Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

Sylvia started her life in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. During her early childhood, Sylvia’s father Otto suffered from a lengthy illness. Otto, certain he had cancer, did not seek treatment initially. When he finally did see a doctor, a case of diabetes was diagnosed but by that time his illness was advanced. His end was fraught with suffering which included the amputation of a leg. Reference to the leg is made in “Daddy” Otto died just days past Sylvia’s 8th birthday.

Sylvia was an excellent student and in 1950 she was accepted into Smith College on a scholarship. She was at the top of her class and should logically have been very happy. That was not the case. She lived in fear that it would be found out that she wasn’t the perfectly happy person she tried to project. In 1952 she won the first prize of $500 from Mademoiselle magazine for her short story “Sunday at the Minton’s”. The following June 1953, Sylvia was a guest editor at the Mademoiselle New York offices, which she later wrote about in The Bell Jar. She came home from New York in a state of exhaustion and depression. She was counting on being accepted into Frank O’Connor’s creative writing course at Harvard and when she wasn’t, she went into a state of withdrawal. She was distraught, scared inside, unable to sleep or function, but still determined to show the world a brave face. On August 24th, unable to carry on any longer, she attempted suicide. For the next months she was institutionalised at Maclean Hospital and was treated with insulin therapy and shock treatments. During this period of hospitalisation, Sylvia unknowingly was collecting material for her novel The Bell Jar and short story “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”.

In October 1955, Sylvia attended Newham College at Cambridge University on a Fulbright scholarship. After a series of go nowhere relationships and numerous blind dates, Sylvia met Ted Hughes at a St. Botolph’s party on February 25, 1956. They were married on a rainy day in London on June 16th of the same year and honeymooned in Benidorm, Spain. Ted Hughes describes the details of their wedding beautifully in his poem “A Pink Wool Knitted Dress” in Birthday Letters.

After the conclusion of her studies at Cambridge in the spring of 1957, Sylvia was asked to teach English at Smith College, where she had taken her undergraduate studies. Sylvia returned to America, bringing her husband with her. Her mother, Aurelia Plath, made them a present of a vacation on Cape Cod. Sylvia was excited at the prospect of teaching English, an obvious favorite subject area. She wasn’t long on the faculty when she felt overwhelmed. She chastised herself for presuming that she could teach. The preparatory work was exhausting and she perceived the faculty’s coldness to her. She had dreamed of giving marvellous lectures and leisurely writing her book. As was her lot, she must be brilliant and make it look as “easy as pie”. She was sick frequently and most unhappy. When the year was over, she did not return. The College was very satisfied with Sylvia’s performance, but Sylvia felt she had failed and she wouldn’t go back for another year. Already Sylvia was beginning to have doubts about Ted’s love for her. She needed constantly to be reassured. Sylvia took a less taxing clerical position as a receptionist in the psychiatric clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and continued with her writing. In early December of 1958 she began to secretly see Ruth Boucher, her therapist from McLean, where she had been hospitalized after her earlier suicide attempt in the summer of 1953. She also attended an evening poetry class, which was given by Robert Lowell, whose confessional style influenced Sylvia’s poetry.

In December 1959 Sylvia and Ted returned to England. Sylvia was pregnant and due to give birth in the spring of 1960. On April 1st, Frieda Rebecca was born. During her pregnancy, on February 10th, Sylvia signed a contract with William Heinemann Ltd. to publish The Colossus, which was to come out in October 1960. Outwardly Sylvia showed amazing energy. She scoured and scrubbed their London flat, wanting a pretty home for herself, her husband and their yet to be born baby. Inwardly she felt exhausted and barely able to carry on, but unwilling to let the world know and her circumstances pressed in on her. She wanted everything, and the writing was her outlet and her curse. It was both her salvation and her undoing.

The following February 1961 a miscarriage left Sylvia feeling depressed. She wrote of it in a poem “Parliament Hill Fields”.

In August 1961 the Hughes family moved to a Devon farm and Sylvia was isolated. Ted had become more removed from her. A son Nicholas Farrar was born on January 17th, 1962. In July, Sylvia discovered Ted’s affair with Assia Wevill. Sylvia and Ted separated in September. In the following month Sylvia wrote at least 26 of the Ariel poems.

In December 1962, Sylvia took the children with her to London and moved into an apartment at 23 Fitzroy Road, which was the former home of poet William Butler Yeats. The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in January 1963. On February 11, 1963 Sylvia gave up her life.

Concluding remarks
Although Sylvia Plath’s life was brief in conventional terms, her life was rich in experiences. She received accolades in the form of prizes, awards, and scholarships. She had literary successes, although none so great as those that were endowed on her post-humously. In 1982 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her Collected Poems.

