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Sylvia Plath, a complex poet, a complex mind. Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 and committed suicide on February 11, 1963. During this short thirty years, many works were provided that served as a window into one fragile mind. Years of mental stability acted as a catalyst for the production of many famous works. Although it is still difficult to analyze Plath’s mind, its products are still being cherished and praised. Plath published many works in her lifetime, yet her most famous works which include The Bell Jar, Ariel, “Crossing the Water”, Letters Home, & Johnny Panic, & The Bible of Dreams were are published after her death (Bloom 163-4). Plath’s work as well as her many memories continues long after her passing. In Plath’s work, death, conflict, & personal experience all play major roles. They serve as themes in the deep and realistic poetry that is Plath’s work. The poetry of Sylvia Plath contains various themes that stem from the author’s mind.
A large portion of Sylvia Plath’s work contains the theme of death. This theme is most present in her earlier poetry. Plath seems to be almost fascinated with death. Her elegant use of words makes the reader feels as if the icy breath of death is upon their neck (King 45). Yet death is not always welcomed as a theme in Plath’s work. In her early work shows a distinct tension between the allure of death and human’s nature to resist it (King 50). Often this “death” is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of doom (Fitzgerald 3). A distinct origin for this doom is not clear but nature is often a catalyst for it (King 46). Varying aspects of nature serve as agents of doom. Even the most innocent things such as grapes on a grapevine can manipulate themselves into inevitable doom (King 50-1). Plath’s poems also contain a “preoccupation with danger”. This danger does not come from external sources however but from inside the mind. This stems from Plath’s own internal battles and eventual suicide (King 51).
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Is an art,
Like everything else
I do it exceptionally well
These words are from Ariel. They show Plath’s attitude toward death’s inevitability. Sometimes this attitude is resignation, fear, for decided resistance. Never the less, whichever attitude toward death is presented in Sylvia Plath’s work, it can certainly be seen that death is a major theme in her work (King 47).
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In addition to death, Conflict is an ever-present theme in the work of Sylvia Plath. In her early poetry, two major opposites like love and hate ate contrasted in a poem. The result of this contrast leaves the two opposites in a state of balance with each other so as neither one has the upper hand. Yet, in her later work, the “bad side”, in this case hate, has the upper hand and obtains a strong presence in her poetry (King 150). The conflict written about in these poems are not merely words. They show the internal conflict in Plath’s own mind. In the poem “Daddy”, the conflict of love and hate as well as revenge and regret are true feelings that Plath struggled with over the death of her father (Bloom 89). More of this internal conflict in Plath’s twisted mind is represented by the contrast of several other opposites. Fertility and bareness are contrasted around the same time when Plath was trying to conceive her first child. Life and death are also contrasting themes used in her work around the same time of her death. Thus it can been seen that Plath uses the internal conflict in her mind to theme many of her great poems (King 98).
It can be said that Sylvia Plath had the perfect life, but she could not escape the death and conflicting thoughts in her own fragile mind (Fitzgerald 1). Plath states. “I think my poems come immediately out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have…” (Bloom 69). She
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was very true. Some of the most cherished poetry in Plath’s collection came from tragic experiences in Plath’s own life. For example, the unexpected death of her father when she was just a young child is used to them many of her works (Bloom 6). One of Plath’s most famous works, “Daddy”, is about a young girl’s thoughts and emotions about her father’s death and a feeling of betrayal because he died so soon. This poem can be directly linked to Plath’s own father’s death and the emotions that she felt (Bloom 11). Not only does Plath use her father to theme her poems but also her own death is foreshadowed in her work. She writes directly about her attempts at suicide and uses them as a catalyst for deeper poems about death (Bloom 10). As Plath’s successful suicide attempt draws closer to reality her poems are effected. They produce a “hallucinatory, surreal quality of expression” (King 54). Almost all of Plath’s work could be termed as “confessional writing,” but in Plath’s work that was written in the time period just before she died, this changes. In confessional writing the author or speaker speaks directly to the audience but Plath does not follow this curriculum. She seems to be virtually unaware of audience presence. This style stems directly from her mind and the distorted way she must have thought before her death. Sadly, suicide would be the last “personal experience” she would write about (Bloom 13).
Through the themes of death, conflict, and personal experience, Sylvia Plath’s work can give her audience a window to her soul. “Flute Notes” and “The Stones” are two poems that her husband, Ted Hughes, said spoke with her true voice. He states, “It was if a dumb person finally spoke” (Davidson 185). The journals that Plath left behind can also help the readers understand this “true voice” (Heller 8). Her work can seem complex because it came form a complex mind,
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but with the understanding of her themes and thoughts that went into making such great poetry we can better grasp this illusive prey that is Sylvia Plath.