Sylvia Plath Poems: Anthology That Describes Agony

Sylvia Plath was among the most important and recognised American female artists of the 20th century. This read brief her life and 7 of her important poems.

Sylvia Plath poems

Poetry is not just a set of rhyming words shining upon a piece of paper, but a vocal tone to one’s thoughts and feelings. Not everyone can write a piece of art that strings one’s nostalgia. You could only call it fantastic if it induces you to take emotional actions. When the poem is relatable and reflects your own life, your conscious mind begins to read and even write them. Today, in this article, I am here to give a glimpse of one such English female poet whose poems were not just outstanding but reflected the darkest pain and moments of life. Sylvia Plath poems are filled with creativity connecting with a psychological disorder. She is a dark poet best-known for her finest works- The Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and Ariel (1965), as well as The Bell Jar.

Life of the American Poet: Sylvia Plath.

American poet Sylvia Plath on the side lane
Sylvia Plath | Source: The Lilly Library in Indiana

To understand the messages behind Sylvia Plath poems, let us study about her early life. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1932, she was the daughter of Otho Plath, an entomologist, a professor at Boston University, and Aurelia.

ArtistSylvia Plath
Birth27 October, 1932
Died11 February, 1963
PeriodPost Modernism
Type of PoetryConfessional

Leaving Jamaican Plain in 1936, they moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts. Here, she published her first poem in the Boston Herald Children’s section. Further, she composed various lyrics and maintained a journal at 11. Just when she published her first poem, her father died due to the amputation of the foot through an increase in diabetes.

Otto Plath father of Sylvia Plath
German Writer Otto Plath, Father of Sylvia Plath | Source: University of Georgia

A few years later, she wrote a touching poem, Electra on Azalea Path, about her father when she visited his gravey. From this poem, she was often referred to as a dark poet. In 1950, she started attending Smith College, where she excelled academically. After her third year of college, she was awarded a position in Mademoiselle magazine, where she got a chance to live in New York for some days. It was always her wish to meet Dylan Thomas, a poet she admired and referred to as “more than life itself,” but, unfortunately, before she could meet him, he departed. A few weeks later, it touched her heart so much that she slashed her leg to see if she could commit suicide. She was refused admission to a Harvard writing seminar, and her treatments for electroconvulsive therapy remained in progress due to her clinical depression. She reportedly tried to commit suicide on August 24, 1953, as per the medical reports.

Life has been so harsh to her due to her early father’s demise and those painful days to the therapies of shock when she could barely speak or write. Though she survived her first suicide attempt, she wrote,

“blissfully succumbed to the whirling blackness that I honestly believed was eternal oblivion”

she now had insulin and shock treatments going on that killed her mind somewhere. Following these under the care of Ruth Beucher, she nailed her depression and finally went to college after six months. It was the reason behind her miseries and compositions that made her a dark poet.

In 1955, she submitted a thesis, The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoevsky’s Novels, and finally graduated. Further, she received a scholarship to study at Newnham College, where she continued writing about her works and publishing poems. The poems of Sylvia Plath are not just a reflection of her own life but also of how she survives in her mind.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
A picture of Sylvia Plath with her husband Ted Hughes | Source: Unknown Source

It was February 1956 when she met poet Ted Hughes, and a few months later, they were married. After Plath returned to her college in October, they were horrifically using supernaturals and ouija board. Despite Plath’s ambivalence toward religion, after the death of her father; Ted introduced her to black magic and ouija boards. In an interview with Al Alvarez, a poet for Observer, he said Ted’s introduction to the occult led her to write some incredible works, but it had a terrible price. They played numerous games on ouija and made contacts in the same year. Some scholars say that while they had their first child Frieda in 1960, Ted hypnotized her to help in the birth. Between the years of their marriage and her first child with him, they travelled to the United States and then Boston in the mid of 1958. The poems of Sylvia Plath can also be regarded as soul-torturing and are the reason why she won several honourable mentions for them.

Sylvia used to take seminars by poet Robert Lowell at that time, where they encouraged her to write about her painful journey to clinical depression and therapies. After their first child and her numerous works, she miscarried in 1961, the reason she explains was physical abuse by Ted in her letters to her mother. The relationship was a bit confusing as papers and articles promote that Ted existed as a brutal man who used to beat her but at the same time, she needed him.

