Last Updated 21 Apr 2020

Sylvia Plath Poem Comparison Essay

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Sylvia Plath Poem Comparison Essay Saying Sylvia Plath was a troubled woman would be an understatement. She was a dark poet, who attempted suicide many times, was hospitalized in a mental institution, was divorced with two children, and wrote confessional poems about fetuses, reflection, duality, and a female perspective on life. Putting her head in an oven and suffocating was probably the happiest moment in her life, considering she had wanted to die since her early twenties. However, one thing that was somewhat consistent throughout her depressing poetry would be the theme of the female perspective.

The poems selected for analysis and comparison are, ”A Life”(1960),”You’re”(1960), “Mirror” (1961), “The Courage of Shutting-Up” (1962) and finally, “Kindness” (1963). All five of these previously discussed poems have some sort of female perspective associated with them, and that commonality is the focus point of this essay. The first poem listed, “A Life”, was written in November 1960, and is a fairly long poem for Plath’s standards. There are eight stanzas, and thirty five lines, and one overall message.

The general message of the poem is to discuss appearance and reality, and to compare them. Plath reiterates that appearance cannot be maintained, and she uses a mix of delicate diction in the beginning-to represent appearances- and transitions to aggressive diction when she moves back to reality. The female perspective is most prevalent when Plath starts the “reality” part of the poem, and talks about a woman, who seems to be hospitalized, and isolated like a “fetus in a bottle. ” The idea of a troubled patient seems to be a personal reflection on Plath’s asylum days. A Life” begins delicately, and Plath uses phrases such as “clear as a tear”, or “…glass…will ping like a Chinese chime… though nobody looks up or bothers to answer…” to create a sort of “fishbowl effect”- a fragile, yet isolated world, transparent and watched by others. Plath also uses water-like diction, like “sea waves”, “sea”, and even the darker word, “drowned” to create such an effect. When the poem transitions back to reality, it seems like the previously mentioned “fishbowl” was just thrown into the violent ocean.

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Plath uses diction like “private blitzkrieg”, “fetus in a bottle” “grief and anger”, and even “age and terror” to create the awkward, violent, and even disturbing reality that this woman in the poem lives in. “You’re”, written in 1960 during Plath’s pregnancy, is a poem about Sylvia’s baby-to-be. There are two stanzas, each with nine lines, as to represent the nine months of pregnancy. The female perspective here couldn’t be more obvious- a pregnant mother reflecting on her pregnancy and describing her child; men can’t share that experience. “You’re” is one of Plath’s happier poems, and doesn’t go very deep as some of her other poems do.

The first stanza is describing the unborn fetus as “clownlike”, “moon-skulled” and “gilled. ” Visualizing a fetus with an underdeveloped head, upside-down and breathing in liquid constantly is explanation enough for this diction. Plath also discusses the nocturnal nature of babies, and the silence of the bread-like creature growing inside her. The second stanza discusses the idea that a baby is “looked for like mail”, and that the fetus seems snug and jumpy. The most profound line in the entire poem is the last line, “A clean slate, with your own face on”, describing the baby’s soon-to-be new beginnings as a fresh start, a “clean slate. “Mirror” written in 1961, is the quintessential of Plath poems, in that it expresses three of Plath’s most common themes greatly in one depressing poem: duality, reflection, and the female perspective. The female perspective in this poem is best described as a troubled woman who constantly searches for the truth in mirrors, but finds no answers. The mirror discussed in the first stanza is exact and truthful, but almost pretentious, in that it considers itself almost godlike.

The lake is where the woman seems to find the most comfort in, seeing the distorted images of her, the candles, and the moon. The last few lines seem to attribute her depression to her age, and maybe the fact that she never got to enjoy her childhood, her young years, and she despises seeing herself grow old in the reflection of the lake. “The Courage of Shutting-Up” was written in 1962, a year before Sylvia’s end, and uses the ideas of repetition, speech, and censorship to express her ideas on female obedience and civil censorship.

The female perspective here is the idea of not being able to speak out, and living in repetition, with a defeated tongue- hung up on the wall like a trophy. The poem uses many different types of diction, but most of it is masculine, and war-like, as if Plath was fighting a war against men. The first stanza of the poem begins with “The courage of the shut mouth, in spite of artillery! ” and follows with bits of diction to describe a record player, with “black disks… of courage…” as to describe Plath’s thoughts and feelings just playing over and over again, “asking to be heard. The second stanza continues with the record player metaphor, “a needle in its groove”, and transitions to an overqualified tattooist in the third stanza, once a surgeon (maybe a metaphor for Sylvia’s downgrade from a great poet to a dumpy mother) who repeats the same overused tattoos over and over, silently, and solemnly. The fourth stanza returns to the metaphor of war, and artillery as well as the record player. The tongue is introduced, and is described as “indefatigable, purple. ” The poem then questions if the tongue is dangerous, and if it must be cut out.

