The Night Dances
The poem “The Night Dances” by Sylvia Plath intrigues in its twists about an unfathomable darkness (Plath 1). From a basic perspective, the poem talks of dances by Nicholas, her toddler son. The kid would wake up at night and perform little movements. Plath swings the readers from common human life gestures and the affection found there to a universe that trivializes these gestures and renders them more intriguing. From the title, the poet creates a form of ambiguity that should keep the readers hooked to the poem. The transition from a happy start to a cold ending – the “gestures” fade and “bleed” through the “black amnesias of heaven” (Plath 1). Essentially, the poem focuses on the theme of transitions in life, the beauty of life and its fragility demonstrated. As the baby sleeps, it makes small movements. The theme is universal because it applies to any individual, despite his or her geographic location or cultural background. While events may change, the beauty and tranquillity of a child rarely changes. However, the fragility is seen in the changes in life as the child grows and life takes new courses.
While the poem has many literary devices including similes, alliteration, personification, and metaphor, allusion takes the centre stage in the entire poem. As Saunders (256) observed, allusion has a wide range of application in imaginative writing. Handling allusion ably in writing achieves more than explaining each part of the work, for instance, in flavouring the work. People often use allusions even in their daily lives. For example, comedians, who are artists, will allude to events or persons without describing them fully. For instance, a comedian may poke fun on a politician by talking indirectly about events related to that politician. Similarly, cartoonists have also used allusions in their artistic works. Political cartoonists are a suitable example of how allusion is often used in day-to-day life. For instance, a cartoonist may allude to issues such as corruption using caricatures.
As stated earlier, the poem’s theme is about the transitions in life from the beauty of a child, the fragility of life, and the ultimate sorrow or emptiness one feels in losing that love. Specifically, the theme can be put straightforwardly as the nihilism or meaningless of a happy life that ends only in death. Plath expresses the consolations and the fragile remains of love using metaphors that depict the passing moments. The poem reveals the moments of life and how they get lost and remain as memories. The poem shows the volatility of the tender and cherished things in life.
While the entire poem is an allusion, several specific examples illustrate the literary device more specifically. For example, in line 15 and line 16, Plash talks of comets having a space to cross (Plath 1). Essentially, Plash is not referring to the comets traveling through space. Instead, the poet is referring to the distances that emerge between souls. The warm spray of light from comets passes through an unbearable null and void space. Plash alludes to the difficulties in understanding the feeling that erupts as one soul directs happiness towards another, yet the other soul is lost in an abyss of the bleakness of life.
Line 21 – through the black amnesia of heaven – (Plath 1) also illustrates allusion in the poem. In this line, Plath could be referring to the darkness and sad thoughts she might experience from losing her baby. The lines that follow reinforce the feelings she could experience from the loss of the child. The reference to “flakes” falling, “touching”, and “melting” could be referring to the passing of time (Plath 1). Lastly, she uses the word “nowhere” (Plath 1, line28) to illustrate that those moments will be lost indefinitely to a place she does not know about.
Allusion has a direct link with the theme identified. The theme of fragility of life appears in the moments the author describes and the passing of good times. Essentially, the nothingness or nihilism of life appears not until where Plath suggests that she “shall not entirely sit emptied of beauties.” In this line, she is referring to the memories she will carry either after her death or after the child dies. As Reginster & Reginster (59) notes, nihilism could arise from the loss of the grip on values. Similarly, it could emerge when people realize that they cannot achieve life-orienting values (Doomen 103). Bates et al. (699) suggest that the meaningless of life is associated with considering “everything” as “nothing.” Essentially, this is what Plath does as she writes each line. At the beginning, it could be seen as if she is enjoying the goodness of life through watching her baby sleep. However, as the poem proceeds, it is apparent that she considers all those things as a passing wind because she will ultimately leave them.
In “The Night Dances”, the author has demonstrated a striking and somehow worrisome theme of nihilism. I do not wish to support her thoughts deeply, but they have an eerie truth about them; one can only enjoy each passing moment because life could end unexpectedly.
Bates, Robert H., et al. “The Analytic Narrative Project.. Analytic Narratives. By Bates Robert H., Greif Avner, Levi Margaret, Rosenthal Jean-Laurent, and Weingast Barry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. 296p. $65.00 cloth, $22.95 paper.” American Political Science Review 94.03 (2000): 696-702.
Doomen, Jasper. “Consistent Nihilism.” The Journal of Mind and Behavior (2012): 103-117.
Plath, Sylvia. “Sylvia Plath – The Night Dances”. Genius. N.p., 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
Reginster, Bernard, and Bernard Reginster. The affirmation of life: Nietzsche on overcoming nihilism. Harvard University Press, 2009.
Saunders, Judith P. “Literary Allusion and Poetic Economy: Billy Collins’s “Albany” and William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud”.” Connotations: a Journal for Critical Debate 21.2/3 (2011): 256.