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What kind of effects does the language achieve in Sylvia Plath’s ‘Medallion’

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The ‘Medallion’ is about a dead snake that appears, by the description, at first, to be alive. ‘The bronze snake lay in the sun’, this portrays the picture of a beautiful creature basking in the sun. ‘Inert as a shoelace’ tells us that the snake is lifeless as well as motionless, and also that the snake is very small. ‘Dead but pliable still’, this is when we are actually told that the snake is dead, but only recently killed/died as it’s joints can still be moved – ‘pliable still’.

Snakes can deliberately dislocate or unhinge their jaws to swallow something exceptionally large, we are informed that this snake was in the process of doing this when it was killed, ‘his jaw unhinged and his grin crooked’, the expression left on his face is described as a ‘grin’, this is the ‘evil version’ of smile, and it interacts well with ‘crooked’. ‘Tongue a rose-coloured arrow’, this is juxtaposed (when two things which you wouldn’t normally expect, are placed side by side), this helps to give a large contrast between the properties of the snakes body, (‘rose’ – beautiful and colourful, ‘arrow’ -deadly and ugly angular shape).

Vermilion’ is a very bright red usually used by artists, this poem is very much seen through a painter’s eye, lots of contrasts and ideas are depicted through unusual colours (specially for painting) and environments or scenery containing lots of vivid colour, especially the shades of fire and light to that effect. ‘Ignited’, ‘flame’ and ‘light’ resemble the life that appears to be there. The phrase ‘Ignited with a glassed flame’ is a metaphor because the eye is not actually lit. Glassed’ reminds us that the snake is dead. ‘Garnet bits burned’, garnet is a deep red stone, this is explained like this to give us another angle to see through her eyes and look at the snake’s eyes. The second part ‘bits burned’ is alliteration, this helps us to imagine the contrast between the other piece of alliteration in this verse, ‘Dust dulled’ gives a very flat, drab and dull effect, but the first piece of alliteration gives a very bright, vivid and lively appearance.

Ochre’ is a very dull colour and as said in the poem ‘ the way sun ruins a trout’ the snake has now lost its shimmer and shine in its scales, apart from underneath its belly, which has ‘kept its fire going under the chainmail’, ‘the old jewels smoldering there’ again this gives another image of fire, and shows that the scales are very precious because they are now old and scarce. Opaque’ – solid, the ‘:’ is the substitute for the ‘like’ or ‘as’, in the following metaphor- ‘each opaque belly-scale: sunset looked at through milk glass’ this is depicted like this so that we can understand what the poet is trying to tell us, a milk glass is a smoky glass that would be used to look at the sun.

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