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Home » , » Critical Appreciation of the poem Words by Sylvia Plath

“Words” is a short poem in four stanzas of five lines each. It is written in an open form with irregular metre and only occasional rhyme. The theme of the poem is the creative impulse of a poet and his effort to write something of permanent value to make him immortal. 

The theme is presented by means of metaphors and many of the images, incorporated in this poem from other poems of Sylvia Plath: horses, water, the mirror, stars, etc. The tone of the poem is sombre. 

The poem is structured as a series of stanza-paragraphs, each exploring a different aspect of the subject. Distinct but interlocking images unify the ideas and reveal a progression of perceptions about the nature of the poetic utterance. The juxtaposition of the title and the one-word first line, “Axes”, links the two ideas. Words set to paper ring out like an axe set to wood. The almost physical sense of vibration coupled with the repetition of the word “echoes” links the ‘axe’ image to that of horses galloping. Plath often uses horse imagery to devote creative energy. In the second stanza the mood changes becoming quieter. ‘Welling sap’ ties this stanza to the preceding axe imagery, and likening sap to tears places the imagery in a human context. Like water seeking to dominate the rock, the poet has to struggle to establish her mastery over words. Sylvia Plath perhaps sees this as a battle to overcome death. Water is frequently linked to dying in her work, and here the rock-is “A white skull/ Eaten by weedy greens.” 

In the final stanza of the poem Sylvia Plath seems to be writing about encountering her own work years after composition. The words have taken on a life of their own; they are “dry and riderless”, with “indefatigable hoof-taps.” The use of the adjective ‘dry’ might seem negative, and perhaps indicates the poet’s dissatisfaction with the work she has produced. However, she recognises that while she will die (“fixed stars govern life”), her words will live on. 

We see that metaphor is the overriding device of “Words”. Because there is no narrative framework, even a superficial reading requires some interpretation of its metaphor. Plath does not make the reader’s task easy, but she does supply the clues. The interlocking nature of the metaphors unifies the poem and leads the reader to understanding. 

Thus through “Words” Sylvia Plath lays bare the emotional journey of her life from creative power to despair and death.

Critical Appreciation of the poem Words by Sylvia Plath


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