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Sylvia Plath, Poetry and Works of Art


            Sylvia Plath wrote many poems based on modernist and surrealist paintings in her short career as a writer. Some of these she wrote to describe the visual beauty of the painting in words, while others were almost entirely unrelated to the paintings they were supposed to be based on. In these cases, she uses both the titles of the paintings and the titles' connotations in order to express her own internal desires. Regardless of the way in which she uses these works of art in her poetry, it is clear that she gains inspiration from them.
             Plath's "Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies " is an incredibly vivid poem that uses visual imagery to describe the scene of Henri Rousseau's "The Dream. " The painting itself is bizarre, with the main focus being a nude woman, dubbed Yadwigha by Plath, lying on a red couch in a jungle, and Plath seems to recognize and appreciate this oddity for what it is. She refutes the complaints of critics who say that a red couch has no right to be amidst this jungle scenery and justifies its presence as beautiful when contrasting with the delicate elegance of nature. She mentions how the contrast of the red "against fifty variants of green " (19) draws attention to the couch and Yadwigha lying upon it, making her seem even more stunning simply because she poses on something unexpected. In the second stanza, Plath addresses the complaints of critics that Yadwigha must choose between the natural green of the jungle and "the fashionable monde of the red couch " (10). The tone of the poem is very against choosing one world over the other, suggesting that Plath thinks both can exist together, complementing rather than opposing each other.
             ¬†When Henri Rousseau first unveiled his masterpiece "The Dream"" in 1910, it was immediately recognized as beautiful but was also widely misunderstood. The painting is appropriately titled. As Rousseau once explained, "The woman on the sofa dreams that she has been transferred to this forest and she listens to the sound of the snake charmer.


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