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Aerialist -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury:
(Poem #1650) Aerialist
 Each night, this adroit young lady
 Lies among sheets
 Shredded fine as snowflakes
 Until dream takes her body
 From bed to strict tryouts
 In tightrope acrobatics.

 Nightly she balances
 Cat-clever on perilous wire
 In a gigantic hall,
 Footing her delicate dances
 To whipcrack and roar
 Which speak her maestro's will.

 Gilded, coming correct
 Across that sultry air,
 She steps, halts, hung
 In dead center of her act
 As great weights drop all about her
 And commence to swing.

 Lessoned thus, the girl
 Parries the lunge and menace
 Of every pendulum;
 By deft duck and twirl
 She draws applause; bright harness
 Bites keen into each brave limb

 Then, this tough stint done, she curtsies
 And serenely plummets down
 To traverse glass floor
 And get safe home; but, turning with trained eyes,
 Tiger-tamer and grinning clown
 Squat, bowling black balls at her.

 Tall trucks roll in
 With a thunder like lions; all aims
 And lumbering moves

 To trap this outrageous nimble queen
 And shatter to atoms
 Her nine so slippery lives.

 Sighting the stratagem
 Of black weight, black bail, black truck,
 With a last artful dodge she leaps
 Through hoop of that hazardous dream
 To sit up stark awake
 As the loud alarmclock stops.

 Now as penalty for her skill,
 By day she must walk in dread
 Steel gaunticts of traffic, terror-struck
 Lest, out of spite, the whole
 Elaborate scaffold of sky overhead
 Fall racketing finale on her luck.
-- Sylvia Plath
One of the lesser known poems of Plath's short but prolific career, this
poem belongs to the phase Hughes classified as "Juvenilia" - poems written
in her early teenage years. This poem is by no means an example of her best,
nor her most powerful work. Nevertheless, it showcases the development of a
vivid imagination and what was to become her characteristic fascination with
the dark side of human experience.

Plath's remarkable imagery never ceases to amaze. She brings the dream
circus to life - the young aerialist deftly, almost calmly negotiating
obstacles, while the circus conspires to "shatter to atoms/ Her nine so
slippery lives". The relentless pressure builds until the "escape" of the
penultimate stanza, when the final, inescapable "dread" of reality catches

And one can't help but marvel at the deft pun on the title and theme - is
the aerialist a realist?


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