If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.
Both of you are great light borrowers.
Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected,

And your first gift is making stone out of everything.
I wake to a mausoleum; you are here,
Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes,
Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous,
And dying to say something unanswerable.

The moon, too, abuses her subjects,
But in the daytime she is ridiculous.
Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,
Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity,
White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.

No day is safe from news of you,
Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem The Rival


  1. Ahmad says:

    This poem really triggered emotions ive never felt before. I cried for 10 minutes after reading this piece of literary brilliance, I agree with Ajay, this poem completes my life. Sylvia

  2. Ahmad says:

    I agree with Ajay, i cried too

  3. George says:

    I understand the different perspectives of it being based on Aurelia and Ted Hughes but I keep getting drawn to the different references.

    “Making stone out of everything” alludes to Medusa yet “Spiteful as a woman” confuses that idea and “through the mailslot with loving regularly” links back to Aurelia.

    Is that her mother is not human enough to be referred to as female or is Plath addressing both individuals here?

  4. Amdrew Bartlett says:

    Despite what she truly based the explosion of emotion in this poem about, The only meaning any self respecting reader can gleam from it is that of her depression at her mother’s always too high expectations, She finds her mother smothering like “Carbon Monoxide”, she always must have the final say “Light-Stealer” And the constant stream of pestering her mother gave her whilst Sylvia lived in England, a volume of letters so large, her mother published them as a book, Hence: “No day is safe from news of you”

    My theory: She is either directly speaking of her mother, or personifying her mother as death itself, as im sure her mother assisted in her unfortunate death.

    Thank you if you read this far.

  5. sarah says:

    i think this poem is mainly about ted and how she feels towards him.

  6. ShaiKhai says:

    It seems as if people weren’t looking into the background of Plath enough to find this poem is based on her friend (her husband’s friend’s wife) Didio Merwin as is “Face Lift” it makes more sense if you see this poem based on D Merwin and her husband.

  7. Emily says:

    I saw this poem as Plath’s way of counting the increasing distance between Ted and herself. In the poem, I felt there was reference to Medusa in the line “And your first gift is making stone out of everything.” I gave a sense of coldness and led well into her prison/death sentence of being trapped in his “mausoleum.” I’d like to count this poem as more of a mockery and expression of anxiety towards her husband more than anything.

  8. Amanda says:

    Line 11 should have the word abases, not abuses.

  9. Lorie Davies says:

    I think the poem is about her relationship with Ted. He was a follower of Robert Graves and there are a number of references in both writers works in regard to the Moon and it’s reference to mythology.
    “I wake to a mausoleum” is refering to Ted, she often referred to him as “Stone Man”. He was becoming increasingly distant and her poems during this time were an attempt to put her finger on what was going on.

  10. Gooften says:

    Personally i think the poem tells us the relationship between Plath and her mother, a rival in her own living. As the moon has the light and black side, the mother also seems to be such a person in her life.

  11. Ajay Ram says:

    I think this poem talks about rivals and rivalry in the world. The mood is gloomy and depressing. I cried when I read it. So powerful…so moving.

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