Two girls there are : within the house
One sits; the other, without.
Daylong a duet of shade and light
Plays between these.

In her dark wainscoted room
The first works problems on
A mathematical machine.
Dry ticks mark time

As she calculates each sum.
At this barren enterprise
Rat-shrewd go her squint eyes,
Root-pale her meager frame.

Bronzed as earth, the second lies,
Hearing ticks blown gold
Like pollen on bright air. Lulled
Near a bed of poppies,

She sees how their red silk flare
Of petaled blood
Burns open to the sun’s blade.
On that green alter

Freely become sun’s bride, the latter
Grows quick with seed.
Grass-couched in her labor’s pride,
She bears a king. Turned bitter

And sallow as any lemon,
The other, wry virgin to the last,
Goes graveward with flesh laid waste,
Worm-husbanded, yet no woman.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem Two Sisters Of Persephone


  1. Court says:

    Just so you know, the stanza talking about the woman who turned bitter and sallow as any lemon does turn “bitter and sallow”. The second woman is ‘raped’ hence the line “lulled near a bed of poppies”. Poppies are an opiate, and that’s why the stanza after is so violent.

  2. TwoSisters says:

    I’ve seen this comment repeated several times so far.. The second sister, who “bears a king” does NOT become “bitter and sallow as any lemon”. If you read the sixth and seventh stanza correctly, you’ll notice that it says “Turned bitter / and sallow as any lemon / the other / wry virgen to the last / goes graveward” etc… By saying “the other”, Plath is referring to the first sister.

    When reading poetry it is important to recite it out loud and go through it carefully before making assumptions about its meaning.

  3. Jamie Islas (Curie HS Student) says:

    Plaths peom of “Two Sisters of Persephone” describe the two sides of Perspehone from the Greek mythology. We know from the mythological story that Hades, god of the underworld and the dead, had taken Persephone down to his dark world. Pershpones mother had begged Hades to give her back her daughter and Zeus made them compromise, Hades would get Persephone half of the year and her mother, Demeter, would get her the other half of the year. While Persephone was with her mother she was happy and so the earth went through spring and summer, but while she went to the dark underwold with Hades, Persephone was sad and gloomy and so we have winter, when the earth is cold and barren. Plaths poem makes and allusion to this myth in that she uses dichotomies to describe the two sides of Persephone through two sisters.

    One interesting thing about Plaths writing is that she uses enjambment in her writing, in the first stanza of this poem get an introduction to the “two sisters” and then she goes into the first sister without the use of punctuation. The first sister is described as “shade” (line 3) and being in a dark place so right away we see that this is making a refrence to winter and the time Persphone spends with Hades.

    The second sister is describes as “light” (line 3), “bronzed as the earth” (line 13), and “sun’s bride” (line 21) and that makes a refrence that this is Perspehone when she is with her mother and so she is a metaphor for spring.

  4. Kedran Mackenzie says:

    This poem actually reminded me of my younger sister and myself when we were younger. She was seen as the perfect child that knew so much, was so gifted, and perfect in every way. I was the lackadaisical child that was ignorant and pathetic and would amount to nothing. This poem makes me remember how my sister was to be “the perfect woman” and I was not a woman at all.

  5. Amethyst says:

    I thought that this poem was very interesting because of all the juxtapositions of adjectives and nouns, in addition to all the puns that are used throughout.

  6. BB says:

    I think that Plath really captured the two roles of Persephone well. The language used to show the contrast of the two roles was very effective, leading you to believe that the poem could have been about to completely diffrent women.

  7. Brianna says:

    I think everyone can relate to this poem in one way or another. It represents the different sides of Persephone, and we are all seen differently by people we surround ourselves with. The symbolism and adjectives make this a very powerful poem that brings many different images to your mind. My favorite part of the poem was the part about the poppies. I love how Plath used the flowers to represent Persephone’s sexuality and “fertility” as well as her youth and inexperience. The last lines of this poem represent the way many people have viewed women throughout time: “goes graveward with flesh laid to waste” shows that people believe that women’s only purpose is to bear children and give men what they need. “Worm-husbanded, yet no woman” backs this idea up as well, by saying that since she never served a man in her life she shouldn’t be seen as a real and proper woman.

  8. Shanique says:

    For the most part the poem was very interesting. The first time I read the poem I didn’t quite understand what was going on. I figured that the poem described two girls from different worlds somewhat connected. However, as I re-read the poem I noticed that even though there were two voices intertwined there was only one speaker in this poem. From that I realize that the speaker was having some psychological issues within herself to find out who she really is; a nut.

