Sylvia Plath was a brilliant writer and is my favourite writer on our course. She was also highly accomplished in other fields, was an intense and complex woman, and a woman who was frequently ill. She died at a young age. It is often the latter facts that come to mind when we think of Sylvia Plath. In the minds of many, her short life and personality have overwhelmed her work. First and foremost, however, we must now remember Plath as a brilliant writer. It is on this basis alone that - along with Kavanagh, Frost, Boland, Montague, Mahon and others - she has been included in our poetry anthology. Like these other poets, her writing was illuminating and innovative and frequently beautiful, if shocking.
This does not mean that her life becomes irrelevant in the study of her work. Far from it. But we must remember to keep the proper balance between considering her life and appraising her work. Plath, of course, was an extremely personal writer - a confessional writer. In this answer I must examine whether or not her poetry is "intense, deeply personal and quite disturbing". And that requires studying her work in relation to her life. "I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root: It is what you fear.
I do not fear it: I have been there."
Plath wrote the poem 'Elm' in 1962. She would die at her own hand the following year. Her father died when she was just eight years old. Depression was rampant on his side of the family, an illness that she would suffer with all her life. Her mother was conservative and expected Plath to conform to conservative, feminine ideals. On the surface, Plath managed to do that for some time. Inside, however, conflicts raged that in themselves are symbolic of her entire psychological life: she wanted a completely different life from the one expected of her. Plath was a brilliant and energetic student but shifted abruptly between periods of confidence and elation to periods of self-doubt, depression and terror. These...
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