American poet Sylvia Plath and her children
Sylvia Plath & her children in Devon in 1962, Photograph | Source: Unknown Author

Nicolas was born in 1962, the same year she tried to take her own life in a car accident because of his husband’s affair with Assia. When they separated in September, she wrote her finest poems in Ariel, her posthumous collection. Sylvia Plath’s poems in Ariel were published by Ted after her death. In 1962, she returned to London with her children, renting an apartment where she suffered from depression and took her life due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Often I think that even creativity is not what you see but a result of prolonged disorders or something dark. After reading the life story of Sylvia, I was tremendously shocked and confused about her life. We are here to read some of the her poem where she thoroughly spoke with her inside words. Let us go to those works and try to find the literary context of her life with them.

7 Terrific Compositions by English Female Poet, Sylvia Plath.

1. Ariel.

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow
Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,
Berries cast dark
Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else
Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.
And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry
Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,
The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning.

-Sylvia Plath

This sad poetry in English is part of Sylvia Plath poems from a posthumous collection of works published after her death by Ted. Ariel is the name of the horse which she usually rides on weekends. The poem starts with sensing the darkness around her, and in just a few lines, she brings action like the running of Ariel. While she sits on it, she describes something which haunts her and gives niger and berries terms representing the darkness. The whole poem symbolizes speed and darkness. She also compares herself with “Godiva,” a woman from the 11th century who devotes her life to her husband. Additionally, she reveals the darkness in her brain and mouth. Since she composed the poem about four months before her suicide, it represents her psychological or clinical disorder through the term darkness. Also, I think because of her betrayals from her husband, she surrounds herself with the anger, feminist aroma, and repression that integrates into a creative form of a poem. We can also connect it to her ouija trials or some kind of dark spirit letting her not live peacefully. It is a combination of her different emotions and thoughts. In one place, she writes, “Dead hands, dead stringencies,” which means the kind of person she was and the new identity she seeks. Ariel was the poetry that got her recognised with the title of dark poet, which I referred to before.

2. Daddy.

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

-Sylvia Plath

Daddy, one of the finest and controversial Sylvia Plath poems, is a confessional one that employs the controversial metaphors of the holocaust to explain her relationship with her dad. She dedicates it to her father, who died of undiagnosed diabetes when she was eight. But unlike the expression of loss, obituary, and hope to see and hug him again, it is a poem that seeks Plath’s relief after her father’s death. Sylvia openly uses metaphors, condemning his father. Starting lines of the poem express his absence but do not expresses the loss or sadness. She compares her life with him, like living in a dark black shoe without light and air. She feels the suffocation of living with him as he is too strict and harsh with her. She even compared him to a Nazi soldier and herself to the Jewish who used to prevent themselves from torture. Metaphorically, she wanted to kill him, but before she could do that, he already died due to a disease. It also represents she is killing his memories in her brain finally and relieving herself free. She loved the torture, and so she wanted someone like her father, like Hitler, she says. He continues to haunt her like a vampire after he died; she speaks to kill him by stabbing him in the heart. The way she describes the bond with her dead father is so terrible and controversial that we may not know what the past has done to her. Daddy is a poem of enriched darkness and controversial metaphor, due to which the Plath won several awards.

3. The Munich Mannequins.

Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children.
Cold as snow breath, it tamps the womb
Where the yew trees blow like hydras,
The tree of life and the tree of life
Unloosing their moons, month after month, to no purpose.
The blood flood is the flood of love,
The absolute sacrifice.
It means: no more idols but me,
Me and you.
So, in their sulfur loveliness, in their smiles
These mannequins lean tonight
In Munich, morgue between Paris and Rome,
Naked and bald in their furs,
Orange lollies on silver sticks,
Intolerable, without mind.
The snow drops its pieces of darkness,
Nobody’s about. In the hotels
Hands will be opening doors and setting
Down shoes for a polish of carbon
Into which broad toes will go tomorrow.
O the domesticity of these windows,
The baby lace, the green-leaved confectionery,
The thick Germans slumbering in their bottomless Stolz.
And the black phones on hooks
Glittering and digesting
Voicelessness. The snow has no voice.

