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Discuss the presentation of death within Plath's poetry, commenting upon how your view compares with other critical viewpoints that you have read.

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Discuss the presentation of death within Plath's poetry, commenting upon how your view compares with other critical viewpoints that you have read. Death is a major theme in the poetry of Sylvia Plath because of her experiences of it in life. Her father died when she was young and she had a miscarriage in between the births of her two children. She was a manic-depressive for most of her life and attempted suicide twice before she succeeded in 1963. Sylvia Plath posthumously became famous when her poetry collection Ariel was published in 1965. Her poetry has always been controversial and her poems with the theme of death are no exception. In my essay I will talk about the different presentations of death within Plath's poetry, commenting on her use of language, technique, structure and style to enforce her points. I will compare my viewpoint to those of Janice Markey, written in 1993, and David Holbrook, written in 1976. I have chosen these two critics because of the difference in gender and in the date the critique was written. Perhaps because of this, the two views expressed starkly contrast one another. Death is presented throughout Plath's poetry in one of three ways. Firstly, it is presented negatively representing sterility; secondly it is shown positively because it is creative and leads to rebirth. Finally, death is portrayed positively because it offers an escape from life. Firstly I will talk about the negative death poems, of which I have chosen "Edge" and "Words". The poem "Edge" was written in February 1963 and is thought to be her last ever poem. Because of this many think it of an expression of Sylvia Plath's own death wish, prefiguring her suicide. Due to the date it was written, it is hardly surprising that it is ambiguous and can be viewed as being both negative and positive about death. David Holbrook talks about the "seductive idolization of suicide and infanticide in 'Edge' ", a view supported by the calm accepting tone of the line "We have come so far, it is over." ...read more.


Which would lean more towards supporting Holbrook's interpretation of the poem. It "declares raucously that the big strip tease of death must be frequently repeated" according to Holbrook, a statement that I would agree with. His reason for forming such an opinion, however, is his belief that Plath was a schizoid and he cites Laing "attempts by the schizoid individual to experience real alive feelings may be made by subjecting oneself to intense pain or terror". Markey's interpretation seems to be based on the poem, rather than based on Plath herself as Holbrook's view very possibly is. This makes her view much easier for me to agree with because Holbrook has not taken into account Plath's use of persona within her poetry, which may very well echo some parts of Plath's life but is not necessarily entirely her. "The first time it happened I was ten." Echoes Plath's first suicide attempt, but "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" Seems to me to be heavily ironic. Janice Markey says, "The systematic self-destruction of the speaker is a titillating experience for the 'peanut-crunching crowd', and it is the crowd, not the speaker or Plath, which wishes the perverse circus act to be repeated." for example, "I guess you could say I've a call" At the end of the poem the woman demonstrates her power and shows "determination to revenge herself upon those responsible for her torture" according to Markey, which I agree with. A view supported by the final lines "Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air" Holbrook, however, believes "The triumphant note in Lady Lazarus is false: there is no real triumph, but a shriek of desperation, bewilderment and despair - a despair so schizoid, so deep, that it is utterly without hope, and this hopelessness can only find relief in recklessness." ...read more.


Janice Markey said, "One of the most frequent charges levelled at Plath is that she regarded death as a means of rebirth and purification. Death on an individual and universal basis was indeed a theme which interested Plath, but there is no evidence that it was a condition she aspired to." The difference was probably instigated by the difference in gender of the two critics, and indeed the difference in date written. Holbrook wrote his critique in 1976 when society was much less tolerant of eccentricity than it was in 1993 when Markey wrote her critique. Holbrook seems to continually overlook the possibility that Plath was writing in a different persona, but Markey seems to always assume that she is. Holbrook appears to believe that the majority of Plath's poems demonstrate her "schizoid impulse to 'give oneself up to the joys of hating', she wrote poetry that deepened her own delusions"", a statement which I do not agree with at all. I cannot find anywhere in the poem "I Am Vertical" anything even remotely resembling hatred. The nearest emotion can be found in "Lady Lazarus" where there is a desire for revenge and a hatred of her torturers. "I eat men like air" Conflictingly, Markey says, "Nowhere is there anything even remotely resembling a paean to death; the subject is always treated negatively and associated with the corruption she believed inherent in a decadent society" I do not agree with this statement either. I believe that Plath, like all people, had differing emotions but mostly wrote in a character differing (albeit only slightly at times) from her own, for example in "Lady Lazarus" "And I a smiling woman. I am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die." Sometimes, probably in her darkest moments, she wrote her desperation down as herself, for instance in "Poppies in July" her death wish seems real. "There are fumes I cannot touch. Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?" Helen Roberts March 2002 1 ...read more.

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