Sylvia Plath was many things to many people; she was daughter, sister, student and teacher, wife and mother, and finally a writer. In death, she continues to influence people for more than her literary excellence.

She was a bright, intelligent, and determined young woman with a need to succeed and a burning desire to write. Sylvia had other needs that clashed with her literary ambitions. She dreamed of the comfort of a home of her own where she could belong and be loved for herself. She wanted a good husband and children. In school and outside of it, she was a high achiever never being able to quite reach the very high expectations she set for herself. No one was able to drive Sylvia more than herself. She knew self-doubt and depression. Yet to the world she presented a carefree, it’s so easy attitude. In reality she worked, pushing herself relentlessly, whether in her studies, her teaching, in her relationships or her writing. Only those nearest to her knew how troubled Sylvia’s life was.

Poems By Sylvia Plath


A Better Resurrection (12 Comments »)
A Birthday Present (7 Comments »)
A Lesson In Vengeance (2 Comments »)
A Life (17 Comments »)
April 18 (3 Comments »)
Frog Autumn (4 Comments »)
Getting There (3 Comments »)
Jilted (11 Comments »)
Leaving Early (1 Comment »)
Love Is A Parallax (2 Comments »)
Lyonnesse (No Comments »)
Mad Girl’s Love Song (74 Comments »)
Monologue At 3 AM (3 Comments »)
Never Try To Trick Me With A Kiss (9 Comments »)
Night Shift (No Comments »)
On Looking Into The Eyes Of A Demon Lover (1 Comment »)
Pheasant (1 Comment »)
Sow (5 Comments »)
The Dead (11 Comments »)
The Other (1 Comment »)
The Other Two (No Comments »)
The Times Are Tidy (No Comments »)
Two Sisters Of Persephone (46 Comments »)
Vanity Fair (1 Comment »)

Crossing the Water

Face Lift (13 Comments »)

The Collected Poems

Aftermath (1 Comment »)
Among The Narcissi (No Comments »)
An Appearance (1 Comment »)
Apprehensions (1 Comment »)
Ariel (14 Comments »)
Balloons (7 Comments »)
Berck-Plage (No Comments »)
Black Rook In Rainy Weather (8 Comments »)
Blackberrying (9 Comments »)
Bucolics (No Comments »)
By Candlelight (No Comments »)
Child (11 Comments »)
Contusion (1 Comment »)
Conversation Among The Ruins (1 Comment »)
Crossing The Water (5 Comments »)
Cut (32 Comments »)
Daddy (67 Comments »)
Death & Co. (1 Comment »)
Dialogue Between Ghost And Priest (1 Comment »)
Edge (23 Comments »)
Electra On Azalea Path (1 Comment »)
Elm (4 Comments »)
Faun (No Comments »)
Fever 103° (1 Comment »)
Fiesta Melons (2 Comments »)
Full Fathom Five (No Comments »)
Gigolo (No Comments »)
Goatsucker (1 Comment »)
I Am Vertical (6 Comments »)
In Plaster (16 Comments »)
Insomniac (3 Comments »)
Kindness (13 Comments »)
Lady Lazarus (29 Comments »)
Landowners (1 Comment »)
Last Words (1 Comment »)
Lesbos (17 Comments »)
Letter In November (2 Comments »)
Lorelei (No Comments »)
Love Letter (1 Comment »)
Mary’s Song (6 Comments »)
Medusa (4 Comments »)
Metaphors (46 Comments »)
Mirror (72 Comments »)
Morning Song (21 Comments »)
Mushrooms (51 Comments »)
Mystic (4 Comments »)
Nick And The Candlestick (1 Comment »)
Paralytic (5 Comments »)
Perseus (No Comments »)
Poems, Potatoes (No Comments »)
Polly’s Tree (3 Comments »)
Poppies In July (1 Comment »)
Poppies In October (14 Comments »)
Prospect (No Comments »)
Purdah (1 Comment »)
Pursuit (1 Comment »)
Resolve (No Comments »)
Sculptor (No Comments »)
Sheep In Fog (5 Comments »)
Sleep In The Mojave Desert (No Comments »)
Snakecharmer (1 Comment »)
Southern Sunrise (No Comments »)
Spinster (7 Comments »)
Stillborn (19 Comments »)
Stings (3 Comments »)
Strumpet Song (No Comments »)
Tale Of A Tub (2 Comments »)
The Applicant (23 Comments »)
The Arrival Of The Bee Box (15 Comments »)
The Bee Meeting (20 Comments »)
The Bull Of Bendylaw (No Comments »)
The Colossus (16 Comments »)
The Couriers (1 Comment »)
The Disquieting Muses (3 Comments »)
The Eye-Mote (3 Comments »)
The Moon And The Yew Tree (10 Comments »)
The Munich Mannequins (1 Comment »)
The Night Dances (No Comments »)
The Queen’s Complaint (No Comments »)
The Rival (11 Comments »)
The Sleepers (3 Comments »)
The Swarm (No Comments »)
The Thin People (9 Comments »)
Three Women (3 Comments »)
Totem (No Comments »)
Tulips (21 Comments »)
Two Campers In Cloud Country (1 Comment »)
Two Views Of A Cadaver Room (2 Comments »)
Virgin In A Tree (1 Comment »)
Winter Landscape, With Rooks (No Comments »)
Winter Trees (7 Comments »)
Wintering (No Comments »)
Words (5 Comments »)
Wuthering Heights (3 Comments »)
Years (1 Comment »)
You’re (17 Comments »)
Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem You’re


