Sylvia Plath: The Exemplary Confessional Poet

1015 Words Jul 7th, 2018 5 Pages
Emerging in the 1950s and 1960s, confessional poetry was essentially an autobiographical style of writing. Often focusing on topics that were taboo at the time like mental illness and suicide, it is no surprise that Sylvia Plath wrote poetry in this style. Plath suffered from depression most of her life and used writing as an outlet (Spinello). In her works “Cut,” “I Am Vertical,” and “Lady Lazarus,” Plath exemplifies confessional poetry through the themes of resentment, death, and mental illness.
To understand why Plath is placed in the literary category that she is, there needs to be knowledge of her personal life. Born in 1932 in Massachusetts, Plath led a short and tragic life. Even as a young girl she excelled in academics, but her
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Death can also be seen very simply in “I Am Vertical” when one reads, “But I would rather be horizontal,” (1) and in “Lady Lazarus” when Plath says, “Dying/ Is an art, like everything else. /I do it exceptionally well,” (43-45).
In her poetry, the reader can often forget that Plath is not the speaker. This is because in her poems, “there is no slippage between the poet and the voice of the poem” (Kendall 14). The topic of death was not a common theme in poetry at the time Plath was writing. Both of these aspects of her poetry are what make her writing stand out. In almost all of her works, a reader can find a reference to death. More importantly, a reader can find Plath’s thoughts about death and how she views it. That is what classifies her works as confessional poetry.
By the time she died in 1963, Plath had attempted suicide three times, the final attempt being successful. With that knowledge, it is no surprise that a common theme in her poetry is mental illness. In the poem “Cut”, a poem essentially about self harm, Plath writes, “What a thrill---/ My thumb instead of an onion,” (1-2). This poem shows the “balance of pain and exhilaration” (Kendall 142) when the “victim and the victimizer are one in the same” (Spinello). In “I Am Vertical” the speaker seems to be saying that it would be better to be dead when the poem reads, “Thoughts gone dim./ It is more natural to me, lying down,” (16-17). In
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