The Lust for Tragic Spectacle

Sylvia Plath’s “Aftermath” and the Tragedy Lookie-Loos

With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching I’ve been celebrating in various ways. One of those ways is with Bushmills Irish Whiskey, and whiskey and poetry just seem to fit together. I was thinking of reading some Seamus Heaney but that would have been a bit on the nose. I had just enough Bushmills to start feeling introspective so I went with Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus and Other Poems. I’ve read this collection of poems numerous times over the past twenty years and each rereading is a new experience (I change, the times change, the world changes, and Plath remains a genius).

There is one poem in this collection that caught my attention with this recent reading. Plath’s “Aftermath” is fourteen lines of raw talent packed into two stanzas.  I’ve already used more words writing about the poem than there probably are in the poem. To be honest, you may want to stop reading my ramblings here and just go read the poem (whiskey optional but highly recommended). Seriously, I’ll wait if you want to go read it. I won’t be offended. When you get back jump down to the third paragraph and we can pick it up from there.

I don’t want to waste time with any type of in-depth analysis if you have already read the poem. I just want to throw a couple of observations out there and see what you think. The first stanza presents us with a tragedy and the lookie-loos who are drawn to its aftermath. These lookie-loos love to act as if the tragedy happened to them. They get some sort of perverse enjoyment through this play acting. The second stanza expands on the first. The lookie-loos, not satisfied with pretending that the tragic event happened to them, attempt to identify with survivors. They don’t care to know much about the victim because it would detract from their vicarious experience. Instead, like some sort of emotional vampires, they attempt to feed off the suffering of the victims. Once the lookie-loos have had their fill they move along to the next tragedy and the next victim.
Reading Plath is always an enlightening and somewhat humbling experience (each and every time). “Aftermath” is a succinct indictment of those individuals who troll tragedies looking for some sort of perverse thrill, and she does it all in fourteen lines.


The Colossus and Other Poems (1998) by Sylvia Plath

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