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THE GORING, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"The Goring" by Sylvia Plath centers on the spectacle of bullfighting, capturing its brutal elegance and juxtaposing the act's ritualistic nature with its inherent violence. From the onset, the poem's atmosphere is dark and heavy; the "arena dust" is "rusted by four bulls' blood to a dull redness," and the crowd is described as "truculent." Plath thus sets the stage for an event that is both horrifying and oddly captivating, using vivid language to engage the reader in the disquieting tension of the spectacle.

The poem delves into the paradoxes of bullfighting, a practice steeped in tradition and ritual, but also inherently violent and brutal. Plath's mention of "ceremony" and "routine" reveals the human attempt to give order and formality to the act of killing. The picador, "obese, dark-faced," is "rich" in "yellows, tassels, pompons, braid," adding a layer of lavish presentation to the grim act he performs. Yet, Plath does not shy away from pointing out the flaws in the execution: "the ritual death each time botched among dropped capes, ill-judged stabs."

In terms of structure, the poem employs a style that mimics the unfolding events in a bullfight. The lines are structured in a way that reflects the tension and drama of the act. Long phrases are punctuated by short, impactful lines, creating a rhythmic tension akin to the dance of the bullfighter and the bull. This structure also serves to reinforce the poem's thematic tensions between the ceremonial and the chaotic, the beautiful and the grotesque.

The poem reaches a climax in the lines "Instinct for art began with the bull's horn lofting in the mob's / Hush a lumped man-shape." Here, the bullfight transcends its earthbound brutality to become something approaching art, a spectacle captivating enough to hush a rowdy crowd. The line "The whole act formal, fluent as a dance" encapsulates this paradox, as does the phrase "Blood faultlessly broached redeemed the sullied air, the earth's grossness."

In this way, "The Goring" explores the complex interplay between beauty and brutality, ritual and instinct, art and violence. Plath captures the dichotomies inherent in bullfighting-a sport that strives for grace and artistic expression, even as it culminates in the crude reality of death. And so, we are left to ponder the unsettling question: Can something be both brutal and beautiful? Plath seems to suggest that it can, but at a cost that is both compelling and disturbing to confront.


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