Autobiographical Poetry of Sylvia Plath | Retrospective Poetry

Autobiographical Poetry of Sylvia Plath | Retrospective Poetry

It has always been said that poetry of Sylvia Plath is autobiographical. Her literary work deals with psychological problems faced by her. Notwithstanding, problems discussed by Sylvia Plath in her poetry are not mere autobiographical but common in nature. Her problems are universal. However, we cannot defend Sylvia Plath because her poetry is indeed autobiographical. She does not fight with those problems and always finds a way to escape from them. Most of the problems are modern. Such as:

  • Anxiety,
  • Isolation,
  • Lack of self-realization,
  • Hopelessness,
  • Lack of communication,
  • Insecurity,
  • Uncertainty etc.

Every poem of Sylvia Plath ends with hopelessness. Death is her favourite theme. She freely uses this theme in her poems and novel. Reason behind it is that she has experienced a hard life. She closely observed death too. Perhaps, like classical writers, she wants to show the world that life is the name of sufferings. She presents her own life’s experiences in her poems. In this way, poetry of Sylvia Plath is autobiographical.

Every poet has imaginative powers. Sylvia Plath is not different from them in this context yet her imaginative powers do not help her in finding peace. She tries to escape from those problems but remains fail. Hence, she faces reality and deals with the problems which require solutions. Through her poems, short stories and novel, she reveals her own personality. She has spent her whole life in discovering her. Undoubtedly, she was the most complex American writer. Even her whole work cannot describe her complete personality. Sylvia Plath with the help of artistic qualities reveals her own life which makes her poetry autobiographical.

“About me” is all that Sylvia Plath wants to explain through her poems. She expresses her inner-self via literary work. Her spirit may act as rebel for others but for her it is her identity. She has unveiled the same in her poetry. She puts her psychological condition in front of her readers. “Ariel”, “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are examples of it. Due to unending autobiographical elements, critics called poetry of Sylvia Plath “mere confession”.

Sylvia’s work is elucidation of her experiences. She has been haunted by her own shadow. Her work reveals the gloominess of her mind. “Susan Gubar” while commenting on “Dady” says:

“‘Dady’ is a confessional piece written by Plath three months before her death. In this poem Plath puts to rest her harboured animosity and resentment towards her father. These feelings have haunted Plath throughout her life after the death of her father when she was only ten.”

Susan Gubar on “Daddy”

Critics have rightly said that her poetic career is in fact her confession. Many poems spread light on the life of her father, whereas others show incidents experienced by her in her life.

To defend Sylvia Plath, critics praise her imaginative powers. They argue that like Sylvia Plath every writer directly or indirectly discusses autobiographical elements in his poetry. She is not different from them. Like a true artist, she does not only focus on single side of an issue rather she tries to demonstrate it from every aspect. For instance, she has issues with male race because of male’s stubborn sexual attitude towards women. Many women faced it. She also faced it. She tries to explain it though her style is complex and ambiguous. “Susan Gubar” has observed Plath’s work also from this point and commented on it in the following words:-

“Sylvia Plath had issues with the male race in general through her life that becomes apparent through her writing; the ultimate question lies in asking whether she is a victim of circumstances or spokeswoman against male domination.”

Susan Gubar on autobiographical elements in the poetry of Sylvia Plath

However, she does not consider Sylvia as spokeswoman against male domination. She thinks that she was victim of circumstances. She writes:-

“Many believe that yes, she was a victim of circumstances because of the particular type of men that she attracted/came in contact with, and of course, the early death of her father.”

Susan Gubar

It is true that Sylvia talks about social issues. There may be controversy that whether the social problems discussed by Sylvia Plath in her poetry are autobiographical or not but it is true that she has raised voice against social issues such as male domination, insecurity of women, double standards of society etc. Some individualistic problems like lack of communication and isolation are also the subject matter of her work. In order to defend Sylvia Plath, “Eillen M. Aird”, while reviewing “Dady” says that:-

“As in ‘Dady’, however, the personal element is subordinate to a much more inclusive dramatic structure, and one answer to those critics who have seen her work as merely confessional is that she used her personal and painful material as a way of entering into and illustrating much wider themes and subjects.”

“Eillen M. Aird” reviewing “Dady”

Nevertheless, Eillen M. Aird also believes that there are some personal elements in her poetry. So far as the themes are concerned, Sylvia Plath, as a writer, has repeated old themes and recaptured popular traditions. It is because, she presents emotions in her poetry. She cannot paint feelings like John Keats because her thinking is dissimilar to him. Sylvia Plath presented what lacked in the poetry of John Keats i.e. psychological and autobiographical problems.

Suffice is to say that poetry of Sylvia Plath is praiseworthy but there is no denying the fact that it is autobiographical. She captures moments of her life and creates a pen-picture. We can defend Sylvia Plath but we cannot deny that she wrote autobiographical and retrospective poetry.

Crux of the above discussion is that poetry of Sylvia Plath is autobiographical but problems, discussed by her, are common for everyone. Even in modern days, people are experiencing these troubles and trying to get rid of them. An artist imitates a common thing and that is life, which is undefined. Many problems, especially psychological, are general and many of us are victim of them, therefore, it is not totally true that Sylvia’s work is only about herself. Her poetry also deals with social problems to some extent but what she best discusses is the “psychic purgation” of feelings.

Related Questions:

  • Sylvia Plath’s Poems are nothing but an autobiographical and retrospective note. Comment.
  • Sylvia Plath’s poems express frustration at the difficulty of self fulfillment. Discuss.
  • Sylvia Plath exposes her subjectivity in terms of objectivity. Illustrate.