Sylvia Plath's Psychic Landscapes
In the following essay, I will examine the development of Plath's poetry through analysis of major themes and imagery found in her description of landscapes, seascapes, and the natural world.
Following the lead of Ted Hughes, critics today tend to read Sylvia Plath's poetry as a unity. Individual poems are best read in the context of the whole oeuvre: motifs, themes and images link poems together and these linkages illuminate their meaning and heighten their power. It is certainly easy to see that through almost obsessive repetition some elements put their unforgettable mark on the poetry: themes such as the contradictory desires for life and death and the quests for selfhood and truth; images like those of color, with red, black and white dominating the palette; and symbols of haunting ambiguity, for example, the moon and the sea.
But equally obvious is the striking development that Plath's work underwent in the course of her brief career as a professional poet.
This is perhaps most readily seen in the prosody: from exerting her equilibristic skill at handling demanding verse forms, such as the terza rima and the villanelle, she broke free of the demands of such literary conventions and created a personal verse form which still retained some of the basic elements of her earlier 'academic' style. She turned the three-line stanza of the villanelle into a highly flexible medium. Freed from the prosodic strictness of poems like 'Medallion,' written in 1959, this verse form reappeared in poems composed in the last year of her life in a superbly liberated yet controlled form. Some of her finest and most personal poems are written in this medium, for example, 'Fever 103ÃÂ°,' 'Ariel,' 'Nick and the Candlestick,' 'Lady Lazarus,' 'Mary's Song,' and the late 'Sheep in Fog,'...