- Born in Massachusetts to European immigrant
- Suffered from depression and made several suicide
attempts, finally succeeding (failing?) in 1963 when
she was 30.
- In 1983, she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize
for her poetry.
What is Plath famous for?
Her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, depicts a
talented woman slowly descending into insanity. It is also
a standard for feminist literature.
Quotes from the novel:
- “If you expect nothing from anybody you won’t ever be
- “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my
- “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things and one time
and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell.”
- “The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t
thought about it.”
While The Bell Jar is an American literary classic, Plath is known more for her poetry.
Plath’s struggle with depression
Throughout her life, Plath struggled with depression.
Because of her emotional state, Plath was
institutionalized and underwent shock therapy, which
drove her to greater emotional strife.
In addition to her alleged suicide attempt when she
was 10, she tried to kill herself when she was 19.
While Plath’s hundreds of poems focused on
different topics, there are three themes that
recur throughout her work, often in conjunction
with one another:
1. She used her poems to confess
2. She often wrote of overwhelming male
3. Birth is also a subject common to her works.
What is Confessional Poetry?
Confessional poetry uses the “I.” It often deals with
subjects not often written about publicly: death,
“A Brief Guide to Confessional Poetry.” Poets.org
Plath on confessional poetry
"I think my poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I
have, but I must say I cannot sympathize with these cries from the heart that are
informed by nothing except a needle or a knife, or whatever it is. I believe that one
should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrifying, like
madness, being tortured, this sort of experience, and one should be able to manipulate
these experiences with an informed and intelligent mind."*
“Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry: A
Examples of Plath’s confessional poetry
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
- from “Daddy”
“Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry: A
Watch the following video and answer
1. What type of poems did Plath begin writing?
2. Explain why Plath believes confessional poetry is important. (She
begins speaking about it when she begins speaking about Robert
3. Why does Plath consider say the difference between American and
British literature is?
NOTE: SORRY FOR THE CRAPPY QUALITY OF THE VIDEO… JUST LISTEN
● Born in Glabow, Germany and immigrated to the United States in
1900, when he was 15.
● He worked as a biology and German professor at Boston University.
● After incorrectly self-diagnosing himself with lung cancer, Otto
Plath died in 1940 due to complications from diabetes. (Sylvia
Plath was 8.)
● FBI files revealed that Otto Plath had pro-Hitler leanings, which
show up in Sylvia Plath’s poetry.*
*“FBI files on Sylvia Plath’s father shed new light on poet.” The
“I’ll never speak to God again—”
● Plath was devastated by her father’s death believing that he could
have prevented his death if he actually seeked treatment. She
often compared his death to suicide.
● When she was 10 years old, Plath allegedly tried to cut her own
throat and engaged in what is now called “cutting.”*
● In her poem “Daddy,” Plath wrote, “At twenty, I tried to die / And
get back, back, back to you.”
Sylvia Plath tried to slit her own throat after the death of her
father, claims new book.” The Daily Mail.
● Born in 1930 and died in 1998.
● Became British Poet Laureate in 1984 and remained so until his
death and is continually called one of the most influential British
writers of the 20th Century.
● Early in his career, Hughes focused on nature and the violence of it,
and later on in his career became a modernist poet and often
focused on mythological archetypes.
● He and Sylvia Plath married in 1956 and had two children.
“That big, dark, hunky boy…”
''Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching
around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and
was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes. I started yelling again about his poems and quoting: ''most dear
unscratchable diamond'' and he yelled back, colossal, in a voice that should have come from a Pole, 'You like?' and asking me
if I wanted brandy, and me yelling yes and backing into the next room ... and bang the door was shut and he was sloshing
brandy into a glass and I was sloshing it at the place where my mouth was when I last knew about it.
''We shouted as if in a high wind ... and I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang
smash on the mouth (omission). ... And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when he came out
of the room, blood was running down his face. (Omission.) And I screamed in myself, thinking: oh, to give myself crashing,
fighting, to you.''
- from The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Click here to read more about their first meeting.
Ted Hughes v. Sylvia Plath
● After their marriage, Hughes, then an up-and-coming poet, began
receiving publication and critical success. At one point, he was
compared to Modernist giant T.S. Eliot.
● Plath wondered why her husband had such success, while her
collections had been rejected for publication several times.
● Finally, in 1960, Plath signed a contract with the prestigious The
New Yorker magazine for first rights to all of her future works.
Ted Hughes and the other woman
● During the final years of their marriage, Hughes began having an
affair with a woman in London, leaving Plath and her children in
their countryside home.
● After five months of separation, Plath killed herself through carbon
monoxide poisoning by inhaling gas through a kitchen oven.
● In a letter after her death, Hughes wrote: “That’s the end of my life.
The rest is posthumous.”
● Still, many feminists have blamed Hughes for driving Plath to
“For a Fatherless Son”
You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree --Balding, gelded by lightning--an illusion,
And a sky like a pig's backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that's funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what's wrong --The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.
One of Plath’s great fears came from the idea of her
possibly being barren:
“I would bear children until my change of life if that were possible. I
want a house of our children, little animals, flowers, vegetables,
fruits. I want to be an Earth-Mother in the deepest richest sense. ...
And what do I meet in myself? Ash. Ash and more ash. ... Ted should
be a patriarch. I a mother.''
Plath had two children:
1. Frieda Hughes (B. 1960)
2. Nicholas Hughes (1960-2009)
Plath also miscarried once and wrote
several poems about the event.
When Plath killed herself, she locked her
children in a room and stuffed the door
to keep the carbon monoxide from killing
them as well.
● Born in 1906 and married Otto Plath, who was 21 years her senior,
● The relationship between her and her daughter, Sylvia, is a
complicated one. While they were close, Sylvia often said she
“hated” her mother.
● Plath wrote the poem “Medusa” about her mother.