-Sylvia Plath

This Sylvia Plath Poem is the depiction of a woman and her struggles which she wrote a month before her suicide. If you are thinking about the word mannequins, let me tell you that in the early 1960s, models were regarded under this name and those from German enjoyed the popularity. The sad poetry in English represents the perfection of the woman through the childbearing capacity. Many of the ladies out in this world may not need children, and for society, they are unworthy of all those things, and unfertilized eggs are of no use. A woman’s feelings and sentiments during menstruation and pregnancy are often overlooked and considered dramatic, but the truth is that they can never be understood from a societal standpoint. Plath has seen the societal burden, and that’s why she wrote this poem, or maybe her second child’s miscarriage made her write so. She also depicts the idea that the man’s perfect model for the female kills her individuality and identity.

To Plath, motherhood is the fullest expression and her sacrifice for it is immense. Physical beauty or feminine perfection are the terminologies that dominate man’s world. She adds metaphors in her poem that compares a woman’s uterus to the place of fiery energy, which describes itself as a dangerous place and nurturing one. She also adds about the menstrual pains where the eggs are washed away without serving any purpose. To me, it is more about the women nurtured as mothers and about the pregnancy and menstruation that nobody dares to discuss.

4. Tulips.

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

-Sylvia Plath

Tulips is one of the poems Sylvia wrote when she was in the hospital, having undergone an appendectomy in 1961. The poem was critically most prominent, published in The New Yorker in 1962. It is the juxtaposition between death and returning to a painful life. While she stayed in the hospital, everything from walls to nurses was white, symbolizing peace and the beautiful death. She details the thoughts of a woman when she is left in quietness in a hospital room. While she suffer the pain inside her, she slowly wanted to set herself free from every baggage and embrace death. The societal pressures, disharmony between relationships, the family pressures to be perfect, everything is laid behind at the bed. Plath starts the poem adoring the peace where the nurse has worn white, and the white walls bring stillness to her mind. When she gets those red tulips, it brings a tense aroma to the whole space, and the family pictures of his husband and children are the main contrasting elements here. She says that the tulips and these pictures bring her back to the painful life, taking her freedom to pure death.

The words like excited, vivid, and too red in the first place are carefully chosen by her. Sylvia made the presence of tulips the disturbing and controversial element of the room coming between her free voyage.

5. Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea.

Cold and final, the imagination
Shuts down its fabled summer house;
Blue views are boarded up; our sweet vacation
Dwindles in the hour-glass.
Thoughts that found a maze of mermaid hair
Tangling in the tide’s green fall
Now fold their wings like bats and disappear
Into the attic of the skull.
We are not what we might be; what we are
Outlaws all extrapolation
Beyond the interval of now and here:
White whales are gone with the white ocean.
A lone beachcomber squats among the wrack
Of kaleidoscope shells
Probing fractured Venus with a stick
Under a tent of taunting gulls.
No sea-change decks the sunken shank of bone
That chucks in backtrack of the wave;
Though the mind like an oyster labors on and on,
A grain of sand is all we have.
Water will run by; the actual sun
Will scrupulously rise and set;
No little man lives in the exacting moon
And that is that, is that, is that.

-Sylvia Plath

This Sylvia Plath poem is a vivid description and imagination, remembering the time of happiness with her lover. The whole imagery lies in the poet’s head where she thinks of a summer house with those careless days spent with her lover. The summer house is not a real place but a beautiful visualization of her dream where she wants to escape from all the misery and pain of her past and childhood memories. She shares it with her loved ones. As we reflect on our good times in the past, we see that time flows and runs like sand from our fingers. She emphasizes the same idea in this poem when the hope is not returning to the place, and once the time ends, there is no return to the home because of its closed doors.

We can also extract her thought that when good times end, there is no going back to the same place. While we enjoy those good times, we don’t see the time flowing so fast.

In the poem, a threshold leads to a beach where the speaker introduces someone who runs with the tide and with the length of ocean waves in search of those left behind. It determines her memory of that summer house; her brain works at the same speed in search of the joyous moments. No matter how the ocean runs and how our mind changes dramatically, there remains the small memory of all those good days.

