Sylvia Plath: The Exemplary Confessional Poet

1357 words - 6 pages

Emerging in the 1950s and 1960s, confessional poetry was essentially an autobiographical style of writing. Often focusing on topics that were taboo at the time like mental illness and suicide, it is no surprise that Sylvia Plath wrote poetry in this style. Plath suffered from depression most of her life and used writing as an outlet (Spinello). In her works “Cut,” “I Am Vertical,” and “Lady Lazarus,” Plath exemplifies confessional poetry through the themes of resentment, death, and mental illness.
To understand why Plath is placed in the literary category that she is, there needs to be knowledge of her personal life. Born in 1932 in Massachusetts, Plath led a short and tragic life. Even as a young girl she excelled in academics, but her strength and interest was always in writing. Unfortunately, her prose often reflected the misfortunes that she faced. When she was only eight, she lost her father to an illness he had battled for some time. The death of her father haunted her throughout her entire life and it seemed as though it was an obsession of sorts for Plath.
All the while, she strived to reach a level of perfection that was unattainable. As a result, she always felt that she was not good enough. She attempted suicide for the first time when she was in college, but following treatment she returned to school and finished. She continued to write poetry, but her poems seemed to obsess over pain and were often very morbid. She met poet Ted Hughes, who would eventually be the man to publish her poetry following her death, when at Cambridge University attending a fellowship study. The two were married in 1956 and had two children together. Feeling the pressures of being a mother and a wife while trying to be a poet were beginning to be too much for Plath to handle. In the summer of 1962, months after their third child was born, Hughes left Plath for another woman, leaving her to raise their children on her own. Less than a year after separating, she moved her family to London. A month later, the heartbreak and her depression proved to be more than she could handle. In February of 1963, she committed suicide in her own home. She was unable to live up to the unreasonable expectations she set for herself, resulting in a sense of self-hatred, which she ultimately ended by taking her own life.
The theme of resentment is often present in Plath’s works, but it is usually the resentment of self that occurs most frequently. The reader can see this in “Cut” when she writes, ““A celebration, this is. /Out of a gap / A million soldiers run, / Redcoats, every one,” (17-20). Plath is explaining a cut to the thumb, which the speaker considers a celebration, meaning joy comes from the pain the speaker experiences (Kendall 142). In “I Am Vertical” Plath shows the speaker’s negative self image when she writes, “Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed/ Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,” (5-6). Plath is saying that there’s nothing special or...

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