Analysis of Wintering by Sylvia Plath

Analysis of Wintering by Sylvia Plath

Q. Write a critical analysis of Wintering by Sylvia Plath.

“Wintering” talks about surviving winter, a symbol of hard times and deep thought, hoping for better days. Plath’s poem shows the speaker and bees preparing for tough conditions. They save their strength for the spring.

Stanza 1

This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife’s extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat’s eyes in the wine cellar,

The speaker talks about a peaceful moment when there’s not much going on, calling it “the easy time.” She describes how she has used a tool, referred to as “the midwife’s extractor,” to collect honey.

As a result, she now has six jars of honey. The speaker compares these jars to “six cat’s eyes in the wine cellar.”

It suggests that the jars are both valuable and a source of pride, similar to how a cat’s eyes (reflective markers) might shine in the dark, catching one’s attention.

This comparison highlights the satisfaction and success the speaker feels in having gathered the honey. It emphasizes a sense of accomplishment and the rewards of their effort.


This means moving quickly in a circular motion. It suggests an energetic action, often part of a process like extracting honey.

Midwife’s extractor

A tool humorously likened to what a midwife uses, but in this context, it’s for extracting honey. This comparison emphasizes the care and precision involved.


A sweet, sticky substance bees produce from flower nectar. It’s not only food but also a result of bees’ hard work and a prized item for beekeepers.

Cat’s eyes

Reflective markers that shine in the dark, resembling a cat’s eyes. Here, it metaphorically describes the appearance of honey jars, highlighting their value and the pride in producing them.

Wine cellar

A storage area for wine, usually underground, to maintain optimal temperature and humidity. In this context, it’s where the honey jars are stored, suggesting they are treasured like fine wine.

Stanza 2

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant’s rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters —-
Sir So-and-so’s gin.

The stanza shows a winter spent in a dark and windowless part of a house, within the heart of a house. It is about old, spoiled jam and empty, once-shiny bottles left by someone before, along with cheap gin.

These details show a feeling of being alone and reflecting on past times, surrounded by forgotten things.

This setting creates a mood of deep thinking and facing the cold season in a place filled with memories. It highlights a personal struggle with isolation and time passing by.


This refers to spending the winter in a specific location, often suggesting a time of endurance or reflection during the colder months.

Dark without window

Describes a place that is completely dark because it lacks windows. This implies isolation or confinement, as there’s no connection to the outside world through natural light.

Heart of the house

This phrase typically means the central or most important part of a home, where family life is concentrated. It can symbolize warmth, safety, or the core of one’s living space.

Last tenant’s rancid jam

It refers to a spoiled jam left behind by someone who lived there before. “Rancid” indicates that the jam has gone bad, suggesting neglect and the passage of time.

Bottles of empty glitters

Likely refers to bottles that once contained something sparkly or valuable but are now empty. This could symbolize lost joy or beauty.

Sir So-and-so’s gin

Gin is an alcoholic drink that is flavoured primarily with juniper berries. It’s known for its distinct, refreshing taste and is used in various cocktails.

“Sir So-and-so” is a placeholder name used to refer to a person without specifying their actual name. It’s often used when the person’s specific identity is unimportant to the context or when the speaker wants to imply a generic or hypothetical individual.

The mention of “Sir So-and-so’s gin” in the stanza implies a specific brand or type of gin, perhaps suggesting it’s not very prestigious or is left forgotten.

Stanza 3

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

The stanza describes a room that the speaker has never entered and finds oppressive or suffocating. It mentions darkness, likening it to a bat, which emphasizes a sense of fear or discomfort.

The only source of light comes from a torch, but it’s weak. This description creates an atmosphere of unease and confinement, highlighting the speaker’s inability to inhabit or be comfortable in this space.

The imagery of darkness and limited light conveys a sense of being trapped or restricted. It suggests a place that is unwelcoming or perhaps holds negative emotions or memories for the speaker.


This word suggests something gathered or collected tightly together. In the context of the stanza, it describes darkness accumulating in a concentrated manner, similar to how a bat might curl up. It enhances the feeling of a dense, oppressive dark.


A nocturnal mammal. It is often associated with darkness and sometimes with fear or superstition. Here, it symbolizes the intense darkness within the room, evoking a sense of mystery or unease.


A portable source of light, typically a handheld device. In the stanza, it represents the only source of light in an otherwise dark space, highlighting the isolation and limited visibility within the room.


