This book is the most complete collection of Sylvia Plath's poetry assembled in one volume. It is for this reason that it belongs almost as required reading, not just in American english programs, but in secondary schools everywhere. It's value lies in it's progression of a female poet and her journey towards finding her true voice. We see the early poems, methodically and skillfully written, shedding style after style of obvious influences through excercises of observation and perserverance. Through these verses, she explores and develops an intricate mythology; by the end, however, she has not lost us in her private world of symbolism and imagery, but enthralls us, heartbreakingly, through the mastery of her words. These last poems, that made up her final manuscript, are undisputedly some of the most moving and beautifully executed compositions of this past century. It is a wonderful book, one that forever changes the way the reader interprets art and the world around him that inspires it.
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.
Sylvia Plath was one hell of a writer, and, similarly to how I feel about Charles Bukowski, I always preferred her poetry to her prose. I’ll freely admit that both are very good, but I think that her natural way with words just lends itself to poetry, because she can make words sing to you from a page.
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.
This volume of Plath's poems embodies all the controversies about the Plath-Hughes poetic relationship and the struggle for possession of her legacy: Hughes tops and tails the poetry itself with his introduction and appendices, framing it via his own words, and also reorganises the poems by date of writing, rather than in the collections that Plath herself might have intended.
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.
The largely autobrioghical work of Plath is a major literary addition the canon of female, New England and American poetic traditions. She is truly one of the great American poets of this century, regardless what over intellectualized critics might find to fuss about. It's unfortunate that her work has been somewhat kidnapped by feminist ideologues, who have used it to promote a political agenda it was never intended for. Primary tactic among this is the demonization of Ted Hughes, her husband and poet laureate of Britain (he died recently of cancer), whose brilliant body of work in poetry, children's books, translations of classics and social & literary commentary might be unmatched by any writer in English this century. Plath's beautiful, poignant sometimes searing poetry stands tall in it's own write, well above the political affectations lesser readers might want to put on it.
Sylvia Plath's poetry ranges from exuberant to searingly painful. Ted Hughes, her husband and one of formost poets and critics in the English language, has done a masterful job in designing this collection and adding editorial explications. Sylvia Plath's poetry has been, at times, usurped by feminist ideologues for purposes it was not intended for. It stands in it's own right, though, as the primarily autobiographical story of a young woman's struggles and triumphs, written with clarity and brilliance. Plath is one of the formost American poets of the century, and regardless of what some fuddy duddy over intellectualized critics might say of her work, it is a joy and often a sorrow to read.