“Sylvia Plath’s poems open up a world of mental anguish for all to see.” Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry? Write a response supporting your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.I agree with this assessment.
Before studying Sylvia Plath’s poetry I understood mental anguish only as it’s definition, “sustained, dull, painful emotion. ” After studying Plath we see mental anguish really applies to her. We see mental anguish appears as anger in “Poppies in July” and inadequacy in “Morning Song”.
We see Plath being effected by her mental anguish in all of her poems in nearly all of the emotions she shows us so honestly. It’s her honesty that attracts us to her and her suffering of her mental anguish. I first came across Plath’s mental anguish in “Poppies in July” which was inspired by the affair her husband had at the time. We see her mental anguish in her anger in this poem. She uses fiery imagery and places the color red dominantly in our minds. An example of anger in this poem is when Plath says “Little poppies, little hell flames”. Plath’s reference to the “Little poppies” as “hell flames” shows her anger by the imagery it gives.
The use of “Little” suggests that Plath is being condescending towards the poppies. Also the reference to the poppies as “hell flames” says that only Plath sees the seemingly harmless poppies as being what they truly are. Mental anguish is also seen in frustration as well as anger. Frustration is noticed when Plath says “Little bloody skirts”. In this quote “little” is used again adding to the condescending feel in the repetition. Plath also says “bloody” which shows her anger and frustration. The use of “bloody” also keeps the colour red in our minds reinforcing her sense of anger.
After seeing Plath’s intense emotions of anger and frustration she loses these feelings and becomes numb which shows another side of her mental anguish. She feels nothing, just empty, “dulling and stilling”. As well as the numbness Plath feels hopeless, “But colorless, colorless. ” After feeling her strong emotions the red we felt is gone as she becomes numb and hopeless. From this we can see Plath’s mental anguish in her strong emotions and by the way she portrays her words in such an aggressive way in “Poppies in July”. “Finisterre” links in to “Poppies in July” by it’s intense atmosphere.
Plath shows her mental anguish in her pessimistic outlook of the place which reminded her of a holiday with her ex-husband who we know from “Poppies in July” had previously an affair. We see her pessimism where she speaks of the deaths of the sailors and their shipwrecks at the cliffs of Finisterre, “Whitened by the faces of the drowned.. Leftover soldiers from old messy wars”, here Plath speaks darkly of the soldiers who died at the cliffs. We see that she relates to the soldiers and because of her mental anguish she feels like one of them, “I walk amongst them, they stuff my mouth with cotton. When they free me I am beaded with tears”.
Plath also speaks of the mist, “souls, rolled in the doom-noise of the sea”. The mist represents the souls of the lost sailors who died when their ships struck the cliffs of Finisterre. She says that the sailors live on in the seas mist on the cliffs. As the poem goes on Plath’s mental anguish intensifies as the landscape of Finisterre gets darker and becomes quite scary. Plath describes the landscape as the “sea exploding”, “messy wars” and “no bottom”, which creates a disturbing and very threatening image in our minds. The poem becomes less intense but remains dark as the feeling of despair arises.
Plath describes the waves of the sea, “They go up without hope like sighs”. At the end Plath’s closing line, “These are our crepes. Eat them before they blow cold”, emphasizes the darkness of the poem by how trivial it is. The last line is so innocent and light it contrasts with the rest of the poem which is dark and intense. From “Finisterre” we see mental anguish in the intense pessimistic emotions and how Plath relates to the sailors and feels like one of them. We also see mental anguish in the switch of her tone in the last line which suggests deep mental anguish by the instability of the mood.
When reading “Morning Song”, we see it relates to “Finisterre” by Plath’s pessimism. She doubts her ability of being a mother and doesn’t feel bonded to her child. We see Plath’s mental anguish when she gives birth to her child and doesn’t feel the bond they had from pregnancy. We see that she and her husband, Ted Hughes, feel inadequate, “we stand around blankly as walls”, we see that they are unsure of what to do with the baby and that the baby becomes the main of everyone as Plath and Hughes are as blank “as walls”.
Plath expands more on how she doesn’t feel like the baby’s mother, “I am no more your mother than the cloud that distills a mirror”, we see how this really effects Plath from the negativity of the quote which shows us more of her mental anguish. Also the first line of the poem, “Love set you going like a fat gold watch”, shows how Plath feels towards the child. The word “fat” which comes across as a harsh strong word, wouldn’t usually be associated with ones child which hints how Plath is really being effected by her mental anguish as another person would use “chubby” or “cuddly” which is a kinder description rather than “fat”.
From “Morning Song” we can conclude that Plath’s feeling of inadequacy is a result of mental anguish. Her mental anguish forces her to doubt herself and feel pessimistic on a the day of her child’s birth which should be one of the happiest days of her life. Again we see pessimism in “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” like “Finisterre” and “Morning Song”. From the title of “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” a descending mood is already set. In this poem Plath is looking to be inspired to write poetry, but cannot find anything to be inspired by.
Her mental anguish keeps her from being inspired and we see her become hopeless. “I do not expect a miracle”, here we see Plath has given up on hope and her mental anguish grows. We see the mood deteriorate even more as it goes on. She sets the descending mood when she says “Leaves fall as they fall”, the leaves from this quote represents the falling mood and the image stays with us as we read on. We see Plath become scared and fearful that because of her mental anguish she won’t ever be inspired to write poetry again. In the poem she is “trekking stubbornly”, hoping to be inspired but cannot.
In “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” mental anguish plays a big role in Plath’s life as it keeps her from finding inspiration which affects Plath very much. We can see she her deteriorate as poetry plays a big part in her life but her mental anguish stops her from writing. As well as seeing poetry being affected in “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” we see Plath’s child being affected in “Child” which is another big part in Plath’s life. In “Child” we see Plath at her absolute worst. We see how her mental anguish truly worsened and took its toll on her.
Plath admits to herself that even though she really wants to, she cannot look after her child the way she should. Plath feels hopeless on a larger scale than ever, “This dark ceiling without a star”, she feels trapped in her mental anguish as if trapped in a dark room with no doors, windows or a way out. Plath wants to give her child the best life possible, “I want to fill it with color and ducks”, but knows that she cannot because of her “troublous wringing of hands”, and her mental anguish. In Child she realized that she cannot look after her child because of her mental anguish and feels that the child would be better off without her.
From these references to Plath’s poetry that I have studied we can conclude that Plath did suffer from mental anguish and her poems are evidence of that. We see how mental anguish effected her emotions and her abilities greatly from feeling like an adequate mother in “Morning Song” and developing writers block in “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”. We also see in Plath’s poems the rollercoaster of emotions she feels due to mental anguish such as in “Finisterre” where it begins and progresses with a dark and intense atmosphere but ends erruptly in a light and trivial way. This is how Plath’s poems open up the world of mental anguish.