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Literature11 - The Poetry of Sylvia Plath: Poetry - Index

Sylvia Plath's Poems

Sylvia Plath is one of the most famous poets of the 20th century and certainly one of the most tragic. Her poems are equal parts thoughtful and heartbreaking.

Being born in 1932 and living only 30 years before taking her own life, Plath is a poet who battled with the struggles of mental health from a very young age. Her first suicide attempt in 1953, when she was only 19 years old, became the inspiration for ‘The Bell Jar.’ She spent the next six months in psychiatric care before returning to finish college.

Her poetry spans themes of her own mental health, motherhood, and family and touches on her own relationships, especially that of her marriage to fellow writer Ted Hughes.

Plath’s poetry is beautiful to read, heavy in theme yet incredibly skilled; it is obvious why she has become one of the most acclaimed poets of the 20th century; her work touched and moved people long after her passing.

SOURCE: Sylvia Plath's Poems, Poem Analysis,

Poem: "Blackberrying"

‘Blackberrying’ by Sylvia Plath explores decaying and flourishing life and human mortality. It was published in 1971 in Crossing the Water, after the poet’s death.

Poem: "Child"

‘Child’ by Sylvia Plath depicts the speaker’s concerns about motherhood. She hopes her child will have a better future than her own.

Poem: "Contusion"

‘Contusion’ by Sylvia Plath is a memorable, short poem about death and a loss of passion or meaning in one’s life. It is a dramatic monologue written 12 days before the poet’s death. 

Poem: "Edge"

"Edge" is thought to be the final poem Sylvia Plath ever wrote. Dated February 5, 1963, six days before her death, "Edge" has been read by many critics (though not all) as a reflection of her despair and suicidal thoughts. It depicts an eerie scene in which a mother and her two children lie dead beneath a staring, indifferent moon. Though the speaker claims the deaths are "nothing to be sad about"—from the moon's perspective, at least—the poem's hints of exhaustion, depression, and family conflict lend it a disturbing, tragic atmosphere. "Edge" was first collected in Plath's posthumous volume Ariel (1965).

Poem: "I am vertical"

‘I am Vertical’ by Sylvia Plath discusses the purpose of life and the value of beauty. The speaker is desperate for a worthwhile role in the world.

Poem: "Metaphors"

‘Metaphors’ by Sylvia Plath is an autobiographical piece. It was written during Plath’s pregnancy and discusses the meaning of motherhood.

Poem: "The Munich Mannequins"

Sylvia Plath's "The Munich Mannequins" examines the deadening cruelty of objectification. The poem's speaker (a figure who seems to speak for Plath herself) regards the "mannequins" of Munich—that is, the city's doll-like young women—with dismay. These women's efforts to live up to a standard of artificial "perfection," she feels, can only cut them off from their full humanity and their feminine power. This poem first appeared in Plath's posthumous collection, Ariel (1965).

Poem: "The Night Dances"

In ‘The Night Dances’, Plath reflects on the fleeting human experience and the inevitability of death and emptiness.

Poem: "The Snowman on the Moor"

‘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.

Poem: "Stars over Dordogne"

‘Stars Over the Dordogne’ by Sylvia Plath is a personal, confessional poem. It provides the reader insight into the poet’s battle with depression.

Poem: "Stings"

‘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.

Poem: "To Time"

‘To Time’ by Sylvia Plath explores the meaning of time. It depicts time as a machine that moves through history, depleting it of all purpose.

Poem: "Waking in Winter"

‘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.

Poem: "Balloons"

Sylvia Plath’s ‘Balloons’ narrates her experience and perspectives of having the balloons around like a pet at home. She contrasts childhood with adulthood through the colorful balloons. The balloon when pops, takes the observer from the dream-like state of childhood to the harsh reality of adulthood.

Poem: "Crossing the Water"

‘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.

Poem: "Elm"

Sylvia Plath’s poem “Elm” presents a woman as an elm tree with her experience of lost love. The poem sheds light on the main ideas of femininity, knowledge, and fear.

Poem: "Kindness"

Sylvia Plath's "Kindness" personifies kindness itself as a "nice" woman who's trying to help the morbidly unhappy speaker. The sweetness and comfort "Dame Kindness" offers is no "cure" for the speaker's distress, however; even the speaker's love for her children may not be enough to soothe her anguished mind. The only outlet for her overpowering pain seems to be "poetry," which flows as unstoppably from the speaker as her suffering. One of the last poems Plath wrote before her tragic death by suicide, "Kindness" draws heavily on the poet's experience and is associated, like most of her work, with the movement called Confessional poetry. It was collected in her posthumous volume Ariel (1965).

