Poppies in October Poem by Sylvia Plath Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English



“Poppies in October” is a poem by Sylvia Plath that touches themes of death, nature, femininity, and sacrifice. The poem carries Contrasting imagery and confuses the reader to believe the true meaning of the tercets. It also dives deep into Plath’s mind and showcases her mental struggles and inclination towards death. 

About the Poet 

Sylvia Path was an American poet, and writer who suffered from severe depression throughout her life. She attempted suicide multiple times in the 60s and finally succeeded in 1963. Her poems often instilled themes of Love, Death, Nature, Psychic Disorders, and Electra complex. 


“Poppies in October” is composed in four tercets with three lines each, making it a total of 12 lines. There is no consistent metre, the poem is in free verse, also known as blank verse. 

Summary and Analysis

Stanza One  

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.

Nor the woman in the ambulance

Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly —


Even the sun-clouds in the morning today, cannot manage the petals of the poppies and neither can they manage the woman in the ambulance, whose red heart astoundingly blooms through her coat. 


The poem begins as the speaker mentions the “skirts” that the sun-clouds cannot manage. The skirts refer to the petals of the poppies. These petals have round petals and they grow upwards towards the sky. Therefore the speaker says the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage these poppies as they have grown taller.

The next lines of this stanza is quite surreal as it shifts the focus of the poem from nature to something concerning. The poet mentions a woman in the ambulance whose red heart is blooming through her coat, astoundingly. The “red heart blooms” is possibly hinting at bleeding through her heart that stains the coat. And this being the reason for her being in an ambulance. 

Although the true meaning of this concept is unclear, the reader must know that this poem was written by Sylvia Plath around the time of her brutal suicide. Therefore, this poem might capture her thoughts and may showcase how she was obsessed with her death. 

It explains the drastic shift of the time of the first stanza as she was admiring nature in the first line and suddenly she noticed this wounded woman. Furthermore, poppies are connected to eternal sleep or slumber ideas. 

Stanza Two

A gift, a love gift

Utterly unasked for

By a sky


The poet describes it as a gift, a love gift that was unasked for, bestowed by the sky upon her or the woman. The gift that the poet is referring to is unclear in its context. 


The poet does not mention what she considers as a gift. Plath writes it’s a love gift from the sky that was unasked for. If the poet refers to the sun-cloud as the love gift, it shows her interest in the afterlife as sun-clouds are clouds that block the sun that leaves behind darkness with diminishing light. The woman’s wound can be referred to as a love gift which is morbid. 

The love gift can also indicate the woman is pregnant as she is in the ambulance, therefore, a love gift is the gift made from love, that is the child she is bearing. And the gift is utterly unasked for, this could mean the child is unwanted or the mother is going through much pain that she wishes this never happened. 

Stanza Three 

Palely and flamily

Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes

Dulled to a halt under bowlers.


Palely and flamily refers to the sun-clouds that the poet mentioned in the previous stanza. These qualities of the sun and the clouds ignite carbon monoxides but dim the light. This is compared to bowlers as one uses bowlers to prevent the light from directly affecting the eyes. 


The poet again refers to the sunclouds in this stanza. Here, the “Pale” refers to the white clouds and the “flame” refers to the sun. The poet writes these qualities of the sun and the cloud being flamily and palely. The clouds hide the sunlight behind it as it passes by. The contact of these two creates carbon monoxide.

The poet then refers to bowlers, that is bowler hats that one uses to prevent the contact of sun rays from eyes. This is what the poet compares the clouds as, bowler hats. In a much deeper sense, it can also refer to life and death. 

Stanza Four

O my God, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers


The poet again shifts her focus to the flowers that are crying open with their late mouths in  a forest or frost at dawn of cornflowers. 


Plath refers to the flowers that she mentioned in stanza one. She mentions the “late mouth” should “cry open”. This is the process of blooming but she represents it in a melancholic manner. This further talks about the way she saw the world, it had m=become a colder place for Plath and her interest had shifted to these flowers. 

She cries to God in the first line of this stanza, which is followed by her questioning her value. She is clueless of what she is. It may also suggest that she felt flowers may not blossom when she is around because he is not that fortunate. Her perspective is more inclined towards death as her way of describing the flowers changes drastically. Soon after writing this poem, Plath committed suicide.