captivated by such a thing, am I intruding? Here, we have such an immense talent who was tragically lost to the world. Yet, her literature enwreathes me like no other author I have yet to experience in my short time walking this unruly earth. It is questionable why her work has such an important impact on my life.

Anyway, I digress.  This particular Plath poem: the ‘Dream With Clam-Diggers’ is a reference to a dream the author had where she visited her old home in Massachusetts, bringing up some old memories. The dream like state of the poem is craftily conveyed as though a form of art to the reader through the use of enjambment throughout- making the poem flow in a stream of consciousness.  Upon reading the poem, I was immediately struck by the deep and somewhat vibrant imagery throughout.  The beginning of the poem almost paints a heaven-like picture as it depicts the “budded bright [dream] with bright leaves around the edges”. This initially suggests life to the reader. Moreover, the use of the of the verb ‘budded’ gives connotations of the beginning of new life. For me, he poem is successful in guides the reader throughout one’s life journey, the ‘pilgrimages’ that impact growing up has on one’s physical and mental state. It would be foolish to think that one remains unscarred by the turbulent that life throws them. Here, Plath could be boarding on an almost relatable theme (though deeper connotations may also apply)- the impact of society can have great effect on an individual life in numerous ways and can have calve a person into their current being.

This can be further evidenced by the “gargoyles”- in architecture the statues are used not only for decoration, but for the purposes of keeping rain away running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. Of course, this may be a literal reference to the neighbour’s house obstructing the view, yet it reminded me of the erosion of life over time- both in a literal way and a metaphorical way. It’s not for me to comment on the coloration between happiness and age (I doubt such connections can possibly be made), but theoretically it doesn’t strike as a completely unreasonable comment to make. After all, in the act of growing up, one is more likely to encounter the turbulent I mentioned before. As Plath dreams, back to the beach, she remembers a girl possessed by childhood innocence. I found the metaphor of the “clam-diggers [that] rose up out of the dark slime at her offense” particularly powerful, perfect symbolisation of how something may have a certain impact on one’s life that will stay with them for the rest of time. The idea of the clam shells coming up out of the dark may highlight how one can be so unaware and naive to an event until it has attached its self to them. Although there may be an alternative meaning for this- perhaps the clam shells represent Plath letting us, the reader, into a memory she has held shut for years. If this is the case, the vulnerability of this is something I find beautiful in itself- this gives it the potential to truly connect with Plath and the messages she is trying to convey.

On a final note, I thoroughly enjoyed the clever and intricate use of colours throughout the poem. The imagery of the sea-side town being painted perfectly through the use of cool colours such as the “blue” (connotations of tranquillity), the “white” (connotations of purity, innocence) and the “green” (connotations of nature, the start of new life). By extension of this, the colours depict that of tranquillity and yet the poem is successful in undermining this by the sudden injection of the ‘dark slime’. The “dark” contradicts the connotations of the previous colours- suggesting that of evil and uncertainty. This could be used to mirror the life that Plath is trying to portray; the disruption of the peace by something cold and evil. The colour green is an interesting one as it also may resemble envy. This suggests to me that Plath is again jealous of being a child when she all to live for, he whole life spread out before her. Since then the idealistic, naive life has been ripped from her grasp- perhaps this is a reference to the murder at the end of the poem.


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