Dying is an Art: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath

Essay by spenwahCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2006

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"Dying 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."

Sylvia Plath wrote these lines, from her poem "Lady Lazarus," in the winter of 1962 (Barnard 75), only months before taking her own life at the age of thirty (Barnard 23). It is an oft quoted line, containing in it much of the ironic and morbid outlook for which she has become famous. Driven by intense perfectionism and plagued by the unnecessary death of her father, Sylvia Plath crafted deeply personal poetry that expresses a feeling of incompleteness and a romantic view of death.

Plath's poetry is full of symbols and allusions cryptic to those unfamiliar with her biography, so it is necessary to begin any analysis of her work with a brief account of her life.

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 near Boston and for much of her childhood lived near the sea, which finds its way into many of her poetic images (Barnard 14). Her father, Otto Emil Plath, was an immigrant from Germany and her mother, Aurelia Schober, a second generation Austrian American (Barnard 13). Allusions to her German heritage and to World War Two era Europe abound in her work.

Doubtlessly the most significant and defining chapter of her biography is on the death of her father. He was a very educated man and a professor of biology and German at Boston University. When his health began failing in 1936, he diagnosed himself with lung cancer. Convinced medicine could not save his life, he continued teaching and refused medical attention for three years. When his illness was finally correctly identified as diabetes, it was already too late to...