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Sylvia Plath Biography Essays

Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath


     Sylvia Plath was a remarkable twentieth century American poet. Her poetry focused on depression, aspects on suicide, death, savage imagery, self-destruction and painful feelings of women. Plath attempts to exorcise the oppressive male figures that haunted her life served as one of the fundamental themes in her poetry.



Her poetry is a good example on how "suffering and transformation could be within traditional poetic contexts" (Initiation p.142). She also believed that a poem "must give an expression to the poet's own anguish because suffering has become the central fact of historical and personal existence" (Initiation p.143). This is what she believed and how she dealt with her problems by expressing her feelings through poetry. Though what was expressed in her poems also portrayed her fate in suicide.



Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts to Otto and Aurelia Plath. Her father, Otto Plath was a German biology professor at Boston University. Her mother, Aurelia, was a high school English teacher, until she married and became a homemaker. When Sylvia was only eight, her father died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes, which also scarred her for life. At this same age she started her career as writer she published her first couplet in the Boston Sunday Herald, and since then has persistently worked on poetry and her writings.



In high school, she was a remarkably intelligent, popular, student. She was the typical "Straight A's" girl. As a member of the National Honors Society, she received a scholarship to attend Smith College in 1950. While studying creative writing and graphic arts in her third year of college, she was a guest editor in Mademoiselle Magazine. Shortly after that, on August 24, 1953, because of extreme depression, she attempted to commit suicide for the first time by taking a large dose of sleeping pills. She was later treated with intense psychotherapy and electroshock therapy in a private hospital. After a long recovery, she returned to Smith College and graduated in 1954. This incident is well described in the Bell Jar, her second published novel.



By now her career as a poet and writer was not going well, after forty-five rejections from newspapers and magazines, Seventeen magazine agreed to have one of her stories to be published. Later, it was announced that she had received third place in Seventeen Magazine's writing contest.

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Many more of her works were beening published is other periodicals such as The National Poetry Associated Anthology and Harper's Weekly. As she progressed she became more melancholy and darker.



Shortly after Smith College, she received another scholarship to Cambridge University in England. There, she met her Ted Hughes, a British poet, whom she married in 1956. He became one of her top priorities, and she continued to live in England together with him and her new job as being a typist. She published her novel, The Colossus and Other Poems in the United States. This volume received very little recognition and no awards. Her health started to

deteriorate and in less than two years after the birth of their second child, she was separated and was left broke.



She then began writing her other novel, The Bell Jar. The Bell Jar is an autobiographical fiction about a young writer whom has many psychological crises and contemplations of suicide. This story allows the readers to see what she has gone through emotionally in and through her college years.

On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath had commit suicide. She placed her head inside a gas oven, allowing her to suffocate. During her apparent suicide, her children were asleep in their rooms. In order to keep the natural gas out of their rooms, she closed their doors, and sealed them to prevent them from dying. She also left milk and bread near the beds of her children, so they would be able to eat in the morning.



Sylvia's poetry has received numerous of awards and recognitions for her outstanding poetry and writings. Some of these awards include a Pulitzer Prize for poetry from her book Collected Poems. In 1955, her most memorable year, she received the Dylan Thomas Honorable Mention for the "Parallax". She also received, the Glaslock award, the Marjorie Hope Nicholson Prize, and many more.



Overall, Sylvia Plath was a sad, eccentric, mentally depressed, yet, a brilliant artist of all time. Though her poetry, she brings the readers to an amazing experience as if they can relate to a and personal crisis of their own like her.



Works Cited:

1. "Plath, Sylvia". The World Book Encyclopedia. 1976

2. "Sylvia Plath Biography". November 18, 2000. http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/7327/boheme/plath.html

3. Rosenblatt, Jon. Sylvia Plath; The Poetry of Initiation. 1979.



Sylvia Plath 1932-1963

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas) American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, memoirist, and scriptwriter.

The following entry presents criticism on Plath from 1980 to 1999.

Considered an important poet of the post-World War II era, Plath became widely known following her suicide in 1963 and the posthumous publication of Ariel, a collection containing some of her most startling and acclaimed verse. Through bold metaphors and stark, often violent and unsettling imagery, Plath's works evoke mythic qualities in nature and humanity. Her vivid, intense poems explore such topics as personal and feminine identity, individual suffering and oppression, and the inevitability of death. Plath's life and works experienced renewed interest when her former husband, the poet Ted Hughes, published in 1998 a volume of poems—Birthday Letters—intended to tell his side of the story of their stormy marriage.

