This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky —
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness –
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.
– Sylvia Plath
“The Moon and the Yew Tree” is a beautifully written poem and its splendor lies in the fact that Sylvia Plath perceives so many beautiful sights and yet finds desolation in each. She has made an extensive use of symbols, personifications and diction that, quite clearly, depict her melancholy. The fundamental theme of the poem revolves around her bleakness owing to the untimely death of her father and strained relations with her mother. The acute isolation, in turn, calls on her to connect with her surroundings, with nature. The attempt, however, fails. Here, “The Moon” has been personified as her mother while “The Yew Tree” is the symbol of her father.
In an urge to get rid of her desolation, she begins to connect with nature and claims to understand the tiny elements of nature that surround her. She perceives trees as ‘black’ which means that the sensation of darkness outweighs the joyous and scenic aspect of nature. She feels that “The grasses unload their grief’s” at her feet. At once, she has pedestalized herself to the stature of “God” while reducing the element of nature (grass). This is also suggestive of the hopelessness she feels around her. She has lost the sense to sense the beauty around her. Instead, they bring her further down. The poem also suggests a superficial bonding between the poet and her mother. This is depicted by the personification of ‘moon’ as her mother, distant and cold. Her mother is not someone she could connect to and escape to, from her predicaments (The moon is no door). The simile, “White as a knuckle” renders a creepy attribute to her mother. “the O-gape of complete despair” suggests lack of communication between the mother and the daughter. She feels that her mother ‘is not sweet like Mary’. She wants to ‘believe in tenderness’ and feel the gentle gaze of her mother. The Yew tree is often found near churches, rendering them a holy aspect. Plath, however, sees it as ‘Gothic’ and as an epitome of ‘blackness and silence’. The Yew tree symbolizes her dead father. This personification also suggests her inability to associate her persona with religion which further aggravates her feeling of loneliness.
The despondent tone of the poet is observed right from the first stanza where she uses highly contrasting symbols and dreary imagery. For instance, “the light of the mind, cold and planetary.” As the conventions goes, light gives a sense of warmth and security, illuminates the hidden and the dark and is often seen as ‘hope’. But Plath here, goes against the convention and sees ‘light’ as being ‘cold’ and renders an eerie element to it. Also, “The moon is no door” suggests lack of hope, guidance and opportunities which is ironical because the moon is believed to show direction and illuminate the dark world. Also, the association of ‘holiness’ with ‘stiff’ indicates the lack of natural self and belief in religion and rejection of the idea of self-betterment, often linked with holiness. A lot of other symbols provide a solemn and dull tone to the poem. Objects from the cemeteries like, “headstones”, “Yew tree”, “spiritual mists” and “floating saints” are suggestive of melancholiness. The use of nocturnal animals in “small bats and owls” again indicates darkness and murkiness. Also, the repetition of ‘blackness’ in the last stanza emphasizes ghostliness and obscurity. The color ‘blue’ stands for disillusionment.
The poem thus, gives an impression of the poet’s state of melancholic mind that fails to comprehend the beauty of its surroundings owing to the despair and pain that dwells within her mind and soul. The lack of guidance and belief from her parents, a sense of detachment from God himself and after failed attempts to identify herself with her surroundings, at last, she is bound to retreat to ‘blackness and silence’.