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Collected Poems Paperback – 19 Aug 2002
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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."
The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, written between 1956 and her death in 1963, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning edition of Plath's iconic poetry.See all Product description
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None of that, of course, takes away from the poetry itself which is difficult but angry, destructive yet incandescent, redolent of a rage and fury that spills over into an almost frightening but also thrilling sense of creativity.
So this might well be the Plath that Hughes creates - but the poetry itself stands up for itself.
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.
This particular book “contains all Sylvia Plath’s mature poetry written from 1956 up to her death in 1963.” Let’s not talk about her death, because it’s sad to talk about and raises all sorts of other questions, and focus on her life and her work instead, because let me tell you, there’s a lot here for you to enjoy.
In fact, there’s so much poetry here that it’s hard for me to identify particular poems which stood out, because they all did in their way. I’d say that there’s perhaps a couple of hundred poems included in here, and so it’s not like you’re spoiled for choice. The fact that they’re divided by year does, however, serve an important purpose – it gives you a feeling of accomplishment as you make your way through the pages, which you might otherwise be missing if it was just poem after poem after poem, with no section breaks.
Ultimately, this collection of poetry is the kind of thing that you’d probably enjoy if you’re a fan of the classics but if you never got into poetry – Plath isn’t necessarily a traditional poet, but she’s not avante garde either, and so her work is pretty accessible even to the modern reader who’s picking up the collection over fifty years after her death.
My only problem with this book is the fact that, because it contains all of the work written up to her death, there’s never going to be another one for me to read. Still, it’s the kind of book that you can read again and again, so do yourself a favour and add it to your collection.
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