Sylvia Plath and her Confessional Poetry
The terminology “confessional poetry” was first introduced by R. L. Rosenthal, a professor of English at New York University while discussing the work of Robert Lowell “Life Studies”. He applied the same term for the poetic work of Plath as well. Plath never gained popularity in her lifetime. It was after her suicide that she was widely known for after the posthumous publication of Ariel, a collection of poems, which were startling and acclaimed in their nature.
Plath is considered among those first English American poets who refused to conceal or disguise the true feelings and passions of life. Her bold metaphors, violent and intense imagery give a mythic touch to her poetry. She handled subjects which were painful and gruesome like suicide, self-loathing, shock treatment of Nazis, dysfunctional relationship and homicide. Plath’s complicated literary personality was impossible to detach from her work. Her deeply personal lamentation achieved universality through her shocking images. The element of ‘I’ is never far from her poetry. She rejects the doctrine of impersonality which was propagated by most modern American poets. She wanted the reader to experience what the speaker was facing. Plath’s artistic faculty lies in her ability to let the reader understand what is occurring with simplest reference or sometimes with no reference.
Sylvia was a victim of obsessive compulsive disorder. The world expected a lot from such a bright, charming and intellectual girl. She tried her best but her split personality always failed her. She wanted to be loved and to shower love; she went from pillar to post to fill this desire but remained un-granted. Her love towards her parents, husband and her children did not find proper direction. As a result she was obsessed with death wish. Her poetry vacillates between extremes of life and death and she imprints her notions on the mind of reader with the translucent power of her poetic faculties.
Most of her poetry travels on the two planes simultaneously; the apparent and the hidden or underlying. Plath’s Bee poems are open evidence of this trait of her poetry. In the poems like “The Bee Meeting” and “The Arrival of the Bee Box” Sylvia employed the imagery of apiary but expressed her fears, doubts and suspicions about the world around her. These poems emphasize that the most important fear is the fear of known world. She elaborated the murder of the bee queen as her own end, the uselessness of the productive queen is beautifully and remarkably identified with her own life but irony lies in the fact that she finished her life with her own hands.
Plath’s poetry has rightly been marked as a confessional poetry as her work is never lacking in personal materials. She keeps her life in the center of the theme and then evolves the expression. Her metaphors, similes and mythic allusions add glitter to her glowing work. There is a liquid fluency in her verse form which drives the reader to the world of Sylvia where, at times, we find bright joyous light of gaiety while at other times there is a gloomy, gruesome rein of inevitable death. Plath’s poetry is a unique blend of mirth and mourns which is inseparable.
Plath is ranked as the great poets of American Literature who rebelled against the conventional tradition. Her work is her own identity. She is living and breathing in every line of her poetry. Even a layman can perceive the pain and agony of the speaker. All these salient traits earn the title of a confessional poet for Sylvia.