“The poetry of Sylvia Plath is intense, deeply personal and quite disturbing.”
Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry?
I agree with the assessment that Plath’s poetry is intense, deeply personal and quite disturbing. Plath has a dark mind filled with doubts and demons of all shapes and sizes which provide a rich repertoire of imagery to draw from.
One of her most intense poems is “Pheasant”. She uses an urgent tone and abrupt sentences to convey the intensity of the situation. “Do not Kill it” is a statement she makes, pleading with the man to let the poultry live. A popular interpretation of this poem is that the pheasant represents Plath’s marriage with Ted Hughes. The use of short sentences and a pleading tone create an atmosphere of urgency and intensity. The poem is deeply personal for the same reason. “It has a kingliness, a right”. She is pleading with the man again, admiring the bird and stating that it belongs here, that they “trespass stupidly”. She celebrates the bird, admiring its majesty and colour, it’s almost as if she is admiring her marriage and the complexity of it. This poem is deeply personal and intense.
“Arrival Of The Bee Box” is a poem that encompasses all three adjectives i this question’s assessment. The intensity of the poem is created through her desire to trust the bees but her fear of trusting them. “I am not a caesar.” Plath feels she is inadequate to control the bees, comparing them to a “roman mob” in the extended metaphor. She fears their wrath but, ironically, also wants to set them free – “If I just undid the locks and stood back”. Her poem is deeply personal and disturbing as it explores Plath’s dark mind and the struggle within it. “I lay my ear to furious latin… I have simply ordered a box of maniacs”. The bees in the box represent Sylvia Plath’s mental anguish and inner demons. She calls them maniacs because she feels they will her if set loose but, again, she wants to experience their inspiration and their emotion. A disturbing quality to this is poem is that Plath predicted her own suicide in the line “with my moon suit and funeral veil” which leads the reader to assume she undid the locks eventually. Afterall, “the box is only temporary”.
Another deeply personal poem by Plath is “Morning Song”. Plath struggles with her feelings about her first-born child and the doubt is apparent in the poem. “Your nakedness shadows our safety”. Plath feels threatened by the child, afraid it will “efface” her identity. From the beginning, Plath views the child as ornamental and mechanical – “love set you going like a fat gold watch”. The metaphor comparing the child to a fat gold watch suggests she feels the child is over-complicated for the true purpose it serves. Although her detachment from her child is disturbing, the last two stanzas change her tone as she realises her love for the baby. “The window square whitens and swallows its dull stars. And you try your hurtful of notes; the clear vowels rise like balloons”. The run-on line between the two stanzas indicates the transition from night to day; from detachment to admiration. Morning Song is deeply personal for its exploration of Plath’s doubts about having a child but it is also disturbing for displaying just how detached she feels.
Plath’s poetry is a great example of the exploration of the mind and how deeply personal poetry can be. “Child” is a perfect example of this. The poem begins with a fascination and love for her child: “Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing”. The clear eye later reflects Plath’s image back at her but her admiration for it leads her to the impulse to “fill it with colours and ducks”. She feels her child deserves the best; that she deserves to be happy and in awe of “the zoo of the new”. Plath compares life to a zoo. She feels life is a big collection of cages for people to be trapped in. This becomes apparent when she says “not this troublous wringing of hands”. The troublous wringing symbolises her agitated mind and a world which is “without a star”. She feels there is no hope in life and her feelings of inadequacy – not being able to fill her daughter’s life with colours and ducks – lead me to conclude that this poem is both deeply personal, disturbing and intense.
Plath has a unique way with words and a wonderful array of images that add to the personality of each poem. Her bleak outlook on some of the world’s qualities, highlights her depression – “Miracles occur if you can call those spasmodic tricks of radiance miracles”. Also her exploration of that depression gives her poems a personal feeling and a disturbing quality – “she rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands”. Overall, Plath’s poetry “flares” at your elbow and leaves you feeling intensity, feeling disturbed and feeling like, for a brief moment, we were Sylvia Plath and we were experiencing her thoughts and doubts – “In me she has drowned a young girl and in me an old woman rises towards her day after day like a terrible fish”.