Symbol or Simile? On Sylvia Plath’s Poem "Tulips" and the Role of Figurative Language in Medicine

Publikation: Kapitel i bog/rapport/konference-proceedingKapitel i bogForskning


This paper explores the roles of symbol and simile in poetry and medicine. While figurative language in the form of metaphor has received much attention in the past decades, other figurative forms – such as symbol, simile, metonymy – have been less visible in critical discourses on the role of language in medicine. Drawing on theories from literature studies and health humanities, the paper illustrates how symbols and similes shape the meaning they transport and discusses to what extent a distinction between symbol and simile has a bearing on communication in health care. Given that values, norms and power structures are often expressed through figurative language, different forms of figurative language may have consequences that materialize beyond the individual words used. To illustrate these terminological and practical distinctions, the paper analyzes Tulips (1962), a poem by the American poet Sylvia Plath, in which the reader is invited into a hospital room where familiar objects, such as the eponymous flowers, take on a strange meaning. The poem’s speaker lures the reader into her conflicted relationship to health and healing by exploring the tulips on her bedside whose exuberant vitality stands in sharp contrast to the speaker’s – presumed – death wish.
TitelJahrbuch Literatur und Medizin
RedaktørerFlorian Steger
ForlagUniversitätsverlag Winter
Publikationsdato13. nov. 2019
ISBN (Trykt)978-3-8253-4664-5
StatusUdgivet - 13. nov. 2019


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