Poem: "Mirror"

‘The Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath is an unforgettable poem told from the perspective of a mirror. The mirror gives an autobiographical account of itself.

Audio "Mushrooms" by Plath

‘Mushrooms’ by Sylvia Plath is about the struggle for women’s rights. It uses mushrooms as a symbol for women and their determination.

Poem: "November Graveyard"

‘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.

Poem: "Sow"

"Sow" is an early poem by Sylvia Plath, written in 1957 and collected in The Colossus (1960). It describes a male farmer's female pig in wonder-struck terms, elevating her to the status of a mythical creature. The speaker declares that the sow's grandeur sets her far apart from her fellow pigs, and even the farmer, who treats her irreverently, recognises her uniqueness. Ultimately, the sow becomes a symbol of tremendous female power held in confinement—yet capable of breaking loose and shaking the world.

Poem: "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea"

‘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.

Poem: "Words"

Sylvia Plath's "Words" ruminates on the power and limitations of language. Words, the speaker says, are like the sharp thwacks of an ax into a tree, the "echoes" of which travel far and wide. While this might give the writer a sense of power and control, words can also quickly take on a life of their own—and ultimately become freer than the person who wrote them. The poem's meditations on the way words can become independent of their creators become all the more poignant when readers consider that Plath wrote "Words" on February 1, 1963, just 10 days before she died by suicide.

Poem: "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"

‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ by Sylvia Plath uses a black rook as a metaphor. It elevates the simple things in life to a higher, more important level.

Poem: "The Colossus" (1960)

‘The Colossus’ by Sylvia Plath explores the poet’s relationship with her father. Through incredibly original imagery, her father is depicted as a fallen statue and her as his keeper.

Poem: "Cut"

The American poet Sylvia Plath wrote "Cut" in 1962. After suddenly slicing her thumb while chopping an onion, the poem's speaker compares her bloody wound to a series of surreal, disturbing, and darkly comic images. The speaker calls the shocking moment both a "thrill" and a "celebration" and addresses her injured thumb directly, as though it were an independent "little man." "Cut" suggests how trauma (physical or emotional) can alienate someone from their own body and perhaps even from reality itself. The poem can also be read as an intimate portrait of someone whose inner self-loathing has materialised into an act of conscious or unconscious self-harm. The poem was published posthumously in 1965, in Ariel.

Poem: "Finisterre"

‘Finisterre’ by Sylvia Plath focuses on ocean imagery. It uses the sea as a way of considering the human experience and complex topics of life and death.

Poem: "Mad Girl's Love Song"

‘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.

Poem: "The Moon and the Yew Tree"

"The Moon and the Yew Tree" was written by the American poet Sylvia Plath in October 1961. Like much of Plath's writing, this is a deeply ambiguous poem that has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Most clearly, it expresses a disillusionment with religion (and more specifically the Catholic church), a deep and overwhelming sense of despair, and an ambivalent attitude towards the traditional expectations of motherhood and femininity. Many readings of the poem also draw on Plath's own difficult relationship with her parents, treating the moon and the yew tree as direct symbols of Aurelia and Otto Plath. That said, the poem benefits from not being confined to a purely autobiographical interpretation.

Poem: "Sheep in Fog"

Sylvia Plath's "Sheep in Fog" explores the speaker's intense feelings of disappointment, despair, and insignificance. The speaker feels like they've been trudging too slowly through life and have failed to live up to their promise and potential. They've let down other people and even fate itself, and they can't see a way forward through the thick, all-consuming fog of their despair. In the end, the poem suggests that the only relief is the oblivion of death, a dark, empty "heaven" where neither expectations nor disappointments exist. Plath wrote the poem shortly before her death in 1962. It was published in 1965 as part of the posthumous collection, Ariel.

Poem: "The Times are Tidy"

‘The Times are Tidy’ by Sylvia Plath is a poem about the past and present. The speaker expresses her dissatisfaction with society.

Poem: "You're"

‘You’re’ by Sylvia Plath is an ode to an unborn child. It explores the speaker’s expectations of motherhood and what emotions she’s going to feel.

This poem makes far more sense when one realises that its title, ‘You’re’, also acts as the first word of each of the statements in the poem. The meaning of the poem also becomes clearer when we realise that ‘You’re’ is a poem about pregnancy and the unborn child Plath is carrying (in that case, Frieda, Plath’s daughter with Ted Hughes, born in 1960). The poem is among Plath’s more buoyant and hopeful poems.

The succession of images we are presented with here are a remarkable feat of the imagination as Plath dreams her unborn child into being through a variety of unusual and arresting comparisons. The idea of the child being more distant than Australia (despite being within her womb at the time of writing) hints at Plath’s complex and conflicted attitudes to childbirth and motherhood.