Sylvia Plath’s Life And Poetry Tells Us To Never Compromise With Our Freedom

post image

Sylvia Plath’s words “I write only because there is a voice within me. That will not be still” encapsulates her mettle as a writer who finds liberation through words and a woman who cannot accept dominance. Plath was an American Poet writing confessional poetries about her personal life, depression, her obsession with death and the struggles of a woman in post-war America. Although the time when Plath was writing women were beginning to reclaim their voting and education rights, Sylvia’s poetry and feminism are distinct because of the rage and mental trauma that it embeds. Sylvia Plath was a woman of anger who reclaimed her freedom to express it even though it was completely opposite to the accepted demure of a woman.

Plath was a woman of feelings, ambitions and passion. She wanted to gain name and fame in the public domain while also having a well-settled life with a loving husband. However, being a woman of the pre-feminist movements, she was expected to be homebound to be happy and not have a lust for the public domain. But, Sylvia Plath could never rest for anything less than what she wanted. She was so passionate about her life and efforts that even a small failure affected her deeply enough to drive her to end her life. Throughout her life, Sylvia had attempted three failed suicides, however in the fourth one she succumbed.

But, what strikes me was her vigour to achieve it all as a woman bound in restrictions. No doubt her life would have been a heck of struggles, disappointments and limitations. Sylvia Plath was married to an eminent poet, Ted Hughes, but later he cheated on her and left her to raise two children all alone. But she never decided in favour of these restrictions or giving in to the patriarchal oppression and societal expectations from a woman. She always fought, refused to compromise but unfortunately, the system of oppression was so deeply rooted that its destruction came at a cost of her own life.

Also Read: How Emily Dickinson’s Poems Inspired My Sense Of Individuality

Being a confessional poet, I think, her writing normalised woman’s rage and anger which are instrumental in fighting off patriarchy. In her poem “Lady Lazarus” she writes about her failed suicide attempts and compares herself, or a woman, to Lady Lazarus who will resurrect to fight the patriarchy each time she is forced to succumb:

(Stanza 7)
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

(Last Stanza)
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

Her rage with her personal life is also portrayed in her another very famous poem “Daddy“. In this poem, she expresses her rage against her father and kills him off. Plath reportedly had a conflicted relationship with her parents, especially her father. Some scholars mark that she hated her father for his authoritarian control on her life while others say that she loved him so much that his early death and the resulting loneliness and financial crisis on the family turned her love into hatred.

You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like afoot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——

Furthermore, she also comments on her abusive husband.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

In general, the poem is a woman’s rage against patriarchy that, through fathers and husbands, controls a woman like an authoritarian of German holocaust and feeds on her individuality, freedom and dignity.

Moreover, what also makes her intriguing is her ownership of life and death. She was as if obsessed with death. Her poems are abundant with dark, grey and bleak imageries about depression and death. She did develop depression very early in life which only worsened with passing years and its struggles. But even in her depression, there was a sense of ownership like she had in her life that no one could infringe.

Dying is an art
like everything else,
I do exceptionally well”

Her depression turned out to be a muse for the brilliant poetries that we read today. Rather than making her weak and vulnerable her poems have literally resurrected her as the epitome of a fiery woman who will battle patriarchal constructs till the last breath but never compromise with her own sense of self. Her works were instrumental in sparking the second wave of feminism that questioned the idea of restricting women in houses. Her novel The Bell Jar, which she wrote some days before dying capture the life of a woman battling to gain respect and social acceptance but giving in to depression after exhaustion and failure.

Aren’t women even today caught in the same conflict? Aren’t they expected to either give in or compromise with patriarchy? Though Sylvia had to choose death because of the stagnant era she belonged to. Plath’s poems resonate with us even today and asks us what do we want to choose?

Picture Credit: WSJ

Also Read: How Kamala Das’ Poetry Voiced My Sense Of Fearless And Free Womanhood

post image
Sylvia Plath’s Life And Poetry Tells Us To Never Compromise With Our Freedom
post image
Remembering Sadia Dehlvi: The Writer, Filmmaker And Journalist Who Chronicled Delhi
post image
Kadambari Devi: The Enigmatic Muse And Literary Companion Of Rabindranath Tagore
post image
Why I Write: To Depict The Emotional Turmoil That Women Grapple With