Death Represenataion in Sylvia Plath's Selected Poems

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Death Representation in Sylvia Plath's
Selected Poems

Mohamed Fleih Hassan
English Dept./


Death is one of the significant and recurrent themes in the poetry of Sylvia Plath. This paper aims at showing the poet's attitudes towards death. Certain poems are selected to show the poet's different attitudes to death: death as a rebirth or renewal, and death as an end. Most obvious factors shaped her attitudes towards death were the early death of her father that left her unsecured, and the unfaithfulness of her husband, Ted Hughes, who left her dejected and melancholic. Plath's 'Two views of a Cadaver Room', 'Sheep in Fog', 'A Birthday Present', 'Edge', and 'I Am Vertical' are selected to outline her various perspectives towards death.

Death Representation in Sylvia Plath's
Selected Poems

Generally speaking, death is represented in literature in various ways shifting from being an ominous terrifying force to a means of fulfillment and new beginnings.

Death came to be a recurrent theme in Sylvia Plath's poetry due to the sudden death of her father. His death left the daughter with powerful feelings of defeat, resentment, grief and remorse. So the absence of the father had influenced her emotional life negatively to the extent that it is reflected clearly in her poems.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) passed in periods of depression and there were precursors of suicidal act through fits of breakdown. Among the reasons for her early depression are the early death of her father that left her unsecured and her failure to attend a writing class at Harvard. Though she got a chair as a college guest-editor of the Mademoiselle, but she got monotonous with nothing to fall back on in New York. She broke down with the unfulfillment of her dream of being a successful writer. Therefore, she took an over-dose of sleeping-pills to end her misery, but she was saved. 1

After successful psychiatric sessions of recovery, Plath met Ted Hughes at Cambridge and they got married in 1956. She found in him a motive and substitute for the absence of the father. Hughes believed in her exceptional gift. In that period, the couple got success and fame with their poetic development, especially when they got children. Her poems had been published in Britain and America like, The Colossus 1960, which dealt with Plath's preoccupation with ideas of death and rebirth.

Hughes' love affair with another woman broke the heart of Plath, who suffered the devastation of the broken marriage. Shifting into a new flat in London, she started writing poems of rage, despair, love and vengeance but her poems were slowly accepted for publication. She suffered the traumatic breakdown and melancholia that she put her head in the oven in 11 April, 1963. 2

Death came to be a recurrent theme in the poetry of Sylvia Plath, and this theme has been represented in different ways in her poems. She did engage the reader either in a personal or an impersonal way to view death either as a liberating force or troubling depressing experience. Her depiction of death is reflected by the use of such techniques as imagery, language, structure, and tone.

Her negative attitude towards death is caused by the early death of her father that left her dejected. In her poem 'Two views of a Cadaver Room' (1959), she presents a pessimistic point of view towards death. This poem recounts an experience she had while dating a young Harvard medical student. She followed her boyfriend and some other medical students into an operating room where the students were busily dissecting a preserved corpse. The speaker and her boyfriend are horrified by the experience, the narrator offers two views of the cadaver room as alternate possibilities of depicting death in art; the physical view of death and the romantic view of death. One view is epitomized by the cadaver room contrasting the romantic one of death, which is represented by a...
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