Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Initiation

Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Initiation

Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Initiation

Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Initiation

Synopsis

The author shows how Plath's remarkable lyric dramas define a private ritual process. The book deals with the emotional material from which Plath's poetry arises and the specific ritual transformations she dramatizes. It covers all phases of Plath's poetry, closely following the development of image and idea from the apprentice work through the last lyrics of Ariel. The critical method stays close to the language of the poems and defines Plath's struggle toward maturity.

Originally published in 1979.

Excerpt

I began this study of Sylvia Plath's poetry out of a desire to understand the relationship between two aspects of her work: its powerful images and rhythms and its ritual or quasi-ritual patterns. When I first read the poems eight or nine years ago, I thought that their imagistic and rhythmic intensity derived from a personal ritual process. I saw Plath as a poet who had attempted something essentially different from the contemporary writers with whom she was normally associated, Theodore Roethke, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton. She linked private images and motifs into sequences that formed part of a coherent drama, a symbolic enactment. This dramatic approach was the key to her last poems, mainly collected in Ariel and Winter Trees, which take the reader into a world of heightened possibilities and fatal attractions. I conceived of her work as a poetry of personal process in which the central development was an initiation, a transformation of the self from a state of symbolic death to one of rebirth. Her death in 1963 cut off the life of a poet who had only just found a method for dramatizing the warring forces of her personal universe.

Yet when I came to read the criticism that dealt with Plath's poetry, I saw that only a few writers even began to speak of the poems in the way I thought appropriate. Over the last few years the situation has improved only slightly. Virtually all of the critical commentary focuses on issues that are irrelevant to the work and to an understanding of its power. Most writers use the poems only to support their discussions of cultural and . . .

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