What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,

Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.

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


  1. Adel says:

    This poem to me is about needing the truth, and the veil is the deception the truth hides behind. More poignantly, Plath is desperate for her husband, Hughes, to tell her the truth. His actions then and with other women subsequent to Plaths death reveal a shifty character with a habitual leaning towards deceptiveness. His widow Carol had to suffer the indignities of his affairs with Jill Barber, Emma Tennant and others. Even from his mistresses he hid other mistresses and was endlessly creative with his subterfuge. This trait to operate surreptitiously must have been unbearable to Plath and she felt, as expressed in the poem that he was killing not only what was left of their relationship but also killing, squeezing the joy out of her very existence. She writes:

    “Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole? Must you stamp each piece purple. Must you kill what you can?”

    And also:

    “If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.”

    This is a clear cry for clarity and Hughes gave it to her in “Birthday Letters,” about thirty five years too late.

  2. Seihana says:

    I thought this poem was about death and the afterlife. I only just found out about this poet but I love her work immensely and now she is one of my favorites.

  3. Emma says:

    I always thought this was about someones penis

  4. Etwal says:

    She is trying to tell us that reached to her end .Shimmering is the word she used to describe her birthday present . The secret in this poam is to find out what is her birthday present;
    Putting end to her life by this shimmeriring birthday present will be the perefect present for her!

  5. lalalalalal says:

    thats sad

  6. Plath fan says:

    For more insight into what Plath was talking about here, read “Birthday Letters”, published by Ted Hughes (her former husband) just a few years ago—nearly 40 years after her death. He finally gave her what she wanted. Ironically, about a year before he died.

  7. Brittany says:

    i found this poem to be intriguing. it showed deep insight into the real pain that could be found in Sylvia Plath. her longing is truly conveyed in A Birthday Present, and i feel that it is done so in a more profound way than in any of her other poetry to think of.

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