The Night Dances Analysis
‘‘The Night Dances,” describes, according to Ted Hughes, ‘‘a revolving dance which her baby son performed at night in his crib. ” The smile that falls surrealistically into the grass at the beginning of this poem is ‘‘irretrievable,” and the speaker compares this to the dancing gestures of her baby, which seem so signi? cant to her that she ? nds it hard to believe they are merely ephemeral: ‘‘Surely they travel / The world forever, I shall not entirely / Sit emptied of beauties, the gift / Of your small breath, the drenched grass / Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies. ‘ The image of the lilies is then considered in its uniqueness—it is as if Plath is deconstructing the poem as she writes it—‘‘their ? esh bears no relation. Cold folds of the ego, the calla, / And the tiger, embellishing itself— / Spots, and a spread of hot petals.
” This is the alienation of extreme self-involvement: a lily is not just a lily but is classi? ed according to species; the calla lily (from the Greek kallos) is wrapped up in its own cold beauty while the tiger lily embellishes itself alone. This introduces the theme of indifference, or, as this poem expresses it, amnesia: ‘The comets / Have such a space to cross, / Such coldness, forgetfulness. ” She considers the movement of the comets to be a more appropriate metaphor for her son’s gestures: ‘‘so your gestures ? ake off— / Warm and human, then their pink light / Bleeding and peeling / Through the black amnesias of heaven. ” By this time the speaker seems to have given up her belief that the self and its gestures can retain their identity, and the image is a disturbing one, a vision of dismemberment. In ‘‘The Night Dances” the self is a disintegrating structure, its gestures inevitably swallowed up in inhospitable and unconscious space.
The fatalistic tone of the poem is re? ected in Plath’s avoidance of the question mark, a technique she uses here twice: ‘‘And how will your night dances lose themselves. ” And again at the end, when she compares her son’s dances to falling snow: ‘‘Why am I given / these lamps, these planets / Falling like blessings, like ? akes / Six-sided, white / On my eyes, my lips, my hair / Touching and melting. / Nowhere. ” The speaker of ‘‘The Night Dances” entertains no hope of an answer to her questions. This poem provides an image of self not as emergent but as fragmented, dissipated, obsolescent.