  9. Michelle Santos says:

    This poem is interesting because it tells the story of a Greek Mythology in a way that shows an underlying story of good and evil. On the one hand it shows a woman who is disciplined and who is a portrayal of a perfect woman, and on the other there is a woman who nothing is expected of, who is not even cosidered a woman at all. The woman portrays good, while the person who is considered a ‘non-woman’ is considered eveil because she brings darkness, or winter, to the world while the other brings happiness and sunlight, or summer. I liked the figurative language in the poem and also the imagery. Also, the words chosen in this poem are very powerful and are what make the poem what it is.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I was fasinated by tge descriptions in this poem. It really caught my attention. There are alot of symbolism and questions to be answer like are sisters symbolizing Sylvia. Its great a poem after carefully understanding all the metaphors and symbolism within it.

  11. Lauren Walker says:

    This poem reminds me of the two sisters, Tita and Rosaura, in the novel Like Water for Chocolate. They were a lot like these two sisters because of the diverse paths of life that they were given. One was fated to be married and the other to die a virgin. In the poem, the two sisters have many similarities and differences or “shade and light” between them, just like Tita and Rosaura. The fact that Plath used “a mathematical machine” to describe their lives has a connotation of fact and precision as if there is no room for chance; their “sum” or destiny is set in stone. The sister that has a “barren enterprise” is the unfortunate sister, who is going to die a virgin. She is the one who is left with a lack of a future and her deranged features are signs of her dismay with this foretelling. She dies “worm-husbanded” and being that worms are a sign of decay and decomposition this may be symbolism that she died never married- the decay of her fertility and ability to wed. “Yet no woman” also confirms this interpretation because it refers to her virginity and that she was never made into a “woman” because of a lack of a husband. While the other, is left with a “bright” future full of fertility, since the imagery refers to a lot of vegetation and happiness, since she marries “on that green alter” and bears a son, “a king.”

  12. Ayaz Shaikh says:

    This poem at first was really confusing. But when taking time to break it down it made more sense. It is alot of figurtive speech which through me off.

  13. Lucy says:

    In using the word “sister” in the title, Plath shows that despite the breaking of one woman’s soul into two egos with very different agendas, there is a constant connection between them. This “blood” connection as sisters would have is manifested in this poem as a medium for contrasting a hag and an ideal woman. It shows in a way, that the happiest, most fortunate woman in the world may have a secret. In this case it is an alter ego, her polar opposite, an unfeminine beast.

  14. Brittany says:

    After reading the poem i’ve concluded that there are two halves of one woman wrapped into one. The first half of the woman is the everyday childbearer. The women that takes care of home and handles her responsibilities. The other half of the women is like a representaiton of what a true women should never be. like the ugly duckling. The women who no one loves nor wants to be with. She’s like the inner thoughts of a women who is without true love and fulfillment.

  15. Bilal Chaudhry says:

    this poem is very confusing because there is a lot of symbolism used and is hard to interpret. but what i got from this poem was that there were two sisters that lived two different lives and had different outcomes. it would be easier to understand though if there were not as many metaphors used

  16. zack says:

    Great poem, tons of imagery, very interesting on how he told about the two different sisters on and off through out the poem.

  17. Derek says:

    This poem was extremly confusing after reading it the first time but after going through it after and examining it piece by piece it had made better sense and the words actually did match and come together. What this poem could actually represent is the author in general how her feelings affect her reactions.

  18. Taylor Goodin says:

    I think this poem is very interesting in the way it portrays two sides of women. The fact that first woman seems to be very disciplined seeing as it refers to math may show what the girl strives to be or in fact what she really is inside. The second half referring to the more free side of the girl shows in a way the heart of every girl, a dreamer.

  19. Courtney says:

    After realizing the two different voices in this poem, I was able to have a better understanding of it in general. Personally I didn’t like this poem very much because it seemed as if it was a poetic way of saying what this woman does. It also seems to be comparing what the woman really is, to what she is in her dreams. She wants to be a girly lady but is stuck in her ‘nerdy’ body who calculates problems all day long, all alone. Both of these women are total opposites from one another and it’s quite obvious in the descriptions.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    After reading the poem the first time i was very confused…atfer i read it a second time i got the impression that the poem was a contrasting what one sister was compared to what she wanted to be. Words such as dull and pale were used, then the words such as bring were used…and i took this as words describing what she wanted to be.

