top of page

Confessional Poetry: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, born in Boston in 1932 and died in London in 1963, is an American poet who expresses a sense of alienation and self-destruction in her writing. Her works, such as the poem collection Ariel which includes "Daddy," "Tulips," and "Lady Lazarus," and her only novel The Bell Jar, are closely related to her personal experiences. Her literary journey started when Plath published her first poem at eight. She won several writing contests and sold her first poem to The Christian Science Monitor in 1952 ("Guide to Sylvia Plath's Materials," 1989). In 1951, she enrolled at Smith College and achieved tremendous creative, intellectual, and social success (Wagner-Martin, 2003). As it is stated, "Sylvia was at war within herself, that the 'real' Sylvia – violent, subversive, moonstruck, terribly angry – fought for her existence against a nice, bright, gifted American girl" (Stevenson, 1998, p. 163). Thus, she also struggled with severe depression, which led to a suicide attempt and a period of psychiatric hospitalisation.

Sylvia Plath (n.d.)

During her last three years, Plath devoted herself to literature and wrote about herself and her confessions. Her feelings such as confusion, anxiety, and doubt were transmuted into her writings. Her novel The Bell Jar, published in London under the pen name Victoria Lucas in 1963, covers the mental breakdown and recovery of a young college girl, which mirrors Plath's own breakdown and hospitalisation in 1953 (Wagner-Martin, 2003). Also, her poems, such as "Daddy," examine her conflicted bond with her father, who passed away when she was eight. In 1963, after this burst of productivity, she ended her life.

Confessional poetry concentrates on extreme moments of individuals, their private experiences, and their psyche. (Drabble et. all., 2022). In that sense, confessional poetry differs from traditional poetry by deconstructing the standard notion of poetry and investigating new poetic styles in which poets express their inner sentiments and unsaid words via their compositions (Uroff, 1977). Plath's poetry is commonly identified with the confessional movement and compared with poets such as her instructor, Robert Lowell, and her fellow pupil, Anne Sexton.

In an article named "How Ariel Changed the Face of Femininity and Free Verse" by Thea Voutiritsas, 2019.

Plath's poetry throws up a welter of concentrated images made even denser by her elliptical, allusive syntax, again recalling a kind of half-structured association used by people in analysis, as one after another of the layers of pretense and psychic scar tissue is stripped away (Molesworth, 1976, p. 173).

Though Plath is regarded as a confessional poet, the feminist issues she addresses should not be neglected. Almost every poem in Ariel reflects women's issues in a patriarchal society. Plath is regarded as a feminist aiming to be equal and her true self since disclosing a woman's life to others was not acceptable in her time since her writings "reflect the themes such as the objectification and dehumanisation of women, their oppression and a conflict between work and family life" (Choudaraju, 2019, p. 742). Plath redefied the expectations of women and tried something different: Through her work, she represented a defiant and educated female voice in a male-dominated culture.