Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry
Sylvia Plath is among those poets who preferred to write confessional poetry; some other poets are Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. These poets invented a new style of writing in which they could focus on their private life but at the same time they did not forget to amuse their readers. Somehow, all these poets were related to each other in a way or the other. No one had previously tried to write such kind of poetry. In fact, American literature had witnesses this new genre due to these poets and felt that poetry can also be written in this way. The themes which are required to be discussed in this kind of poetry are; death, depression and disillusionment by demonstrating mostly the personal experiences of the poets. Most interesting element of this poetry is that it is the illustration of personal and private emotion yet it does effect on the minds of the readers. They feel the same as the poet once felt while experiencing the described incidents. Moreover, it does not end the creativity of the poets. A poet has to focus on his own emotions but at the same time he has to care for the feelings and interest of the readers. It is not the case that a poet just creates a pen picture from his life’s incidents, as Chaucer did, in order to create amusement for his readers. Like a true artist, a poet has to use his mental vision; he must have a good imaginative power as well as knowledge of poetic techniques. He is not different from the other poets so far as artistic qualities are concerned. In this way, confessional poetry is not mere copy of the incidents but a creative work which requires self-belief and strong literary knowledge.
For Sylvia Plath poesy is less objective but more autobiographical; she mentions each and every incident and person from her life. She does not spare her father nor does her husband even not her children. She does not spare the evils in men, therefore, unhappily writes about male dominated society. Indeed, she was victim of circumstances but she considers men along with fate equally responsible for her disrespect. Her husband is not different from other men of the society nor does she consider her daddy a good father. She directly talks about them and punishes them by using brutal emotional words. She also talks about her children but she has no hope for their future. She thinks that they will also suffer as she suffered throughout her life. Bare study of poems of Sylvia Plath reveals that she focuses on “I” instead of “we” thus makes him different from common poets.
Her poems are mostly psychological in nature; by maintaining a high level of craftsmanship she talks about those problems which she has experienced in her life; whether they are from her inner life or social life, she does not feel any shame to talk about them. Further, social problems are also psychological problems for her because she does not talk about their grounds but their effect on the person who is being effected. She was a mentally tortured soul and considered society equally responsible for her sufferings. She was oversensitive and full of anger. She could not bear unfaithfulness of her husband. Any small accident could strike her mind and make her insane. It is her psyche and mental illness which forced her to commit suicide. Thus, in a straight line, she reveals her mentality through her poems which leads her poetry towards confession.
No other poem than “Daddy” can be best exemplified in this regard. It is a poem in which she addresses her father and complains his attitude towards her; he has left her alone in this cruel world to suffer. His early death is painful for the poet. In start of the poem, it seems that she hates her father but soon she realizes that she loves him. In the following words, she expresses her hatred against her father:-
“Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God
Ghastly statue with one gray
Big as a Frisco seal”
Thus, the poems, discussed by Sylvia Plath, in her work are more about her private and personal life. Indeed, social issues have been discussed but they are very less. Moreover, all those social elements cover the life of Sylvia Plath as the same are from her private life. She has not highlighted the issues which were purely being faced by the people but mentioned those which she herself experienced in her life. If she talks about evil attitude of male sex, it is because she was offended; she talks about psychological problems because she was haunted by “over-thinking”. Thus, Plath’s does not do poetry for the sake of poetry nor does she bring to light the social issues. Furthermore, there is no satire in her poetry. She does not talk about the absurdities and follies of the people but their effects on her personal life. Hence, the fact cannot be denied that her poetry is purely confessional as in most of her poems she talks about “I”.
Eillen M. Aird while commenting on “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” says:-
“A companion piece to ‘Daddy’, in which the poet again fuses the worlds of personal pain and corporate suffering, is ‘Lady Lazarus’…. If we categorize a poem such as ‘Lady Lazarus’ as ‘confessional’ or ‘extremist’ then we highlight only one of its elements.”
However, he considers it also a social poem while further arguing:-
“It is also a poem of social criticism with a strong didactic intent, and a work of art which reveals great technical and intellectual ability.”
He, in this way, supports Plath’s poetry and considers it a work of art but it cannot be underestimated that he at the same time finds it “confessional”. For the sake of arguments, let’s suppose this poem a satirical poem yet it cannot be denied that it is confessional.
Susan Gubar also thinks the same and says that Plath’s poetry is confessional poetry. Relevant portion of her comments is reproduced as under:-
“‘Daddy’ is a confessional piece written by Plath three months before her death…..”
Keeping in view the remarks of a number of critics and bare studying Sylvia Plath’s poems, it is concluded that Plath’s poetry is undoubtedly a “confessional poetry” but it also cannot be ignored that it perfectly manages the interests of the readers.