  21. Melissa G says:

    I think this poem is about one woman with an alter ego. The true woman is the 1st woman and she wishes to be the 2nd, she is envious of the 2nd woman. She wants to be that ideal woman that bears a child, not a woman that gets married and is unable to give bith. She stays inside and grows old & plae, and then one day die. The 1st woman was never able to fulfill that woman role that the society puts on women.

  22. Latasha D says:

    After reading this poem, honestly Im not a big fan but I have concluded a few observations from it. It seems as if the two people conveyed in this novel are really two different sides of the poet. On one side the poet wants to be this “woman” who has children and is in the outside world and who appears to get high off of life. The other person is the other side of the woman. That is the true her, the one who is lonely and who tries to “figure out” life by using her “mathematical” methods. The general idea of the poem is interesting but overall I didnt really like it.

  23. Ashlee says:

    I think this poem shows two sides of one woman. One side is a woman who doesn’t want to be bothered with the duties of having children. The responsibility of being a woman. She is the underground woman, whose husband is a worm. The other side of her personality is a woman who has a child and who is on earth. Plath did a great job conveying a contrast between these two personalities.

  24. krystoff says:

    Plath did a great job with this poem. When I read it, I see two sides of a person being shown. Whether it be the author or persephone herself, I’m not sure. But what I find in this is that we see one sister is sheltered and not living life to the fullest where as the other one is out and enjoys the joys of life and being considered a women because of her fertilness. And we see the sheltered sister trying to figure things out with logic on her “mathematical machine” because she is either to scared to go out or confined for some reason. But, all-in-all I think that Plath did a wonderful job with this poem that is given proof of her great reputation that she has.

  25. Krystoff says:

    I think that this poem really shows two different sides of a person. whether it be the author or persephone, i’m not exactly sure. But we see the way that plat really talks about the difference between being inside and being out in the world… The comparison between living a life to the fullest and experiencing things and staying sheltered trying to figure out what exactly to do. All in all, i think this poem was brilliantly written and think that it given proof of the poets great reputation.

  26. Danielle says:

    This poem showed two sides of Persephone. The lonely underground sister is barren and has no children. She is the wife of the worm, symbolic of the earth and the ground and living below the sun. The sister, on the other hand, “bears a king”, and is the “suns bride”. She is allowed to be in the sunlight growign and being free while her sister sits in confinement and wallows in her own lonliness. The sister underground is not even a “woman” because she doesn’t have any kids. Her sister is important and is a woman because she does have a child.

  27. Kaitlyn says:

    This poem discussed the contrast between the two identities of “Persephone”. The scrawny and weak underworld sister was denied sunlight, growth, and even pregnancy. The other sister is above ground, growing and devloping in the sunlight. She “becomes the suns bride” showing how she is married and then gives birth to a king. The less fortunate sister marries the worm and is denied the title of woman because without bearing children she is practically worthless. The sister of the underworld is dark, bitter, and barren, vs. her sister of fertility who is bronzed, bride, and bright. A vivid contrast is shown that can even be compared to the life of the author- Sylvia Plath.

  28. Arielle says:

    I think that Sylvia PLath is describing her own life in this poem. The first “sister” is who she really is. She sits in her home by herself, writing her poetry, contemplating the meaning of her existence. She is unhappy and unmarried. She never had kids nor did she ever marry. The second “sister” is what she dreamt of her life. She imagined a life where she could be free and from her own self demise. Maybe she wanted to have kids and be married. Maybe she wanted to go outside of her “house” (meaning her own mind).
    The two are complete opposites and only one can be. The first at the end… being Sylvia PLath dies without the “normal” tribulations and joys of being a woman.

  29. stephanie says:

    Plath is trying to portray the two women in two totally different lights. The sister in the dark working as a mathematician obviously is living a negative and unhappy life without freedom, while the other sister lavishes in the exact opposite type of life. Some repetitions throughout the two voices of the sisters is the word “ticks” and the comparision of husbantry and fertility. The sister in the dark is “worm-husbanded” while the sister of the light is the “sun’s bride”. These two comparisions of how the sisters were husbanded directly outlines the major differences in the two lifes. I believe that the dark sister is described as a mathematician because she is weighed upon by rules, while the other sister has no work or rules and is instead free. The fertility issue is also very big, obvious;y, the dark sister was “barren”. The sister of the light’s expierence with fertility is much the opposite. the sister was “lulled” or seduced and then allowed the sun to be her husband with his “blade”. The “petaled blood” marks the loss of virginity.

