‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath uses emotional, and sometimes, painful metaphors to depict the poet’s own opinion of her father.
This poem is vastly considered as one of the pinnacles of Plath’s poetic achievements. The brutality of her verse and raw anger as the poem progresses is impossible to ignore. You have to split out the words as you read, Plath infusing her poem with such fury that it bubbles tumultuously under each line. Daddy addresses Plath’s father after his death but is not a poem of mourning. Instead, Plath details their complex relationship, drawing upon dark imagery of the holocaust to represent her own entrapment.
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
‘Lady Lazarus’ is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.
Having attempted suicide multiple times in her life and survived, Plath compares herself to the biblical figure of Lazarus of Bethany, who was raised from the dead by Jesus. The colloquial tone with which she addresses her own suicide attempts point to Plath’s depression, the casual nature of ‘I have done it again’ chilling to the reader. Lady Lazarus paints a bleak picture of Plath’s depression, each day yearning more deeply to end her life.
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——
‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath is a deeply metaphorical poem. It focuses on the speaker’s experiences during a terrifying horseback ride.
‘Ariel,’ the title poem for Plath’s collection of the same name, is one of her most popular. It describes an intense and terrifying experience in which the speaker is stuck on a horse, sprinting towards the sun. There is a lot more to it than the simple fear and lack of control the situation suggests. The rider goes through an emotional and mental transformation as she is carried towards the sun, and more metaphorically, towards death.
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ by Sylvia Plath explores the truth of a relationship. The speaker wonders how deep and meaningful it really was.
This poem is tragic and beautiful all at the same time. Plath explores unrequited love, sadly penning her heartbreak in quiet, melancholic stanzas. Chiming throughout is a refrain locked away in parentheses, Plath seemingly whispering to herself in a feeble act of self-comfort. While not delving into her own mental state to the same extent as many of her poems, Mad Girl’s Love Song gives the reader a little insight into the life of Plath.
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ by Sylvia Plath defines the poet’s relationship with her parents. It’s a poem that’s just as beautiful as it is complicated.
This Plath poem contends with her own difficult familial situation. Her dad, having died while she was very young, is represented through the un-comforting ‘Yew.’ The ‘Moon’ takes on the form of her mother, cold and unaffectionate looking down upon her. The Moon and the Yew Tree reveals the dysfunctional Plath family, the bleak poem a presentation of her own isolation.
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs at my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
‘Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea’ by Sylvia Plath explores imagination. Reality, the speaker realizes, doesn’t always live up to what one imagined.
This poem takes place almost entirely in an imagined world within the speaker’s head. The summer house that she and her lover traveled to is being sealed up. All the memories of their time there are disappearing, and she thinks back to how happy she used to be. The poem presents Sylvia Plath with an opportunity to discuss her own failing relationship with her husband, Ted Hughes, and the good and bad times. It concludes with the speaker forcing herself to acknowledge the reality of her world, and leave behind the fantasy.
Cold and final, the imagination
Shuts down its fabled summer house;
Blue views are boarded up; our sweet vacation
Dwindles in the hour-glass.
‘November Graveyard’ by Sylvia Plath describes a cemetery in November. She discusses her views on the afterlife and what the graveyard truly symbolizes.
This poem includes some of the major themes within Sylvia Plath’s works, solitude, and death, as seen through natural images. The poem takes place in a cemetery in the month of November. It discusses how there is really nothing present in the land beyond the physical. It is winter, therefore all the plants are dying, but not willingly.
The scene stands stubborn: skinflint trees
Hoard last year's leaves, won't mourn, wear sackcloth, or turn
To elegiac dryads, and dour grass
Guards the hard-hearted emerald of its grassiness
‘Winter Landscape, with Rooks’ by Sylvia Plath depicts a dark landscape. It’s used to symbolize how the speaker, and perhaps the poet, was feeling.
‘Winter landscape with rocks’ describes one speaker’s state of mind through the metaphor of a dark, almost lifeless landscape. The speaker takes note of how fluidly a river runs through the different parts of the watermill. It goes past all obstacles and enters a dark pond. It is a dreary place, but there is some life there. A swan enters the scene and its purity at that moment strikes the speaker. It is out of place within the narrative, but at the same time makes sense.
Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,
plunges headlong into that black pond
where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind
‘Poppies in October’ by Sylvia Plath depicts an interesting contrast between life and death. It takes a melancholy tone and can be interpreted in different ways.
Stemming from Plath’s classical employment of floral imagery, this piece is one that suggests many things simultaneously. Critics often argue about the exact significance of the poem, but yet all agree that it is a flawless piece of poetry. Much shorter than Plath’s normal verses, she explores life, death and grief, bringing together these themes in a poem full of imagery. The beauty of the poem lies in its ambiguity, with the melancholic tone giving way to a plethora of ideas.
Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly —
‘Waking in Winter’ by Sylvia Plath tells the story of hotel residents. They’re living different lives but are unified through their hopelessness.
This poem is focused on the nuclear landscape. One that is often referred to as winter-like. Plath makes great use of her reader’s senses in the text. She speaks on the taste of metal in the air and alludes to the feeling of the cold, dark sky. These elements come together to form a picture of a world entirely hostile to humanity, but which came into being through human hands. The context in which the poem was written is clearly influential. It was certainly inspired by the Cold War fears of the early 1960s.
I can taste the tin of the sky —- the real tin thing.
Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.
All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations —-
‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath is a personal and confessional poem. It explores the poet’s innermost emotions and mental state.
After being hospitalised for an appendectomy, Plath wrote this poem about a bouquet of tulips that Ted Hughes had gifted her. Hughes himself noted that this poem was the first that she wrote “at top speed, as one might write an urgent letter. From then on, all her poems were written this way.” The poem balances the ease of death with the tulips voracious desire for life. Plath hates the tulips, ‘vivid tulips eat my oxygen’, not wanting to acknowledge reasons to live. Tulips marks a change in Plath’s writing, setting her on a course of destruction. The poem delicately balances ideas of life and death, ruminating on Plath’s own state of mind.
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
‘Morning Song’ by Sylvia Plath is a powerful poem about motherhood. The speaker explores the emotions related to it as well as its implications.
This poem explores the uncertainty of motherhood, with Plath writing Morning Song as a tribute to her eight month old daughter, Frieda. There is a spectacular blend of emotions achieved within the poem – love, excitement, uncertainty, all culminating into one. Knowing Plath’s own familial situation, it is obvious to see why she has doubts about being a mother. New motherhood is engendered by Morning Song, the ambivalence projected through the undulating tone.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
‘Edge’ by Sylvia Plath tells the haunting story of a woman’s depression and the terrible actions she took on account of it. She murders her children and then takes her own life.
Many critics argue that this is the final poem Sylvia Plath wrote in her life, written just 6 days before her suicide in 1963. This timing and theme of death which permeates throughout have lead to the poem being regarded as a suicide note. The poem begins by focusing on a dead woman, her body ‘perfected’ through death. Just days away from her own suicide, the chilling images of the ‘smiling’ corpse and sense of achievement the dead woman seems to have are deeply unsettling. One of her darkest poems, stemming from her deepest depressions, Edge is a moving depiction of the subtle distinction between life and death.
The woman is perfected.
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
‘Cut’ by Sylvia Plath is one of the poet’s most famous poems. It details an incident in which she almost cut off her own thumb.
The psychological fascination on a seemingly common kitchen accident project a deep sense of mental disturbance within Plath’s Cut. The hyper-focused imagery of the skin hanging loose after Plath accidentally cuts herself is extended throughout the poem, transmuting the slight accident into something of huge proportions. The vivid, chaotic images which seep through the poem are a reflection of her own suicidal tendencies. This strikingly dark poem giving insight into Plath’s psychological deterioration.
What a thrill ---
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge
‘Stings’ by Sylvia Plath is a complex poem that uses bees as a metaphor. It describes the changes a speaker goes through as she considers the role of a queen bee in a hive.
This poem is one of five in a sequence that focuses on bees. In this text, the speaker describes the changes she experiences as she contemplates the life of a queen bee inside an old hive. It is a larger metaphor for her life as she buys bees and then begins to worry about the choice. She sees its faults and wonders if there is even a queen inside it at all. The poem progresses through the possibilities she faces in life until it comes to the point where she decides enough is enough. She will no longer fear the future and will instead embrace her own power as a human being.
Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies.
He and I
‘Crossing the Water’ by Sylvia Plath is a four stanza poem that is divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets. Theses lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
This piece is an extended metaphor comparing the crossing of two different kinds of borders. The first, and more tangible, is that between Canada and the United States. This is a boundary created by human beings, and crossed daily, from one side to another. The other border the speaker is interested in discussing is that between life and death. One must also travel from one side to the other, but there is no way to come back across. It is a much more permeant crossing. Death is a theme that comes up frequently within Sylvia Plath’s works, and the dark imagery within ‘Crossing the Water’ certainly evokes a terror of what’s on the other side.
Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.
‘The Snowman on the Moor’ explores the turbulent and abusive relationship between the speaker (presumably Plath herself) and her male spouse.
Sylvia Plath is one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Her raw emotion, explicit discussion of potentially taboo topics, and easy-to-read verse make her relatable to the reader and the communities she belongs in. However, this poem is not regarded as one of her best-known or most successful. Many other pieces of verse are more highly regarded in her oeuvre.
Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners:
She flung from a room
Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors