Touch it: it won’t shrink like an eyeball,
This egg-shaped bailiwick, clear as a tear.
Here’s yesterday, last year —
Palm-spear and lily distinct as flora in the vast
Windless threadwork of a tapestry.

Flick the glass with your fingernail:
It will ping like a Chinese chime in the slightest air stir
Though nobody in there looks up or bothers to answer.
The inhabitants are light as cork,
Every one of them permanently busy.

At their feet, the sea waves bow in single file.
Never trespassing in bad temper:
Stalling in midair,
Short-reined, pawing like paradeground horses.
Overhead, the clouds sit tasseled and fancy

As Victorian cushions. This family
Of valentine faces might please a collector:
They ring true, like good china.

Elsewhere the landscape is more frank.
The light falls without letup, blindingly.

A woman is dragging her shadow in a circle
About a bald hospital saucer.
It resembles the moon, or a sheet of blank paper
And appears to have suffered a sort of private blitzkrieg.
She lives quietly

With no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle,
The obsolete house, the sea, flattened to a picture
She has one too many dimensions to enter.
Grief and anger, exorcised,
Leave her alone now.

The future is a grey seagull
Tattling in its cat-voice of departure.
Age and terror, like nurses, attend her,
And a drowned man, complaining of the great cold,
Crawls up out of the sea.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem A Life


  1. Princess Oven Head says:

    Who is that drowned and complaining man crawling out of the sea…you ask??..hmmm..
    The man could be a reference to a neonate; the man is drowning in the sea could imply a fetus drowning in amniotic fluid in mom’s womb (sea). A complaining man, could mean a crying baby (neonatal vagitus).

    “[At their feet], the [sea] waves bow in single file” (just imagine, and think)

    If “A life” is a poem about a birth, why does it frequent words like “grey seagull” and all those depressing imageries marinated with shadows of loss and pain, you ask??? Well! This bad boy was written at November 18th, 1960, after giving birth to her baby daughter BUT also after she tried to down herself with some sleeping pills. Waking up the next day despite of attempted pill overdose suicide might have been a hard pill for her to swallow
    (pun inten-dead) x2


    Now the vividness and dark intricacies of the line aren’t limited to what I explained earlier. The feeling that she is trying to express isn’t limited to just anger or grief…..but maybe is in some way limited to a form of exorcism of happiness, thus the solitude; never ending loneliness.

    I mean…..You! Yes, you! Who cracked some laughter reading these lines below(\/), I know you feel my woman Plath.

    “Of valentine faces might please a collector:
    They ring true, like good china.”

  2. Heather Jephcott says:

    Sylvia scampers through thoughts that grip and then keep going. Like a weird red thread of sadness she shows us the jumbled thoughts and isolation a person feels in a depressed state, suffering a breakdown, surrounded by those who care little. “The inhabitants are like a cork, everyone is busy” while she is not. Also a feeling many writers/poets have when all around everyone else seems to be rushing. And “She lives quietly with no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle”. Now that is profound sadness.

  3. ajina says:

    there are many thing that sylvia plath communication to people through.I believe that in this peom she was expressing her fear to getting old.she expresses that in “the future is a grey sea gull”

  4. george says:

    There are many things that Sylvia Plath communicates to people through. I believe that in this poem she was expressing her fear of getting old. She expresses that in “the future is a grey sea gull.” At the time that she was writing this poem she was having a daughter and that is shown in the line “age and terror like nurses attend her.” The strange way that she words things makes you really think about them to understand what her feelings were like. It’s kind of funny because she named the poem ‘a life’ when it is about death.

  5. S says:

    It shows the impermanence

  6. safire says:

    She sounds so empty and powerless, wouldnt anyone being locked in a hospital. She can realy draw you in and make you think for a moment how she may have felt.

  7. Vanessa says:

    i too had trouble understanding what Silvia Plath was trying to say but then figured out it was far from not expirencing life as the title suggests.

  8. Larry Syldan says:

    This poem is about death, and not life, as the title tells us. The person is a disoriented person trying to make a kind of sense out of her situation, in a hospital, as is suggested.

  9. Jason says:

    i thought it was about a snow globe.

  10. Jennifer says:

    “A life” References Plath’s stay in a hosiptal after attempting suicide. Within her hosiptal room she is cut off from life living “with no attachments like a foetus is bottle.” “The obsolete house and the sea flattened to a picture she has one too many dimensions to enter” -I’m guessing- refers to landscape pictures hanging on the walls- these glass framed prints serve as the only portholes to the outside world. I’m still not sure if the last stanza refers to another painting on the wall-possibly a maritime scene- or if it is some sort of secret personal reference.

  11. omid says:

    the sole reason for me why God exist and this world is beautiful and why this life is liveable and endearing is the smile of your eyes!

  12. Katherine says:

    This is such a beautiful poem and shows great amount of opinion!!! Congrats to Sylvia Plath!!!

  13. lucedes says:

    the metaphor about dimensions…
    masterful, though brief.

    i’m not sure i caught the last bit, though.

  14. Christine says:

    I read this poem once outloud, to myself, and then again silently and with more concentration. The first time I read it I really thought she was explaining her views on “life”. But the second time I read it, I figured she was talking about life in a hospital. Seeing as how she WAS hospitalized after attempting suicide, I think she wrote this metaphorical poem about her stay in the obselete house. I like this poem, but not as much as her poems about death.

  15. rheanne says:

    i really don’t understand what was the writer’s message…. i just can’t get it….but i find some of the lines ok…

  16. Cat says:

    Plath was certainly very gifted with the ability to take a pale, deathly place and weave words of magic describing it to the reader, taking the feeling of emptiness and nothing and turning into a magnificent “something”.

  17. gertie says:

    hey im just 16 and not into that stuff but i thought it was very cute and truly..

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