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The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

The Collected Poems (1981)

by Sylvia Plath

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I really like her later work better and her domestic-themed poems are truly the best with one exception, "Daddy." Not a happy camper; it's truly not surprising to me that she finally succumbed to depression and killed herself. Favorites - "Metaphors," "Cat," "Daddy," "Lesbos," "Lady Lazurus," etc. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 13, 2014 |
Favorite female poet.
  Efficacious | Aug 24, 2013 |
One of my favourite poems is one I had to study for my final A Level exam: "Mirror". Her use of imagery is amazing. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Plath cut through the poetic drowse of the 60's like a knife. I first read her in mimeographed handouts, and then in a spread in the New Yorker..but by then she was dead. Precision, a great ear, a great mythos. ( )
  jarvenpa | Mar 31, 2013 |
As explained in the introduction, "the aim of [this book], which contains a numbered sequence of the 224 poems written after 1956 together with a further 50 poems chosen from her pre-1956 work, is to bring Sylvia Plath's poetry together in one volume, including the various uncollected and unpublished pieces, and to set everything in as a true a chronological order as is possible, so that the whole progress and achievement of this unusual poet will become accessible to readers." (p. 15) Viewing her works in chronologically order is indeed very interesting; for instance, you can see in how some years (i.e., 1962) her output far exceeds other years.

As with other collected volumes of Plath's work, knowing something about her life helps inform the reading/interpretation of her poems as she seems to pour her whole self into her poetry. For a very specific example, a number of bee-related poems, including “The Bee Meeting,” are reminiscent of Plath’s observations in her prose work (Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams) of joining a neighborhood bee-keeping club in England. Or, take for instance, these powerful lines from "Electra on Azalea Path": "My mother said ; you died like any man. How shall I age into that state of mind? I am the ghost of an infamous suicide. My own blue razor rusting in my throat." Knowing not only that she tried to commit suicide when in college, but also that her attempt was well publicized because she was thought missing for a space of several days and knowing that her father had died when she was young all contribute to the understanding of these lines and the poem as a whole. Likewise, in a poem titled “Daddy,” she writes: “I was ten when they buried you. At twenty I tried to die And get back, back, back to you. I thought even the bones would do. But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue.” Again, this one, as well as another poem titled “Lady Lazarus,” are more relevant when you know more about Plath’s life, particularly her suicide attempt when she was in college and her father’s death when she was still very young.

As is evidenced in some of the lines above and probably by anyone’s basic knowledge of Plath, yes, she can tend toward the macabre at times, but she is also light-hearted, witty, contemplative, and so on and so on at times. Her poems cover a diverse range of topics in a variety of voices. From this particular collection, I really liked these poems: "Channel Crossing" (pulls you into the experience of being a seafaring immigrant or traveler), "Soliloquy of the Solipsist" (witty, clever), "Fiesta" (upbeat, evocative, brightly colorful), "Snakecharmer" (evocative, descriptive), "On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad (on writing poems and trying to come up with something supernatural or mythical to write about but being distracted by the beauty of nature instead) and its counterpart "On the Plethora of Dryads" (on how the fantastic rises up just as the poet sits down to write about the natural), "The Eye-mote" (an interesting combination of natural and mythological symbolism), "Suicide off Egg Rock" (painfully realistic, including this line of the suicidal man's "blood beating the old tattoo, I am, I am, I am" - the same words conveying some hope as they conclude Plath's autobiographical novel about her suicide attempt), "Stillborn" (a poem about the poems that don't make it to fruition), and “For a Fatherless Son” (which is all the more poignant and sad for knowing that Plath’s son would also soon by motherless and would eventually take his own life). Still other poems I liked a great deal from this book include: “The Surgeon at 2 a.m.,” “Last Words,” “Mirror,” and “The Babysitters.”