6. Lady Lazarus.

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin
0 my enemy.
Do I terrify?——
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash —-
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

-Sylvia Plath

Written before her final suicide attempt, Lady Lazarus is a poem about Sylvia’s mental breakdown and suicidal attempts. The work is so deep, horrible, and filled with agony that the readers can feel in her words. The dark, terrific, loneliness is confessional. The starting lines do not refer to the poet’s agony during her failed suicidal attempts, but as the reader proceeds to read further, the intense situation takes the lead. She compares her suffering to that of Jewish people. Maybe the old memories of her childhood, her horrific shock treatments, unfaithful relationship, failed suicide attempts, and ouija’s trial sufferings caused her to write the composition. She uses the metaphor, “Nazi lampshade,” which is made of Jewish skin, and compares her skin to them. Furthermore, she uses words like “fine jew line,” which indicates death, as if she were already dead. As she wanted death to be the subtle truth of her life, she also writes against her doctor, who saves her every time and condemns him. Her psychological pain becomes so intense day after day that she craves a sip of death every day. She further explains in her poem about her first suicide attempt at the age of 10, then the second suicidal attempt, and finally her other trials like overdosing on pills and a car accident. Every time she is failed; she regrets it because she is alive physically. Finally, she succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning with her head inside the stove. Death is her liberation from the scorching miseries and memories of her life. Sylvia had written about her life and controversies in this poem, which touched many readers.

7. Ennui (Sonnet).

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight
finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blasé princesses indict
tilts at terror as downright absurd.
The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,
while bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.

-Sylvia Plath

This sad poem by Sylvia Plath appeared when she was in her college. It is much about the words crafted, delivering a tough resonant. The concentration of self-consciously built, knowingness is utmost in the composition where the speaker offers her vision directly of losing hope. Her composition may be the result of an empty life caused by the absence of her loved ones. When life gets you down, and your life lies in the pale situation of not going anywhere, hopes end; this type of composition forms from within. Her dark world surrounds her, torturing her soul from within, and nobody dares to save her. Interestingly, she has accepted her fate of residing in the same place. It ends with a slightly overwrought and grandiose scene, a partial vision of the apocalypse, part Roman arena packed.

Final Hearsay.

Plath was an English female poet who was susceptible to the darkness around her, so she composed her famous works based on it. Her childhood memories of her dad’s relationship, her mental breakdowns, ouija trials, a failed marriage, and miscarriage were a few reasons for losing hope, and she never wanted to come back to her painful life, just like Frida Kahlo. I think that she possessed a mind and tortured soul that made her write some exceptional pieces of compositions but at a huge cost.

Which Sylvia Plath poems among these is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below. See you next time!


1. Poetry Foundation.

2. All Poetry.

3. Blackbird.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is Sylvia Plath’s most popular poem?

Daddy is the most renowned poem by Sylvia Plath. It is a dark composition that explains the father-daughter relationship.

What is Sylvia Plath’s saddest poem?

Lady Lazarus, in the poem, she expresses her pain of the failed suicide attempts. In one of the stanzas, Plath compares herself to the Nazi Lampshades, which used to be made of Jewish skin.

What is Sylvia Plath’s poetry mainly about?

They express the mental anguish, unfaithful relationship with Ted Hughes and conflicts with her parents.

How many poems did Sylvia Plath write?

Sylvia Plath composed more than 400 poems. She is among the most renowned poets of American literature who used to depict her life.

Is Sylvia Plath a feminist?

Although the poet never officially called herself a feminist, many critics believe her to be so after reviewing poems like Ariel.

What type of poetry is Sylvia Plath known for?

Sylvia Plath is known as a dark poet since her poetry explored darker themes inspired by her life. The American poet used to add cruel metaphors like Nazi Lampshades and Dead Hands.

Why did Sylvia Plath write Daddy?

Sylvia Plath wrote Daddy to explain the relationship with her late father, Otto Plath. The poem is one of the most controversial pieces where Sylvia expresses her relief after her father’s death.

When did Plath write Daddy?

Sylvia Plath wrote Daddy on October 12, 1962, four months before her suicidal death and one month after her separation from Ted Hughes.


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