Weak or dim; not bright or forceful. Referring to the torch’s light, it suggests that the light provided is barely enough to illuminate the surroundings, contributing to the overall atmosphere of constriction and discomfort.

Stanza 4

Chinese yellow on appalling objects —-
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,
Only ignorant.

The phrase “Chinese yellow on appalling objects” describes the use of a bright yellow colour, often linked with China, on objects that are shocking or unpleasant.

This contrast between the colour’s traditional richness and the objects’ negative qualities highlights a disconnect between perceived value and actual worthlessness.

The phrases “Black asininity,” “Decay,” and “Possession” highlight foolishness coloured by negativity (black asininity), a process of breaking down (decay), and being under the control of someone or something (possession).

These concepts together suggest a situation where ignorance, paired with negativity, leads to deterioration.

“It is they who own me” reveals the speaker feels dominated or possessed by others. The following line, “Neither cruel nor indifferent,” suggests that this control or possession is not marked by harshness or neglect.

The controllers are not described as malicious or uncaring, implying a complexity in their dominion that goes beyond simple oppression or neglect.

“Only ignorant” reveals the root cause: the controllers’ lack of knowledge, awareness, or understanding. This points to a situation where the speaker’s lack of autonomy is linked to others’ unawareness, rather than direct hostility or apathy.


Refers to extreme foolishness or stupidity. It highlights actions or situations marked by a lack of wisdom or sense.


Causing shock or dismay, something that is disturbing or horrifying. It’s used to describe objects that deeply unsettle or disturb the observer.

Chinese Yellow

A specific shade of yellow, often bright and striking. The term doesn’t just refer to the color but may evoke certain cultural or aesthetic associations, depending on the context.

Stanza 5

This is the time of hanging on for the bees–the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

“This is the time of hanging on for the bees,” suggests a critical phase for the bees, likely a challenging time when resources are scarce.

The bees are described as moving “so slow I hardly know them,” indicating a significant change in their behavior, possibly due to cold temperatures or exhaustion.

Their slow movement contrasts with their typical energetic buzzing, highlighting their vulnerability.

“Filing like soldiers to the syrup tin” uses a simile to compare the bees to soldiers, suggesting discipline, order, and perhaps desperation as they move towards a source of food the speaker provides—a syrup tin.

This imagery conveys a sense of survival and the bees’ reliance on human intervention during tough times. The comparison to soldiers also evokes a sense of duty or mission, emphasizing the bees’ instinctual drive to sustain their hive, even when conditions make it difficult.

Lacking knowledge or awareness in general or about a specific thing. It suggests a gap in understanding or information.

Hanging on

Persisting or surviving in difficult conditions. It implies a struggle to continue despite challenges.


They are moving in a line or sequence, similar to how soldiers march. This word describes the bees’ organized movement toward a goal.

Syrup tin

A container holding syrup, which here serves as a source of sustenance for the bees. It’s an attractant or food source for them.

Stanza 6

To make up for the honey I’ve taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

These lines depict a winter scenario for bees, who struggle to survive as natural food sources (flowers) are unavailable. The speaker has taken honey from the bees and is now compensating them with syrup from a Tate and Lyle tin, a brand known for its sugar products.

This artificial feeding is described as “the refined snow,” a poetic way to refer to the sugar’s appearance and perhaps its life-sustaining role in cold weather.

The mention of “Tate and Lyle” emphasizes the shift from natural sustenance (flowers) to human-provided sustenance (sugar syrup). The bees’ acceptance of the syrup as they prepare for winter suggests a dependency on human intervention for survival.

It highlights a moment of interaction between human and natural worlds. The closing line, “The cold sets in,” underlines the harshness of the season and the critical timing of this support.

Tate and Lyle

A brand known for producing sugar. In this context, it represents the sugar given to bees as a substitute for the natural nectar found in flowers.

Refined snow

This is a poetic way of describing white, processed sugar. The comparison to snow emphasizes its colorr and perhaps its texture, making it a vivid image of what sustains the bees.

Cold sets in

This phrase indicates the arrival or onset of colder weather, implying a change in season that affects the bees’ ability to find natural food sources.

Stanza 7

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

In these lines, the bees are described as clustering together into a tight group, a behavior known as “balling,” for warmth and protection during the cold. The contrast between the bees (“black”) and their snowy environment (“all that white”) is stark.

