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Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is a vivid example of how a life of one person may haunt the minds of contemporaries and descendants. The theory is supported by the number of works that are presently dedicated to Plath and can be found under the titles like Cultural Afterlife of Sylvia Plath or The Other Sylvia Plath. Her life and heritage are studied by linguists and psychologists. The first group appreciates Plath’s so-called confessional style while the second one finds it interesting to focus on the direct link between her mental suffering and creativity. They have even coined a term the “Sylvia Plath effect” that means sensibility to mental illnesses. There is also the third group that includes just readers who perceive poems and novels as deep and powerful reflections of her inner-world that fascinates. The purpose of this study is to discuss writers who had influence on Sylvia Plath as well as her impact on other writers and analyze her style and critical perception of her works.

Biographical Notes

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, and it was approximately 1944 when she started to keep a journal (Steinberg, “Biography”). Plath recorded her hopes and despairs in it. She often felt depressed and writing helped her to cope with that feeling to some extent. She was different on the pages of her documented diaries – candid and ambitions. Plath mentioned Salinger in her journal. We may presume that just like Salinger provided inspiration for the young generation of men, her writing addressed the problem of women’s destinies.

Plath started to write articles for national periodicals in 1950 (Steinberg, “Biography”). Despite the fact that she received a number of rejections during that period, she managed to get published. Her work was officially appreciated in 1953 when she won editorship at Mademoiselle magazine in New York (Steinberg, “Biography”). Events related to that editorship were reflected in her novel The Bell Jar. She committed suicide on February 11, 1963 (Steinberg, “Biography”).

Influences among Writers

Some people say that in order to write well, one should read valuable pieces of literature. Sylvia Plath found her inspiration in reading Marianne Moore, Richard Wilbur, and Shakespeare. To understand herself, Plath read Freud’s books on psychology. The thesis that she wrote in order to get an opportunity to study in England is titled The Magic Mirror: The Double in Dostoevsky. This fact suggests that among the stories that she kept in her mind, there were some with complicated emotional and ethical plots, like her own life. She loved to study in England. Plath discovered history, traditions, and more interesting stories there. For example, her tutor, Dorothea Krook, introduced young Plath to the Moralists and works of Henry James.

One afternoon in the year 1953, Plath found a copy of poems by Ted Hughes (Steinberg, “Biography”). She was inspired by them. When she finally met Ted Hughes in real life, she started to cite him his poems and managed to surprise Hughes with her own talents. Since then they were together. Plath and Hughes created a family with two children, which also became a source of inspiration for her.

Plath inspired many men poets such as Douglas Dunn, Tony Harrison, Hugo Williams etc. As for women, Carol Rumens dedicated a poem called “Sylvia Plath” to that famous writer and poetess. Moreover, the American writer Meg Volittser in the novel Sleepwalking tells the story of three female college students obsessed with poetry and the idea of death. The image of Sylvia Plath repeatedly appears in the book.

The Style and Theme of Poems

Hughes published the new collection of Plath’s poems after her death. He took the papers that Sylvia Plath had written, collected unpublished pieces, and edited them. This is how public was able to read one of her best works entitled “Ariel”. Her confessional style finds its particularization in these works. Apart from a general understanding of the basic themes and tendencies of her works, we believe that readers need to commit themselves to the poetry and find something new. Plath introduces ideas that are familiar to readers on the basis of personal life experiences, for example in “The Colossus” or “Crossing the Water”. This may be considered the main appeal of Plath’s works as well a feature of her style. Another element of her style is the use of introspection in order to write, and “one can see … how exclusively her writing depended on a supercharged system of inner symbols and images, an enclosed cosmic circus” (Plath 16). We find this statement true in a context of a poem “I Am Vertical” of the year 1961 (Steinberg, “Biography”).

Theories about Literature and Writing

Plath believed that the form of a poem was important. According to Peter K. Steinberg, Sylvia Plath “was working hard on syllabics, paying close attention on the line lengths, stanza lengths and a myriad of other poetic styles…” (“Biography”). For some time, Plath tried to model herself after Wystan Hugh Auden and Dylan Thomas. She had high regard for emotional literature expressing feelings. That is why she loved Lawrence, Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare.

The Analysis of a Poem

Every line of the poem “I Am Vertical” illustrates biographical influences. The knowledge of her life helps to understand symbols that she uses in the poem. This writing starts with the revealing a conflict between her existence and idea about what her existence should be: “I am vertical but I would rather be horizontal” (Plath 162). The tone of the poem is dramatically sad with notes of desperation. Plath conveys an idea of her life being just a glimpse, a sparkle of imagination “Compared with me, a tree is immortal” (162). She explores her archetypal elements of reality, for example, “motherly love”. She is a lyrical character of the poem who suffers from the present situation and does something, not the way she wants. Plath feels lonely and disconnected from everything: “I walk among them, but none of them are noticing” (Plath 162). This dismal state, however, contains the prescient words that came true: “And I shall be useful when I lie down finally: / Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me” (Plath 162). Indeed, people spend time reading her poems and are mesmerized by the tragic perfection of words.

The Critical Perception

Critics praise Plath for technical skills and attention to details. In 1982, Sylvia Plath became a Pulitzer Prize winner for Collected Poems (Steinberg, “Biography”). The profound, partly poignant range of her works is an example of women’s poetry of brilliance. Her voice is heard, her words inspire to make changes in life and emotionally and physically remove burdens prescribed by society. Her story was depicted in the movie Sylvia distributed in 2003 (Steinberg, “Biography”).

Conclusion

Sylvia Plath was a woman of letters whose talent contributed to the development of the literature of the United States. Her life had a great impact on the way she expressed her feelings. The depression that hounded Plath during her life was visible in her most famous works like the novel The Bell Jar or poems “Ariel”. This unique and controversial poetess and writer preserved her thoughts and perception of the world in her works, journals, and reminiscences about her that are studied with the interest in the present time. Her confessional style of poems is a new chapter in the American literature.

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