Lady Lazarus Poem Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English By Sylvia Plath


In “Lady Lazarus,” Sylvia Plath discusses her three suicidal attempts and failures as well as the mental changes she underwent before her third attempt. Plath is renowned for having a troubled spirit.

Distress is a feeling that most individuals have had at least once. There are no words to adequately describe the depths of this misery. However, Plath adds delicate, lovely words to gloomy, lonely feelings euphemistically.

About The Poet

American poet, novelist, and short-story writer Sylvia Plath was also an artist. She is credited with pioneering confessional poetry, and her published collections are her most well-known works. She was born in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1932, and passed away in Primrose Hill, London, United Kingdom, on February 11, 1963.


Lines 1-3

I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——

Plath is making a reference to suicide. She confesses that she has attempted suicide once every ten years of her life. After comparing her personal suffering to that of the Jewish people, Plath starts to explain to the readers why she has attempted suicide so frequently.

Lines 4-9

A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.

She compares her skin to a “Nazi lampshade” in the second stanza. This explains that Jews’ skin was utilized by the Nazis to produce lampshades. Plath compares her own pain to that of others in Nazi concentration camps using this dreadful symbolism. The speaker compares her right foot to a “paperweight” to demonstrate the depth of her pain.

This analogy demonstrates to the reader how Plath’s suffering weighed heavily on her. She lacks a sense of identity; she feels like a nameless face that no one would spot in the crowd. She also said that her face is like “fine Jew linen.” Before being placed in the tomb, the body of Lazarus was wrapped in Jewish linens. 

Lines 10-15

Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

She challenges readers to “peel off the napkin” and see the real her when she says, “Peel off the napkin.” She doesn’t think anyone would want to get to know her well or go beyond her soul. She thinks that if they did, they would be petrified.

She has this mindset because she is terrified that others will discover that even though she is alive in the flesh, her spirit is gone. She continues to define herself with images of death and decay because of this.

Lines 16-21

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

Plath switches from describing herself as already dead to admitting that she is still surviving. However, the tone of “Lady Lazarus” suggests that she is dissatisfied with her state of existence. Instead of the “smiling woman” of barely thirty that she sees when she looks in the mirror, she views herself as a decaying corpse.

When she makes the contrast between herself and a cat and concludes that it will probably take many more efforts to attain death, she expresses her unhappiness that she has not been able to pass away.

Lines 22-33

This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Then Plath says that she had been very close to passing away every decade. She admits that she had attempted suicide several times when she says, “This is number three.” Then Plath starts to focus on herself and her personal suffering while criticizing those around.

She refers to them as the “peanut crunching crowd,” making the implication that they are solely in her life to make fun of her and ridicule her. She does not contrast herself with Lazarus, who is already buried, this time. She makes a comparison between herself and the person who has risen and is emerging from the tomb still wearing the funeral garment.

She refers to her release from the tomb as “a big strip tease,” making it clear that when she was on the verge of death but was saved, those present were not there to celebrate with her or comfort her but rather to be amused by her. She is frustrated and disappointed that she was unable to stay dead.

Lines 34-39

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut

She is still the same person she was before her death experience, according to this stanza. The first time was an accident, and Plath was only ten years old, she recalls. It is  evident that Plath’s first unintentional near-death experience traumatized her but also made her yearn for another taste of death.

The poem describes how Plath was so close to passing away that she thought she had truly died. She also stated that she “meant to last it out,” which indicates that she genuinely has no desire to live.

Lines 40-42

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

She claims that she kept herself shut like a seashell during her second death experience. The metaphorical “seashell” alludes to the body in which her soul was imprisoned. She made an attempt to liberate her soul from her decaying self by cracking through the shell.

The people who had discovered her at that point had pulled her from the suffocating space. If she had died, she believes they would have picked worms off of her like “sticky pearls.”  She calls the worms “pearls” in this instance.

Lines 43-54

Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:

Plath views dying as an art form similar to everything else, and she is very good at it. She claims she is constantly practicing the art of dying in the first few lines. It implies that she is always plagued by thoughts of suicide. She claims that it makes her thoughts feel like hell. 

When she says that dying is her “call,” it means that she believes her only purpose in life is to pass away. She admits that the only respite she found from pain, emptiness, and numbness came from her close encounters with death. But each time she experiences the brink of death, she ultimately survives only to return to her previous torment.

Lines 55-66

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.

She admits that returning and addressing the crowd is the challenging part. She perceives it as a theatrical procedure. When others refer to her life as “a miracle,” she feels like they are putting her on stage.

Because of this, Plath adopts a sarcastic tone when she suggests that there ought to be a fee for gazing at or touching her. She is so frustrated that she invites them to examine her injuries and her state of mind.  She makes a comparison between herself and a thing that is on display for everyone to see.

The Nazi doctors who saved the Jewish victims’ lives and restored their health only to cause them further pain are referred to as “Doktor” in German. In this line, Plath emphasizes the word “Herr” twice, indicating that men are her enemies and the source of her pain.

Lines 67-72

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Plath starts to explain why males are the enemy. This reflects her idea that males simply value her as an object, finding her attractive but lifeless. She acknowledges that some people value her, especially males, but only as a cold, inanimate object of attractiveness, not as a human. According to Plath, passing away would be like simply enjoying a wonderful work of art.

Lines 73-78

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.

They merely poke and stir the ashes of her thoughts while trying to provoke physical responses from her. But when she declares, “Flesh, bone, there is nothing there,” their effort will be in vain. It indicates that she is already independent of her physical form. Only her wounded mind is left after all has been said and done.

The remains of the charred Jewish victims were reportedly used by the Nazis to produce soap. They searched through piles of human ashes for jewellery and gold fillings. 

Lines 79-84

Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

She goes on to blame God, the Devil, and men, highlighting the fact that both God and Lucifer (the Devil) are males. This demonstrates her feelings of helplessness with men. She warns everyone to “beware.” She might decide to quit trying to kill herself and seek vengeance on men rather than on herself.

Or, she intends to avenge men by returning in the afterlife as an immortal. The “red hair” hints the mythical bird known as the phoenix, which has the ability to burn up and then rise from its ashes. In any case, Plath reminds men worldwide that she is no longer their helpless victim and that she is prepared to take on any.