It emphasizes their collective effort to survive against the overwhelming presence of snow. The snow’s “smile” being white suggests a deceptive beauty or the harsh reality of winter’s impact on living creatures.

The reference to “a mile-long body of Meissen” describes the snow-covered landscape. Meissen (Germany) is known for its high-quality white porcelain.

It symbolizes the snow’s purity and expansiveness. The imagery suggests the snow is spread across the landscape, which is both beautiful, like finely crafted porcelain, and vast, covering everything in sight with its white blanket.

This comparison emphasizes the winter scene’s elegance and overwhelming nature. It highlights the contrast between the natural world’s harshness and aesthetic appeal.

Ball in a Mass

Bees are clustering tightly together. This behavior is a survival tactic to keep warm and protect themselves.

Black Mind

“Black” likely refers to the bees themselves, and “Mind” metaphorically represents their collective instinct or actions against the backdrop of snow.


This refers to the color of the snow, symbolizing the cold and possibly the challenge or adversity the bees face.

Smile of the Snow

This is a poetic way to describe how the snow appears to be spread out and pervasive. It might imply the snow’s seemingly innocent but overwhelming presence.


A reference to high-quality German porcelain, known for its purity and whiteness.

Stanza 8

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

In bee hives, only female bees, including worker bees and the queen, are active members. They perform all the tasks necessary for the hive’s survival.

On warmer days, one of their tasks is to remove any bees that have died from the hive. This action helps keep the hive clean and prevents disease.

“Maids” symbolize the worker bees, while “the long royal lady” refers to the queen bee. This distinction emphasizes the roles within the hive, with workers handling various tasks and the queen responsible for reproduction.

It shows that the hive has removed the male bees known as drones. This typically happens before winter, as male bees do not contribute to winter survival. They do not contribute to foraging or caretaking.

The focus on female bees shows their essential role in the hive’s functioning and survival.

Stanza 9

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women —-
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Blunt, clumsy stumblers, and boors describe the perceived inelegance and rudeness, metaphorically applied to bees or figures within the narrative.

“Winter is for women” underscores women’s resilience and nurturing spirit, likened to the quiet perseverance required during the winter months.

The imagery of a woman knitting beside a cradle made of Spanish walnut invokes a sense of warmth, care, and continuity of life amidst the cold.

Compared to a bulb in the cold, her body suggests a latent potential for growth and endurance through adversity. It highlights her character’s instinctual and nurturing aspects rather than intellectual analysis.


Not sharp or pointed; used here to describe bees’ seemingly inelegant movements.

Clumsy Stumblers

Describes awkward movements, like those of bees, that appear uncoordinated.


Refers to individuals with rude or unsophisticated manners; metaphorically applied to bees.

Winter is for Women

It highlights a symbolic connection between the season’s demands and the inherent qualities of women. It shows their ability to persevere and sustain life during times when conditions are most challenging.


The craft of creating textiles or fabric by interlocking loops of yarn with needles. It often symbolizes patience, creativity, and the continuous maintenance of life and comfort.

Cradle of Spanish Walnut

A bed for infants made of a specific type of wood, denoting warmth and care.


In botany, a bulb is an underground storage organ of certain plants that enables them to survive adverse conditions. Metaphorically, it signifies potential for growth and the ability to endure through challenging periods.

Stanza 10

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

The stanza questions the survival of the bee hive and the gladiolas through the winter to greet another year, probing into the future essence of Christmas roses.

Despite this season’s typical resource scarcity, the bees are active, signifying their exposure to the essence of spring ahead of time.

Finally, the statement “The bees are flying. They taste the spring” shifts from speculative to declarative, suggesting hope and certainty.

Despite the cold and uncertainty of winter, the bees’ activity is a sign of spring’s imminent arrival. They already sense or ” taste” the changes ahead, indicating nature’s unstoppable renewal cycle.


It is a type of flowering plant known for its tall spikes of large blossoms, symbolizing strength and integrity.

Banking their fires

A metaphor suggesting the conservation of energy or vitality during the colder months indicates the plants’ preparation to bloom again when favorable conditions arrive.

Christmas roses

It refers to a type of winter-blooming flower, which, despite its name, is not a true rose but is celebrated for its ability to flower around Christmas time in certain climates, symbolizing hope and new beginnings.

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