It is easy - all too easy - to become obsessed with Plath's real-life mental illness, relationships, demons and ultimate suicide. It's an unfortunate fact of life that an artist dies young and her life is placed in greater prominence than her art - her life BECOMES her art. For this reason Plath is all too often dismissed as a 'feminist poet' (read 'Lesbos' and think again, frankly) and a 'troubled artist' sniffily categorised as a purveyor of 'sixth form poetry'. Christ, how anyone believing this is missing out!
Plath's rich mastery of words lends itself to a jaunty, lyrical style that seems to sing from the page. It adds a compelling immediacy to such intense and intricate poetry as 'Daddy' and 'Lady Lazarus'. Frankly, at her best Plath is a joy to read and a master storyteller - both of her own emotions ('Edge', the final poem in this collection, is perhaps the single most harrowing work of art ever written) and of products of an unnervingly fertile imagination - one so versatile that she evades all stereotypes with a sidestep as neat and sharp as her turn of phrase.
It's not all doom and gloom, either. 'Balloons', despite it's uncertain and chilling pathos, displays a razor sharp wit, while 'You're' offers a sweet, bouncing lullaby to a sweet, bouncing newborn baby - hope and renewal delivered through the birth of a child ('a clean slate/with your own face on'). 'Cut' too, is an incredibly observant and tongue-in-cheek ode to a severed thumb, while 'Three Women' tackles the lives and feelings of three women undergoing three very different childbirths (one gives birth and returns home with her child, another is a young student who gives her 'terrible red girl' up for adoption and another is appalled by her male 'flatness' having miscarried) with such grace and intensity that it is a profoundly moving masterpiece.
I could go on. 'Mirror', 'The Moon and the Yew Tree', 'Fever 103' and 'Insomniac' are all personal favourites, and the Ariel poems alone are utterly life-altering, but there is so much more in this collection - from her Juvenilia through The Colossus to the very last poems - that is testament to the intense and intelligent scope of Plath's poetry, all of which is majestically woven with the threads of language more lyrical and alive than anything else I have ever read.
An introduction from the late Ted Hughes does appear to be somewhat cold and detached, even apathetic to Plath's work, but the poetry beyond will charm and sadden and cheer and astound and enrich read after read, year after year.
A truly essential purchase.