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The Poets

October 29, 2010

Of Solipsism- A Plath Poem



What an awesome read! Not only does Plath construct a poem containing wonderfully employed imagery within a gorgeous structure, but on top of this takes on a philosophical concept that many people are unaware of: solipsism.

Solipsism is the philosophical position that contends that a given individual’s mind is the only knowable reality there is (a concept that’s intimately connected to idealism). Some have gone as far as to state that there is in fact no independent, external reality; that that which we perceive to be ‘the external world’ is really nothing more than the conjecturing of ideas that exist with the individual’s mind alone … in its extreme from it asserts that the individual (whoever that may be) is not only the basis of reality, but the creator and destroyer of it.

The illusion of an objective reality is so utterly persuasive that, according to this philosophical position, we cannot but help to live as if this were so. If the illusion were to give way and I were to see clearly that reality is nothing more than the conglomerate of ideas I have pertaining to it, well, I’d be able to make things disappear or come into being at will.

Plath takes this strange philosophy and skillfully utilizes it in the poem this post pertains to. I was taken back- I had no idea that Plath was in the least familiar with philosophy (let alone solipsism). To my mind Coleridge is one of the more philosophical of the poets, and has written several with topics that are very philosophical. But Plath’s poem here … incredible. She may not be one of the more philosophical of the poets, but this poem is by far one of the most philosophical ones in circulation. Check it out.



Soliloquy of the Solipsist

I?
I walk alone;
The midnight street
Spins itself from under my feet;
When my eyes shut
These dreaming houses all snuff out;
Through a whim of mine
Over gables the moon's celestial onion
Hangs high.


I
Make houses shrink
And trees diminish
By going far; my look's leash
Dangles the puppet-people
Who, unaware how they dwindle,
Laugh, kiss, get drunk,
Nor guess that if I choose to blink
They die.

I
When in good humor,
Give grass its green
Blazon sky blue, and endow the sun
With gold;
Yet, in my wintriest moods, I hold
Absolute power
To boycott any color and forbid any flower
To be.

I
Know you appear
Vivid at my side,
Denying you sprang out of my head,
Claiming you feel
Love fiery enough to prove flesh real,
Though it's quite clear
All your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear,
From me.



Of the Poem (Notes):

I walk alone

For solipsism to be true there could only exist one individual who has the capacity to generate or dissolve reality.

The midnight street / Spins itself from under my feet

Wonderful imagery. The poet (our solipsist) is quite aware that reality is being generated by the ideas she projects (hence, with every step, the very street beneath her feet emerges).

When my eyes shut / These dreaming houses all snuff out

For the solipsist, things exist because they’re perceived to exist. If these things fell out of the range of perception they would cease to have being (they would be snuffed out, so to speak). Should the solipsist grant attention to this or that given idea, this or that given idea would manifest as an existing entity (through a whim of mine the moon hangs high).

I / Make houses shrink / And trees diminish / By going far

Again, it’s in relation to the poet’s perspective that things diminish or increase, have being or non-being … even people (lines 14 - 19).

And it’s not just perception that can affect what is and is not, but even moods can alter reality’s contents (the third stanza).

The final stanza does it for me! Just when you think the poem was constructed to specifically convey a philosophical position (which it does), and just when you think a philosophical truth is on the verge of emerging, the poet alters the voice of her pen and directs her verse to the one she, albeit chidingly, loves.


I
Know you appear
Vivid at my side,
Denying you sprang out of my head,
Claiming you feel
Love fiery enough to prove flesh real,
Though it's quite clear
All your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear,
From me.

As of April 9th, 2010