Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry | Plath’s Autobiography in Poems

Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry | Plath's Autobiography

Sylvia Plath is among those poets who preferred to write confessional poetry. Some other poets are Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. Emily Dickinson has also been considered a poet who writes on individualistic themes but her poetry is rarely confessional. 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. No one had previously tried to write such kind of poetry. In fact, American literature had witnessed this new genre due to these poets and felt that poetry can also be written in this way.

Themes which are required to be discussed in this kind of poetry are; death, depression and disillusionment by demonstrating mostly the personal experiences. Most interesting element of this poetry is that it is the illustration of personal and private emotion yet it is acceptable by the readers. They feel 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 of his life’s incidents. Like Chaucer, the poet has to add element of amusement in his poetry. A poet is a true artist and he has to use his mental vision. He must have good imaginative powers as well as knowledge of poetic techniques. Confessional poetry is not mere copy of the incidents but a creative work which requires self-belief and strong literary knowledge. These are the things which make difference between a poet and a historian.

A confessional poet however is not different from common poets. Both uses artistic techniques and poetic qualities to demonstrate their experiences. In simple words, the only difference between them is of “I”. Confessional poets are more personal, whereas other poets are more universal.

For Sylvia Plath poetry is less objective but more autobiographical and confessional. She mentions each and every incident of her life. She does not spare her father nor does her husband even not her children. Furthermore, 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.

Plath’s husband was not different from other men of the society nor dis 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. Her thinking is that they will also suffer as she suffered throughout her life. Detail study of poetry of Sylvia Plath reveals that she focuses on “I” instead of “we” thus makes her a confessional poet and different from common poets.

Her poems are mostly psychological in nature. While maintaining a high level of craftsmanship she talks about those problems which she has experienced in her life. Both inner life problems and social life problems. She does not feel any shame to talk about them. Further, social problems are also psychological 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. Hence, she could not bear unfaithfulness of her husband. Any small accident could strike her mind and make her insane. Her psyche and mental illness forced her to commit suicide. Thus, in a straight line, Sylvia Plath reveals her mentality through her poems which makes her poetry confessional.

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 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, written by Sylvia Plath, are more about her private and personal life. Indeed, social issues have been discussed but they are very rare. She has not highlighted the social issues which people were facing. She has mentioned those which she herself experienced. Moreover, she talks about evil attitude of male sex because it offended her. She talks about psychological problems because her “over-thinking” haunts her. Thus, Plath 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 poetry of Sylvia Plath is purely confessional.

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.”

Eillen M. Aird on confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath

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.”

Eillen M. Aird on confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath

He, in this way, supports poetry of Sylvia Plath and considers it a work of art but he at the same time finds it “confessional”. For the sake of arguments, let’s suppose that poem “Dady” of Sylvia Plath is satirical yet it cannot be denied that it is confessional poetry.

Susan Gubar also thinks the same and says that poetry of Sylvia Plath is confessional . Relevant portion of her comments is reproduced as under:-

“‘Daddy’ is a confessional piece written by Plath three months before her death…..”

Susan Gubar on confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath

Keeping in view the remarks of a number of critics and poetry of Sylvia Plath, it is concluded that Plath’s poetry is undoubtedly “confessional ” but it also cannot be ignored that she has perfectly managed the interest of the readers.

Related Questions:

  • Sylvia Plath’s poems express frustration at the difficulty of self fulfillment. Discuss.
  • Sylvia Plath exposes her subjectivity in terms of objectivity. Illustrate.
  • Discuss confessional element in the “Bee Poems” by Sylvia Plath.
  • By referring closely to Plath’s poems discuss which two poems are typical of her poetic attitude?