  30. Brian says:

    When I first read this poem, Two Sisters of Persephone, by Sylvia Path, I was confused and didnt understand it at all. After reading the poem over and over and picking out the different voices, I was able to understand the poem. This poem is about 2 girls, or about a person with 2 sides. The first girl is within the house, working “at this barren enterprise” and getting nowhere. This girl is very traditional and does what she is supposed to but she is struggling to be in the home and wants to be free. She “dry ticks mark time” as if it was a calender counting down the time untill she will be able to go to the other side. The second girl has freedom, she is able to go out into the sunglight and be “near a bed of poppies”. The second women ends up becoming married to the sun and having a baby with it. The poem then again goes on talking about the first girl, saying that she is worthless because she doesnt have a husband or a child. This poem could possibly be how the author feels because she is within the house with her two children but could possibly want to be free.

  31. Shauntia says:

    Although Plath used very powerful language in this poem, it all seems like a fantasy world and unrealistic. It seems to me that she is trying to show us her two sides, or at least how she perceives herself. There’s the first where we all see her unexposed to the world, isolated from the finer things in life and sitting around doing nothing exciting. While in contrast, her other side shows her less pale and more bronze, less secluded and more open to the outdoors. It’s as if she can transform her identity. But the thing that I disliked about the poem was that she gives the impression that a woman can be considered less of a woman if she doesn’t bear children.

  32. Jarvis says:

    I thought that the poem showed two sides of the girl. How the girl is dead and is living underground and how the girl is alive, because of the sun and growth. I thought that this was a very interesting poem because it made me think outside of the box.

  33. Daisy says:

    I thought it was interesting that in a way she shows that having children makes a true woman, and this, “obviously” should make a woman happy, for she has reached the ultimate. She is no longer in the dark side, confined in the home, “yet no woman.” Yet, it seems, that she is also trying to point to the fact that the ultimate is not always the happiest point, through the existense of this darker “sister.” She herself had two children,reaching the “ultimate” and yet committed suicide. In this way, the two sides that she portrays throughout the poem seem to be a) the TRUE person that she is on the inside, the depressed, closed off by the boundaries, and the beliefs of society, and b) the FALSE person she shows, the one with children that is supposed to be happy, and free.

  34. Sheena says:

    My first reaction to the poem after reading it was how confusing it was. At first it didn’t make any sense. However after reading it again I was able to intrepet different meanings to it and see that one sister died without having to experience womenly things and the other was more of a women because she did. One was miserable as the other was happy

  35. Becca says:

    Honestly, this poem scares me. Is this really what people see when they cant find the happy medium? Do we ever really find our happy medium? I truly think that the author of this poem was stuck in the paths of tradition of being a woman. Like almost all peoms that are written by women there is a certian symbolism of hate and sadness of not being able to live a life without the insecurities of the ideal women. Long story short Sylvia like all women was looking on the other side of the fence and was comparing it to hers, making her life seem as though it were termoil.

  36. Ali says:

    To me, this poem shows that the sister who is inside the house, has not been corrupted by the public yet. She is pale, from not recieving sunlight, while her sister is bronze because thats what the public thinks is pretty. The one inside has not had a child because she doesn’t know that that is what society thinks is important. The one outside however is having a child, what she believes to be a king, because this will let her conform with society. People would look at this pale woman who would rather think than bear a child is different, or unacceptable where the one who is bronze and childbearing is a true woman.

  37. Joselyn says:

    What this poem is talking about is the pain that Sylvia feels throughout her life. This could be seen as the multiple personality disorder that she feels throughout her life. The pains and pressure of motherhood, or the hermit life that is seen by the other sister. Happiness is defined by if a women can have children or not.

  38. Becky says:

    This poem shows the duality of Persephone and how she is a completely different person when she is in the underworld. While in the underworld she has no life, never becoming a woman, living in boredom. While she is in living on this earth she is a woman with a marriage and a child. She is the one that gives life to the world, the rebirth of everything. This poem shows how her life is different with the place in which she is residing.

  39. edgar r. eslit says:

    Ms.Plath knows the language of poetry well. As it shows, it contains the truths about realities in one’s life and how to live it to the fullest.