The answer to that question must’ve been yes, because the tongue is then described as a trophy, hung up on the mantle like the “fox heads, the otter heads, and the heads of dead rabbits” before it. This is most likely an extended metaphor of Plath being silenced by her husband, and she can only admire her husband’s trophy in defeat. The poem ends with an image of a forgotten country, whose pride and power is hidden and long gone- probably another metaphor for her power to speak out, taken away by her husband or simply by her gender- as women didn’t have much say in things.

The final poem “Kindness” was written in 1963, in the month of Plath’s suicide, and shortly after her husband left her. The poem is structured evenly; four stanzas with five lines each. This poem contains the female perspective in that Plath mocks the typical view of kindness- almost satirically mother-like- and she also talks about children and how desperate and almost helpless they are in the whole scheme of things. The poem starts out by stating how full of kindness her house is, and already hints that kindness is and illusion with the word “smoke” and “mirrors: shortly after one another, and that these mirror are filled with smiles.

The second stanza talks about the cry of a child, but not like a sobbing cry, but a sort of cry of agony, or desperation, and how that is the most real thing that she knows of, and that it is unlike the cry of a rabbit as, the cry of a child has a soul. This second stanza maybe hints at thoughts of Plath killing her children alongside herself, which is a somewhat disturbing thought. The poem continues, and with talk of “kindness sweetly picking up the pieces. ” Plath also uses delicate diction like “butterflies” and “Japanese silks” to maybe express the delicacy of “kindness. The poem ends, with a sort of final statement to her cheating husband, as presumably “he” comes in with an effort to console her, “with a cup of tea”, and Plath responds in another suicide like statement: “The blood jet is poetry, there is no stopping it. ” This is reminiscent of slit wrists, and that you can’t stop the blood flow from a slit wrist. The final line seems to confirm that this poem was directed at her husband, with “you hand me two children, two roses. When Plath says “roses”, it immediately brings forth images of flowers at a funeral, rather than roses given as a token of love. Out of the entire selection, this is the most desperate and angry poem reviewed. Now, after the lengthy analyses of all five poems, all five had elements of the female perspective in them, some way or another. In “A Life” the female perspective was the view of the patient, feeling isolated and trapped in the painful reality that she lives in, and she takes shelter in the fragile “fishbowl” of a fantasy world she has constructed.

In “You’re”, the female perspective is expressed in pregnancy. This experience is female exclusive, and Plath eagerly awaits the birth of her baby. In “Mirror”, the female perspective is that of a troubled woman who looks to the reflections of mirrors for answers, and prefers the distorted ripples of the lake to the awful truth of the wall mirror. Depressingly enough, even though the lake is distorted, the woman sees her age rising to meet her day after day, “like a terrible fish. In “The Courage of Shutting Up”, the female perspective is that of a woman who is trapped by her repetitive household duties, and the limits on her expression by her husband. Obviously, not being able to speak you mind is a sort of mental imprisonment, and the only way out for Plath was her poems. This poem was the embodiment of those expressions. The female perspective in “Kindness” was some sort of suicidal anger against her former husband, and a sort of Medea-like want to kill her children to spite her former lover.

She talks about “kindness” as a sort of facade put on by a woman to keep everything together in her household. In comparison to each other, “Mirror”, “A Life”, and “The Courage of Shutting-Up” are all female-minded grievances towards the society that Plath lives in, and the relationship that she is in with her husband. All three involve some sort of negative personal evaluation, as well as being dark and depressing. “Kindness” and “You’re” stand alone, in that “Kindness” is an extremely dark and angry poem directed at Sylvia’s husband, and “You’re” is a somewhat hopeful poem about pregnancy.

They are direct opposites of each other and both represent different eras in Plath’s life- one of pseudo-happiness, and one of hatred and despair. The female perspective in Plath’s poem’s are always present, no matter what form they come in, or the period in Plath’s life that they were written. Plath has always seen some fascination, some point to be made, in the gender differences of her generation, and she made sure to include the female perspective, which was often unheard, and made it heard.

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