This poem was written only days before Sylvia Plath committed suicide in February of 1963. It may be the last piece of poetry she ever wrote. ‘Edge’ is a complex and interesting poem that is incredibly multi-faceted. It is filled with pain, sadness and longing, emotions one must speculate were part of Plath’s last days as well. It explores themes of death, motherhood, and the treatment of women.
Summary of Edge
The poem is made up of a series of powerful images that get to the heart of depression and the treatment of women within historical and contemporary society. She depicts this woman as finally “perfected”. She has reached a state where no one can touch her and she is just as placid and calm as men would like her to be.
Alongside her body are those of her two children. She took them into death with her in order to shuttle them back, metaphorically, into her body. The poem ends with images of menstruation, blood, death, and the moon.
You can read the full poem here at Poetry Foundation.
Structure of Edge
‘Edge’ by Sylvia Plath is a twenty-line poem that is separated into sets of two lines, known as couplets. These couplets do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. All the lines vary in length but more often than not one line couplet is significantly shorter than the other. Despite the lack of a structured rhyme scheme, there are examples of rhyme within the poem.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the long “e” in “Feet” and “seem” in line seven and the “l” consonant in “child,” “coiled,” and “little” in lines nine and ten.
Poetic Techniques in Edge
Plath makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Edge’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, simile, and enjambment. The first, metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In lines nine and ten Plath uses a metaphor to describe the woman’s dead, white children who are curled up as serpents next to her.
A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. For example, when the poet speaks about hoe the woman brought the children back to her body. She took “Them back into her body as petals / Of a rose close when the garden”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This technique is used throughout the poem. It can be seen in the transitions between lines two and three.
Analysis of Edge
In the first lines of ‘Edge’ the speaker begins by describing the nature of a dead woman. In her death, she is “perfected”. She appears as she should’ve during life, with the “smile of accomplishment”. This woman presents the appearance of “Greek necessity”. She finally reaches some point of accomplishment. But, in a way, it is all an illusion.
The woman appears pleased with herself and as the poem goes along a reader should ask this is the case.
In the next two couplets of ‘Edge’, the poet adds details to the image of the dead woman. These are lovely, evocative images, made even more impactful when one remembers that she is dead. Her toga is perfectly placed. Plath states that her feet seem to say “We have come so far, it is over”. The distance she has traversed can be interpreted to mean life itself. She has lived as a woman in the world. She has faced the struggles that all women face and made it somewhere that she is finally beyond judgement and control.
It turns out, in lines nine through twelve, that she has killed her children along with herself. They are coiled next to her. Plath uses a powerful metaphor to compare them to serpents. They are “white” in their death and each is near her breast. This alludes to a loss of the warmth of motherhood, a life force, that is now gone along with all their lives.
These lines also raise questions about the role of these children. How one might ask, did the woman feel about her children?
In line thirteen of ‘Edge’, the poet describes how the woman folded her children back into her body. They are no longer separate from her. In death, they return to her. Whatever existence they had perhaps related to the image of the serpents, she chose to remove them from it.
The poet uses a simile to compare this action to the petals of a rose closing up at night. The language in this line seems to allude to the female body. The “odors,” “flower,” and “bleeds” all relate to female menstruation as it is commonly spoken about in poetic works. These are beautiful images, but they are also painful. This woman’s life was not something to be celebrated. She sought to flee from it and only then has she found some peace.
The reference to the moon in line seventeen of ‘Edge’ can also be connected to menstruation language in the previous couplet. In the last four lines, she speaks about the moon and its place in all this. It has been watching everything play out from her spot in the sky, but has “nothing to be sad about”. She stares down at the earth regularity and has grown used to “this sort of thing”.
The moon is often used as a symbol for women and therefore it makes sense that the moon would be used to this kind of suffering and loss. How many women before this one, and how many after, including Plath herself, committed suicide in order to escape oppression and depression?