My English Speaking GCSE: Poetry's importance

My take on the importance of Poetry and Sylvia Plath.

By Annabelle

7/8/20234 min read

Poetry. What is Poetry? For some, it’s an experience that is shared to capture the crippling pain you felt when you fell off your bike as a child, or your first love, your first heartbreak or maybe the consuming grief of coming home to find your hamster dead. Poetry is arguably one the most perceptive forms of art providing an insight into the lives of the poets themselves, like a window into their soul, and yet, helps you to reflect on your own lives. Poetry can withstand the endless continuum of time and its power is held in every line, every word, every syllable, which is then brought together to form a poem whether it be free verse, Petrarchan, narrative or the famous sonnet form. And even through the modern delivery of poetry through music such as rap. Notice the consistent rhyme and beat which conveys its ideas to engage and inspire our young generation. Poetry is still relevant today and you don't even know it. The expression of complex emotions through poetry is an artwork done by many and mastered by few. Each layer and perception of the meaning presented in poetry can differ and that is exactly why it's so valuable. Today. I will be talking about a specific poet and the events within her lifetime that contributed to the work she produced.

Sylvia Plath. She is most well known for her one and only, autobiographical book “ the bell jar” and her often brutal and horrifying exploration of oppression, death and relationships through poems such as “daddy” and “lady lazarus”. Written in 1961, Plath's widely praised book ‘ the bell jar’ is based on her own experiences and is applied to a fictional college student who dreams of being a poet and explores the struggles of identity, entrapment and suicide. However, although she is an accredited poet, Sylvia Plath is criticized for her romanticisation of abusive relationships and her white feminism saturated throughout her book. White feminism is feminism that is to mainly benefit white middle class women over the downfall of ethnic minorities. Plath also uses many slurs throughout her book and overtly gives black characters demon-like characteristics and stereotypes. It is important to both acknowledge the negative racist attitudes, along with the positive power of her writing. Moreover, the heart breaking description of her personal experience in a mental hospital and the thoughts, feelings, emotions trapped within her own head is reflected in the metaphor of the title ‘ the bell jar’ representing her confinement and inescapability of her life. However, unlike Plath herself, the book ends with the main character Esther reaching a stable mindset and as she finds herself at Joan's funeral (who became her friend at the mental hospital) which evoked the feeling of gratitude as she is thankful to be alive and is overcome with the bodily desire to live as she ‘took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of (her) heart. I am, I am, I am” This popular quote is a perfect illustration of overcoming mental illness and is a pivotal part of Plath's life as she chooses to try and think positively.

Moreover, the poem ‘daddy’ directly addresses her deceased father who has such power over her she feels ‘like a Jew’, and describes him as that of a nazi who haunts her life and has struggled to escape even in his death. Although the influence of her father on her life was destructive, Plath expresses her love and admiration for him as a child even when he was anything but a good father. These complicated emotions were brought back to her current life in relation to her husband and many believe that her referral to both her father and husband equally, demonstrates her fathers damage to Plath’s perception of love as a child ,and therefore, continues to crave a father figure in adult life.

This poem was written in 1962, one month before her and Ted Hughs separated and this poem acts a representation of her disastrous male relationships which ultimately lead to her downfall. The controversial relationship between Plath and her husband Hughes is often discussed as unpublished letters from her psychiatrist alleged he beat her and wished she was dead after she miscarried their second child. Later, Hughes and Plath took a trip to Devon where he began his affair with Assia Wevill and wrote the poem ‘the dreamer in me fell in love with her’. After leaving Plath as a struggling single parent with a young son and daughter, she took her own life.

Furthermore, ‘lady Lazarus’ is a feminist interpretation of the biblical story of Lazarus who was resurrected by Jesus after being dead for 4 days and Plath expresses her fatalistic, dangerous attitude towards death as she mentions she has died three times and has come back ‘like a cat with nine lives’ and the Phoenix’s immortality which Plath embodies at the end of the poem. This can be interpreted as a confession to her attempts of suicide and her rising above the oppression of men through the metaphor of world war 2 nazis. Plath also expresses her longing for death as she feels she cannot escape life and the anger from the controlling men and doctors leave her tormented and so desperate she will ‘eat men like air’ so that they dont keep her alive in the toxic patriarchal society which destroys women’s mental health.

To Sylvia Plath, poetry was an outlet. An expression of her trauma and suffering before she killed herself and the effects of oppression on her life. Now. Ask yourself what poetry is to you. Is it a love poem to your high school crush, something you can use as a source of information or something for pleasure, it doesn’t just have to be something that we must study in school, poetry is an accessible way to share your opinions, your experiences, your life. Poetry has been endlessly important and always will be.