Throughout her work, Plath has beautiful lines here and there that just strike the reader as particularly above par. For instance, the final stanza from "Tale of a Tub" is just remarkable: "In this particular tub, two knees jut up like icebergs, while minute brown hairs rise on arms and legs in a fringe of kelp; green soap navigates the tidal slosh of seas breaking on legendary beaches; in faith we shall board our imagined ship and wildly sail among sacred islands of the mad till death shatters the fabulous stars and make us real." Wow. Powerful stuff. Another set of lines that I couldn't help but a laugh a bit at with the image conjured up (and I think was perhaps the intention) comes from her poem "Wuthering Heights": "The sheep ... stand about in grandmotherly disguise, all wig curls and yellow teeth and hard, marbly baas." Likewise, I was entertained by these great lines from “The Courage of Shutting-Up”: “The courage of the shut mouth, in spite of artillery! The line pink and quiet, a worm, basking. There a black disks behind it, the disks of outrage, And the outrage of a sky, the lined brain of it.” Meanwhile, some sad lines from “A Birthday Present” strike at the heart: “I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year. After all I am alive only by accident. I would have killed myself gladly that time any possibly way. Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains, The diaphanous satins of a January window White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath.” And, yet another set of powerful lines from the poem “Edge” (written in February 1963, it is the final poem in this collection and thus the last she wrote): “The woman is perfected. Her dead Body wears the smile of accomplishment, The illusion of a Greek necessity Flows in the scrolls of her toga, Her bare Feet seem to be saying: We have come so far, it is over.”

Sometimes, particularly in the earliest poems found in this book (therefore the ones Plath wrote earliest in her life), there is an almost vitriolic attitude toward her own sex. Consider this line from "Strumpet Song": "Mark, I cry, that mouth/Made to do violence on ..." Harsh words indeed! In "Two Sisters of Persephone," the scholarly sister spends all her time indoors studying and is finally described as "wry virgin to the last, Goes graveward with flesh laid waste, worm-husbanded, yet no woman." This is a very harmful view to have toward women who prefer their own intellectual stimulation to marriage (not that it has to be an either/or situation, but it's very dismissive of some women's choices and is perhaps indicative of the cultural attitude of Plath's time, such as the speech at her college graduation).

As this book contains most, if not all, of Plath's poetry, this meant some of the poems were re-reads for me. In many cases, this was just an opportunity to read again something I enjoyed the first time. For instance, I felt the power of the Three Women verse play even more so this second time around. In other cases, I discovered a new-found interest in a poem I had previously dismissed, such as "Hardcastle Crags" from The Colossus.

Oddly, the notes on the poems written between 1956 and 1963 come in bulk at the end of all these poems; it would have been better if they were interspersed as footnotes throughout the poems so that the clarifications and so forth came with the poem and had a context. Still, they were interesting to read in regards to things like finding out about critical times that were tough for Plath’s writing career, etc. Also for some odd reason, there’s an entire verse play contained only here in the fine print of the notes, called “Dialogue over a Ouija Board,” as well as a medium-length poem, “Queen Mary’s Rose Garden,” that for some reason isn’t included with the rest of the poems.

Amongst the juvenilia, many of which were written for college coursework, I really enjoyed “Bitter Strawberries” as a highlight of the works.

The book ends with a few extras, including an essay by Joyce Carol Oates, which I disagreed with overall as she pulls lines from poems out of context to make them say something other than they do. But she's the one who is an expert in literature so if you want to take her word over mine, you are more than justified in doing so.

All in all, this is the definitive guide for the serious Plath reader and/or researcher. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Sep 15, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sylvia Plathprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hughes, TedEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My thoughts are crabbed and sallow, My tears like vinegar, Or the bitter blinking yellow Of an acetic star
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060909005, Perfect Paperback)

Sylvia Plath died in 1963, and even now her outsize persona threatens to bury her poetry--the numerous biographies and studies often drawing the reader toward anecdote and away from the work. It's a relief to turn to the poems themselves and once more be jolted by their strange beauty, hard-wrought originality, and acetylene anger. "It is a heart, / This holocaust I walk in, / O golden child the world will kill and eat." While the juvenilia and poems written before 1960 that Ted Hughes has included here prefigure Plath's later obsessions, they also enable us to witness her turn from thesaurus-heavy verse to stripped-down art as they gather power through raw simplicity. "The blood jet is poetry. / There is no stopping it," she declares in "Kindness."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:26 -0400)

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A complete collection of Sylvia Plath's poetry.

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