Old Age in Sylvia Plath's Poetry

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Leaving cert study notes © Paula O’Sullivan

Plath and old age.

Plath has a fear of growing old, and deals with the passage of time and old age in many of her poems.

Morning Song, written after the birth of her first child, deals with Plath’s preoccupation with growing old. The poet has birthed a child, and therefore fulfilled her requirement as a human being to procreate. Human’s get to an optimum age for bearing children, and after that, it is a slow decline into old age and inevitable death. Plath speaks of “Effacement at the wind’s hand”, which basically means she will be rubbed out and forgotten with the passage of time. The poet uses a complex image of rainwater reflecting it’s mother cloud to tell us that she sees herself in her daughter, and now all that’s left is to disappear into nothing. The condensed water of a cloud falls to the ground, and the cloud is no more.

Mirror follows the theme of growing old very closely. Time moves on and on in this poem. The first stanza contains phrases like ‘so long’ and ‘over and over’ to tell us that time keeps moving. The second stanza continues to chart the march of time. ‘She comes and goes’ and ‘each morning’ reflect the poet’s unrest and constant awareness that time is still ticking away. The poet sees her youth as wasted, the ‘young girl’ has been ‘drowned’. She has a premonition of the future, in which an old woman has failed to break the cycle, and describes her condition as a ‘terrible fish’. The poet sees herself as elderly and is afraid. The metaphor of the fish is as if the poet is stuck, netted and helpless. Plath shows she is dreading old age in the final lines of the poem. The passage of time throughout the text points to the inevitability of growing old.
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