“the surgeon at 2 a.m.” is one of, if not my favorite poem by the poet sylvia plath. the moment i read it, i was hooked. i spent the later half of that night reading it over and over again, and even geeking out about the poem to my mother. so, i thought it would be fun to geek out about it to you guys as well!! here are my favorite lines from plath’s “the surgeon at 2 a.m.”
*this is not a literary analysis
The white light is artificial, and hygienic as heaven.
The microbes cannot survive it.
They are departing in their transparent garments, turned aside
From the scalpels and the rubber hands.
The scalded sheet is a snowfield, frozen and peaceful.
The body under it is in my hands.
As usual there is no face. A lump of Chinese white
With seven holes thumbed in. The soul is another light.
I have not seen it; it does not fly up.
Tonight it has receded like a ship’s light.
It is a garden I have to do with —- tubers and fruit
Oozing their jammy substances,
A mat of roots. My assistants hook them back.
Stenches and colors assail me.
This is the lung-tree.
These orchids are splendid. They spot and coil like snakes.
The heart is a red bell-bloom, in distress.
I am so small
In comparison to these organs!
I worm and hack in a purple wilderness.
The blood is a sunset. I admire it.
I am up to my elbows in it, red and squeaking.
Still is seeps me up, it is not exhausted.
So magical! A hot spring
I must seal off and let fill
The intricate, blue piping under this pale marble.
How I admire the Romans —-
Aqueducts, the Baths of Caracella, the eagle nose!
The body is a Roman thing.
It has shut its mouth on the stone pill of repose.
It is a statue the orderlies are wheeling off.
I have perfected it.
I am left with and arm or a leg,
A set of teeth, or stones
To rattle in a bottle and take home,
And tissues in slices—a pathological salami.
Tonight the parts are entombed in an icebox.
Tomorrow they will swim
In vinegar like saints’ relics.
Tomorrow the patient will have a clean, pink plastic limb.
Over one bed in the ward, a small blue light
Announces a new soul. The bed is blue.
Tonight, for this person, blue is a beautiful color.
The angels of morphia have borne him up.
He floats an inch from the ceiling,
Smelling the dawn drafts.
I walk among sleepers in gauze sarcophagi.
The red night lights are flat moons. They are dull with blood.
I am the sun, in my white coat,
Grey faces, shuttered by drugs, follow me like flowers.
it is a garden i have to deal with- tubers and fruit oozing their jammy substances, a mat of roots. my assistants hook them back.
i absolutely love how this poem looks at organs; a garden. almost like a map of things, strategically placed inside every human being.
this is the lung-tree these orchids are splendid. they spot and coil like snakes. the heart is a red-bloom, in distress. i am so small in comparison to these organs! i worm and hack in a purple wilderness.
something so unnerving, yet presented as though it is a ‘purple wilderness’, full of red-bloom hearts and lung-trees, orchids and feats of great patience and time.
the intricate, blue piping under this pale marble how i admire the romans- aqueducts, the baths of caracella, the eagle nose! the body is a roman thing. it has shut its mouth on the stone pill of repose.
probably my favorite set of lines in the poem. the body is a roman thing. that line persists through everything for me. i can feel my hands over the “marble” surface of skin, comparing it to the roman architecture of aqueducts. the stone pill of repose almost feels roman itself, and i can feel the cold stone statue of sleep on my face every time i read it.
tonight, for this person, blue is a beautiful color.
the angels of morphia have borne him up.
he floats an inch from the ceiling,
smelling the dawn drafts.
i walk among sleepers in gauze sarcophagi.
the red night lights are flat moons. they are dull with blood.
i am the sun, in my white coat,
grey faces, shuttered by drugs, follow me like flowers.
almost this entire stanza staggers me. the portrayal of death is unlike no other; grey faces, shuttered by drugs, follow me like flowers. i can see languid movements instilled by death in my face, of course in the form of flowers. the garden theme starts out blooming, beating, and utterly alive. then, by the time we get to the end, the garden is dying. in a drug-like haze, this blooming, beating vessel is now slowly following someone else’s motions: the sun in their white coat.
this poem is honestly so beautiful and utterly haunting. i will never get tired of it. i hope you enjoyed my short little commentary. see you next week:)