  1. Suzy Taylor says:

    I had heard of this poem from my boyfriend, Chew.

    It really made me think of pregnancy in a different way. Thanks Sylvia, you really made a fantastic poem 🙂

  2. Zangoose says:

    i feel that this poem really brings out the emotions that a pregnant women is feeling. Well done sylvia.

  3. tisha says:

    heart touching and fantastic poem written by slvia

  4. Olivia says:

    I like this poem

  5. Kelly says:

    This poem was forwarded to me by a male friend during my pregnancy. The reference to calendar events – 4th July to All Fool’s Day was perfectly timed for me and so the poem resonated even more so. But it’s the second stanza where she describes ‘A creel of eels, all ripples’/ ‘Jumpy as a Mexican bean’ that you can feel what it’s like to have a baby inside. She also gives insight into how an expectant mother feels towards their unborn child ‘Looked for like mail’ / ‘Farther off than Australia’ / ‘A clean slate, with your own face on’. Never will a woman be so intimately tied to another person for so long and yet not know them. In some ways they don’t yet exist in this world and she can’t seem to find them no matter how far she looks. It’s the most amazing and contradictory experience.
    Maybe this is a poem best appreciated by women although I see some men find the descriptions very effective. To call admirers of the poem ‘stupid’ lacks empathy which is what I think a good comprehension of this poem requires.

  6. Harry Coen says:

    no it doesn’t, you’re all so stupid

  7. bubba says:

    even though I am a guy, I can visualize it and see the comparisons.

  8. natalia says:

    I think that this is a beautiful poem and is in real detail and dept…sylvia plaths poems is very powaful..!

  9. Megan says:

    we did this poem in my english class and i think it is just lovely

  10. sara yasser zaghloul says:

    intresting poem ahich have wonderful meaning

  11. ea says:

    This isn’t about giving birth; it’s about being pregnant. The high-rising loaf is the way her stomach looks and the Mexian Jumping bean is how the baby feels inside her. It’s a wonderful poem; I have to say. One of the few Plath poems I have read that I actually enjoyed.

  12. erica says:

    this is a very good poem i apreciate its art

  13. Lauren says:

    awesome poem about her giving birth it uses such words that makes you think about the actual birth

  14. Jessica 15 says:

    Plath is celebrating the birth of a child. she was used to giving birth to stillborn children (read poem “stillborn”) she wrote the first verse b4 the child was born, you can tell because it says ‘Gilled like a fish’ which is telling you that the baby is still in her stomach. also is says that the child is ‘Wrapped up in yourself like a spool’ which is her description of the child all curled up inside of her. the baby is ‘mute’ inside of her, ‘trawls’ in her darkness, and has her feet to the stars. it is quite obvious the baby is still in her womb. the second verse is also written wen the child was inside of her, it proves it by “Bent-backed Atlas” there are so many different meanings to this poem, and i dont have time to finish it. cya

  15. omid says:

    sometimes when i am thinking by myself,it’s the best poem that i can …

  16. Clair says:

    There is a grace in the image of new birth and pregnancy that ‘You’re’ creates; ‘A creel of eels, all ripples’ is something I’m sure mothers can relate to and the simple hope of the last line: ‘A clean slate, with your own face on.’ to me at least is evocative of the of the peace, however brief, that Sylvia Plath did find in being a mother (A new chance to start over).

  17. Bubba says:

    Unintelligible like yesterday’s message drawn on the beach.
    Overrated – the finishing blind mare on a darkened track. Last poobug topping an abandoned turd.
    The 40th candle on a stranger’s 41st cake.
    Jabberwocky-wanna-seem. Ununderstood, interpreted nearly well with an upside down book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Sylvia Plath better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.