PoetrySylvia Plath

Representation of Death in Sylvia Plath’s Poems

5 Mins read

Death is without doubt one of the vital and recurrent themes within the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Here, certain poems are chosen to point out the poet’s different attitudes to death: death as a rebirth or renewal, and death as an end. Most apparent elements formed her attitudes in the direction of death were the early death of her father that left her unsecured, and the unfaithfulness of her husband, Ted Hughes, who left her dejected and melancholic.

Generally talking, death is represented in literature in varied forms shifting from being an ominous terrifying force to a way of fulfillment and new beginnings.

Death got here to be a recurrent theme in Sylvia Plath’s poetry because of the sudden death of her father. His demise left the daughter with powerful emotions of defeat, resentment, grief and regret. So the absence of the father had influenced her emotional life negatively to the extent that it’s mirrored clearly in her poems.

‘Sheep in Fog’ suggests that there’s a radical sundering of poet and poetry, a death of the poet that’s the life of the poetry, if solely as that which is in mourning for the poet. The impersonality of Plath’s later poetry isn’t arrived at by a moral self-sacrifice of the poet’s empirical, autobiographical self within the pursuits of a common validity, a form of immortality or proof towards death. Rather, it’s an impersonality in which there’s a highly paradoxical and unstable relation between poet and poetry.

Read About: Sylvia Plath and her Confessional Poetry

‘A Birthday Present’ is one other dramatic monologue by which terror and death predominate. The persona longs to know the gift presented by his friend. The speaker, her friend, and the thing “talk” to one another within the kitchen. She imagines that the present could also be ‘bones’, ‘a pearl button’, and ‘an ivory tusk’. Each of these items has white color and suggests the nature of the birthday present that she desires. The three white objects—bones, pearl, and ivory tusk—all suggest death because they had been once part of living organisms. The persona speaks of the veils across the present. In order to take away the concealing veil, which causes her anxiousness and worry, the speaker demands an end to the screening off of death from view. She compares her life on the end of the poem to the arrival by mail of components of her own corpse. At the end, the speaker calls for as her birthday present not the previously talked about symbols of death or the figure representing death, however death itself:

If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.

I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday. And

the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,

And the universe slide from my side.

The poem dramatizes her birthday to be her death. The drama of ‘A Birthday Present’ is scary in its transformation of a domestic and blissful event into a celebration of suicide. It captures the movement of the speaker’s thoughts as she throws herself into the sequence of steps which may lead her to kill herself.

Plath’s second perspective in the direction of death is that it might be chosen by the person himself as a way of self-destruction, rather than appearing as a horrible exterminating power. The poetess aims to point out the struggling and agony of the persona in choosing death as a way of liberation of the antagonistic world of the individual.

This perspective is mirrored in Plath’s ‘Edge’, which was written on 5 February 1963 and is regarded as Plath’s last poem. According to Seamus Heaney, one of the biographers of Plath, the poem was a suicide note, which is to say a completely personal, autobiographical communication from a distressed melancholic girl. For this reason, the poem is proscribed by the literal death of the poet, a death that can’t help however be read back into the poem.

Read About: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”; Critical Appreciation

This death is a negativity that renews, and works inside an economy of life. This is not only an imaginary death, however death as a determine for the creativeness itself, as a negativity which may be harnessed within the pursuits of life. This poem carries the reader not solely to the very restriction of life, but additionally to the restriction of poetry. And but, if on this poem the woman is ‘perfected’, it’s by death that takes the type of an aesthetic object, however wherein the emphasis nonetheless falls very much on illusion. The speaker on this poem doesn’t endure the anguish of her life and feels that her distress is over:

The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga

Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:

We have come so far, it is over.

The bare feet symbolize the dearth of safety and immunity. The tone appears submissive however it signifies the willingness to just accept death as an outlet and escape of the aggressive world.

The persona feels alienated in the world around him. No one cares for the persona’s death even the moon, ‘The moon has nothing to be sad about/ Staring from her hood of bone.’ Therefore, she begins searching for something beyond death, which is the eager for perfection. Usually roses symbolize purity, so she compares her folding of the dead bodies of children as petals of a rose close. Therefore she thinks that by means of death, she could have a new starting.

Death as a way of rebirth is mirrored in Plath’s ‘I Am Vertical’. She sets images taken from nature as a background of her poem. This use of nature as a setting for her poem reveals death not as a horrible monstrous thing. She introduced two fruitful lively images of nature after which she negates her alikeness to them:

I am not a tree with my root in the spoil

Sucking up minerals and motherly love

So that each March I may gleam into leaf,

Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed

Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,

Unknowing I must soon unpetal.

The persona feels rejection of the environment when ‘the trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors. I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.’ This represents the negligence of society and the social restraints that the person feels. ‘each March I’ll gleam into leaf’ suggests the continuity of life and regeneration. She is longing to be united with nature by way of death; the character that symbolizes serenity and tranquility, ‘Then the sky and I are in open conversation’. The phrase ‘sky’ provides death the sense of spirituality and elevation. The speaker isn’t happy in her life and she accepts death as a way for recognition:

And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:

Then the trees may touch me for once,

and the flowers have time for me.

Plath’s life is led to a world of death and despondency from which there isn’t a rebirth or transformation. Yet her highly effective ambivalent use of images and its dedication to rebirth, dramatizes greater than the despairing end of her life. Plath was a girl who might throw herself into the center of death so as to be recalled to life in a distinct type of existence. 

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