Biographical Information

Born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Plath enjoyed an idyllic early childhood near the sea. Her father, a German immigrant, was a professor of entomology at Boston College who maintained a special interest in the study of bees. His sudden death from diabetes mellitus in 1940 devastated the eight-year-old Plath, and many critics note the significance of this traumatic experience to her poetry, which frequently contains both brutal and reverential characterizations of her father, as well as imagery of the sea and allusions to bees. Plath began publishing poetry at an early age in such publications as Seventeen magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, and in 1959 she earned a scholarship to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. After spending a month as a guest editor for Mademoiselle in New York City during the summer of her junior year, Plath suffered a mental collapse that resulted in a suicide attempt and her subsequent institutionalization. She later chronicled the circumstances and consequences of this breakdown in her best-selling novel The Bell Jar. Following her recovery, Plath returned to Smith and graduated summa cum laude in 1955. After winning a Fulbright fellowship to study at Cambridge University in England, Plath met and married English poet Ted Hughes in 1956. Although they were both by that time respected poets, the competition between Plath and Hughes was intense, with Plath frequently feeling overshadowed and intimidated by Hughes. The eventual disintegration of their marriage in the early 1960s, intensified for Plath by Hughes's relationship with another woman, and the ensuing struggles with severe depression that led to her suicide in 1963 are considered crucial elements of Plath's most critically acclaimed poetry.

Major Works

Plath's poetry poignantly reflects her struggles with despair and mental illness, while her efforts to assert a strong female identity and to balance familial, marital, and career aspirations have established her as a representative voice for feminist concerns. Although she is frequently linked with confessional poets such as Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman, all of whom directly expressed personal torments and anguish in their work, critics have noted that many of Plath's poems are dramatic monologues voiced by a character who is not necessarily autobiographical. Plath's verse is represented in several volumes. The Colossus, the only book of her poems published during her lifetime, collects poems dating from the mid- to late 1950s; Ariel contains poems selected by Hughes from among the many works Plath composed during the final months before her death; Winter Trees collects several more of the Ariel poems and reflects Hughes's plan to publish Plath's later works in intervals; Crossing the Water: Transitional Poems reprints most of post-Colossus and pre-Ariel verse; and The Collected Poems, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982, features all of her verse, including juvenilia and several previously unpublished pieces in order of composition. Plath's early verse reflects various poetic influences, evoking the mythic qualities of the works of William Butler Yeats and Ted Hughes, the diverse experiments with form and language of Gerard Manley Hopkins and W. H. Auden, and the focus on personal concerns that dominates the verse of Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke. Most of her early poems are formal, meticulously crafted, and feature elaborate syntax and well-developed metaphors. These early poems are more subdued in their subject matter, tone, and language than the later work for which she became renowned. This later work evidences the increasing frustration of her desires. Her ambitions of finding happiness through work, marriage, and family were thwarted by such events as hospital stays for a miscarriage and an appendectomy, the breakup of her marriage, and fluctuating moods in which she felt vulnerable to male domination and threatening natural forces, particularly death. Following the dissolution of her marriage, Plath moved with her two children from the Devon countryside to a London flat, where the Irish poet William Butler Yeats had once resided, and wrote feverishly from the summer of 1962 until her death in February of the following year. Many of her best-known poems, including “Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus,” “Lesbos,” “Purdah,” and “Edge” were written during this period and form the nucleus of Ariel. These poems, which reflect her increasing anger, bitterness, and despair, feature intense, rhythmic language that blends terse statements, sing-song passages, repetitive phrasing, and sudden violent images, metaphors, and declarations. For example, in “Daddy,” perhaps her most frequently discussed and anthologized work, Plath denounces her father's dominance over her life and, among other allusions, associates him with Nazism and herself with Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Plath's relationship with her husband supplied her with material for poems containing similarly violent imagery, where women are discussed as dolls and other objects of men's whimsy.

Critical Reception

Response to “Daddy” reflects the general opinion of much of Plath's later work. Some critics contend that Plath's jarring effects and preoccupation with her own problems are extravagant, and many object to her equation of personal sufferings with such horrors as those experienced by victims of Nazi genocide. Others, however, praise the passion and formal structure of her later poems, through which she confronted her tensions and conflicts. Since Plath's death, Ted Hughes has frequently been excoriated, particularly by feminist critics and writers, for driving her to suicide and for his seemingly callous response to her. This arguably romanticized interpretation of the couple's problems led in the late 1960s and 1970s to Plath's cult-like status as a “confessional” poet. The publication in 1998 of Hughes's Birthday Letters, a book of poems that attempt to explain his position and respond to many of Plath's accusations against him in her poetry, led to a new interest in Plath and her writings.

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