  40. Evilwalnut says:

    This poem by Sylvia Plath reflects the pain she has suffered in her life as a result of losing her father, and the severe depression that ensued and continued into her adulthood. The speaker’s inability to reconcile two personalities in this poem leads to her demise. This is illustrated though textual and literary devices, as well as mythological allusions and references to her father.
    The first two lines of the poem are fragmented, showing the rift between the two personalities early on. Her use of fragmented phrases also foreshadows her dilemma between her two contrary personalities. “One sits; the other, without” is an allusion to woman’s roles and constraints. One state of mind is constrained, and must be seated in a ladylike manner, while the second state of mind stands free from restraint. Inn lines 3 and 4, a “duet of shade and light” compares the two states of mind. A duet of shade and light is a contradiction, as a duet implies cooperation, and shade and light can never coexist. This is the underlying theme of this poem, as it is impossible to bring together her two states of mind, and she is doomed to a tragic end. This is also a mythological allusion to Persephone and Hades, Hades being the shadow and Persephone the light. The alliteration of daylong duet emphasizes this line’s importance. Line 4 says the duet is played “between these” however between has a second meaning, and rather than implying a duet including the two states of mind, it is physically in the gap between them.
    The second stanza serves to show us her state of mind that is emotionally void. It says she “works problems” but in futility, suggesting that Plath cannot overcome her problems in life, and attempting to separate her problems from emotion is also futile. She does not work out her own problems but uses a machine in an attempt to overcome them. Line 8 emphasizes that while emotionless, time is interminable as this line does not end and continues into the next stanza.
    After the gap between stanzas, the sentence continues, and the emotionless sister is still counting. This further emphasizes the futility in dealing with the problem, and the insignificance of time to her. Her “barren enterprise” is suggesting infertility, as this state of mind could never bring life into her reality. Lines 12 and 13 have identical structure, and this structure will foreshadow a transition each time it appears in the poem. This parallelism also ties together the two traits as common to one problem. Her rat shrewd eyes show that she is opening up to what’s beyond her machine print outs, and also shows a negative image in nature.
    The fourth stanza takes a sharp turn, and leads into a daydream, or fantasy of the unemotional state of mind. Bright imagery and vivid colors sharply contrast the previous stanzas. Line 13 “the second lies” is an extremely powerful statement. Not only does Plath suggest the second state of mind, or the fantasy, is physically lying down, but that this fantasy is a lie and there is dual meaning in this word. The ticks of time are also “blown gold” showing that in this fantasy and life of fertility, mortality has given time meaning. Line 15 talks about pollen. This is an allusion to her father as a beekeeper, as well as to the fertility that pollen symbolizes. Soon, however, she is intoxicated by this fantasy, as she would be by poppies. Line 16 does not end, the follows into the next stanza showing the escape of time as she drifts deeper into the stupor of her fantasy.
    The first two lines of the fifth stanza substantially emphasize the powerful intoxication that the poppies have, and the vivid imagery shows how enthralled she is with this fantasy. Line 19 shows her being separated from her fantasy, and further polarized away from the emotionless state of mind. From this point in the poem, the fantasy quickly runs out of control, and she in consumed by it. This is reminiscent of Plath’s childhood, and her years of bliss when she got straight As and still had a father, however, the poem will turn out as her childhood did. In addition, her inability to reconcile the two “sisters” will lead to an even further polarization of one sister in this fantasy, which must inevitably lead to a downfall.

  41. Vanessa says:

    This poem is about defiance, resistance. The mathematician defies, refuses, as does the flower that withers. The flower that submits bears seed and prospers. The those who live in gentle acceptance and do not fight their fate are those that prosper.

  42. Nique says:

    Mmm, I interpreted the poem to be about the ideal role of a woman. Look carefully, contrast the differences. One is a mathmetician, and in every way she is described negatively. The other is free and beautiful, and she bore children. Think about that…

  43. Cat says:

    This poem is obviously about Sylvia’s own struggles in her life. On one side she wants to be a poet and on the other side she wants to be a mother and a homemaker.

  44. Jessica says:

    I really like this poem. It not only has a great message, but also is beautifully written.

  45. courtney says:

    The poem is really good, especially in the comparison of the two aspects of Persephone. However, i personally still think that the Cat in the Hat is a much better work of literatrue

  46. courtney says:

    this is one of my favorite Plath poems. It contains so many truths either you live life to the fullest or you fall away.

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