Sylvia Plath, Personal Response
Plath views the world in an insightful and unusual way. She has a meticulous eye for detail which is evident in all her poems. Her poetry is confessional, in the sense that it is often an obsessive analysis of herself. The exploration of identity is apparent in poems that I have studied. These poems are ‘Morning Song’, ‘Child’, ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ (BRR), ‘Mirror’ and ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ (ABB). These poems are intriguing and narrate the world around Plath. As her poetry is often confessional, the tone is sometimes melancholic, her honesty is visceral, yet her writing is beautiful.
The theme of beauty and love is explored by Plath in ‘Morning Song’ and ‘Child’. These poems are joyous celebrations of the birth of her children. In ‘Morning Song’; “Love set you going like a fat gold watch” The imagery here is unusual, yet Plath portrays the fragility of a child and the value that it holds. This poem explores Plath’s introduction to motherhood, and whether she will make a good mother, “Your nakedness shadows our safety”. The arrival of new life is juxtaposed with fear and effectively, the unknown.
Plath’s own personal issues cloud this celebratory moment and turn the poem into a gloomy atmosphere. As they “stand around blankly”, unaware as to what to do it is interesting to see how they will adapt to the unfamiliar. Plath appears to look like a mother “I stumble from bed cow-heavy and floral In my Victorian nightgown” Her body has adapted, now Plath must adjust her mental state to this aesthetic moment in life. By the end of ‘Morning Song’, Plath begins to acknowledge the beauty of the child “the clear vowels rise like balloons”, yet she maintains awareness that this new arrival is fragile.
Similarly, ‘Child’ deals with unusual, striking imagery and acknowledges the innocence of the childs world “Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing”. The child’s innocence is captured evocatively, it is unaware of the “troublous” times to come. Plath bleakly juxtaposes the innocent world of the child with her reality in the adult world. For a moment, she captures the beauty of innocence, the appeal of being a child with little to worry about. Yet on cue we are snatched back to the “wringing of hands, this dark ceiling without a star”.
Plath accurately contrasts the two worlds, creating a disturbing atmosphere for the reader. For Plath, happiness is only a “flare”, and it is gone sooner than it is there. This bleak, disturbing reality is Plath’s world. This is exemplified in ‘BRR’. The rook is a metaphor for Plath herself. Everyone knows that a rook is a common breed and quite mundane perched “on the swift twig up there, Arranging and rearranging its feathers”. The bird represents Plath’s attempts to fix her imperfections. Pathetic fallacy creates a gloomy atmosphere in which hope is lost, the rain is symbolic of Plath’s lack of inspiration for a poem.
This is ironic as, the mundane animal and the view from her kitchen has inspired this poem. This poem is deeply confessional and portrays Plath’s life in a bleak manner. “I am wary (It could happen Even in this dull ruinous landscape”. The reader experiences Plath’s lack of faith in the world, that joy is non-existent. However this line symbolises that Plath maintains a flicker of hope to come into her life. Unlike the poems about her children where Plath celebrates those happy momentous moments, she never fails to see the melancholic side to everything, which can often be disturbing for readers. The Arrival of the Bee Box” is interesting because it addresses the concept of fear and its persistence in Plath. Subsequently, fear is an inherent emotional backbone to the poem “Mirror”. This poem deals with Plath’s fear of aging. Plath’s poems frequently address the birth of a new life and this is juxtaposed with the inevitable loss of the beauty of innocence and childhood. In “Mirror” Plath deals excessively with the concept of mortality. “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions” The mirror cannot alter what it reflects; “I am not cruel, only truthful”.
The beauty of a mirrors capacity to reflect what it sees is contradicted with Plath’s disapprovement of what she receives. This poem deals with Plath’s disturbing search for her identity. This is achieved through the unusual imagery employed by Plath. In the second stanza, the mirror becomes a lake. It is as if Plath is seeking a second opinion. “Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me Searching my reaches for what she really is” Plath addresses her insecurities and the poem signifies Plath’s bleak acceptance of what she has become. “She rewards me with tears and an aggitation of hands”.
Disappointed by what she sees, the reader gains a disturbing insight into the transformation from childhood to adulthood, and the cruel, harshness of the world around us. The final image of the poem is disturbing and unusual “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises toward her day after day like a terrible fish”. This image is haunting, yet stereotypical of Plath’s honest, visceral poetry. The universality of the themes in her poetry are appealing to the reader, yet she achieves this in a dark, often pessimistic way. This makes her poetry artistically beautiful and unique.
Plath stood out as a poet on my leaving cert because the images were thought provoking and intriguing. In conclusion, once the reader gets past the abstract approach to Plath’s poetry, they can enthuse in the original startling imagery that envision the world we live in. The confessional appeal of the poetry allows us to engage with Plath on a personal level, making the meaning of her poetry catch our intellectual appeal. Plath’s art of writing is inherently disturbing, yet surprisingly beautiful and aesthetic. She makes the mundane aspects of life interesting and challenges our perspective.