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Home » » Discuss the use of myths and imagery in the poetry of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s poetry is replete with striking visual images. She has employed a number of powerful symbols too, manipulating metaphor and simile expertly. Colour is frequently used. Traditional myths and cultural or historical allusions serve her well, but at\ the same time she also forms her own personal myths, which add to the intensity of her verse. Let us now discuss below some of her most significant images. 

The Moon: 

The moon is traditionally associated with feminity, and Sylvia Plath invokes it many times. For her, however, the moon is not a symbol of fertility. Instead, it signifies barren coldness, indifference or selfishness. For example, “The Rival” begins with the picture of a cold and barren moon which reflects the cold and indifferent relation between husband and wife. Although outwardly the moon looks very beautiful from far distance (from earth) with its borrowed light (the moon lacks its own light), in fact, it is barren and unfit for human habitation. That is why the wife, who is the speaker, finds the reflection of her husband’s character on the moon: “you leave the same impression/ of something beautiful, but annihilating”. Outwardly the husband is like the moon, very enlightened (generous, large-hearted) but inwardly very cold and barren like the moon (indifferent and hypocritical to the wife).


Sylvia Plath writes about flowers in unusual ways. They are a powerful presence in the poems in which they appear. Maternal affection is conveyed through a reference to roses in “Morning Song.” Flowers are undoubtedly a symbol of life, even when they seem to lead speakers to thoughts of death.


There are five main colours in Sylvia Plath’s work: red, black, white, blue and green. Red is the colour of life and vitality. The poet includes many images of blood in her work. Sometimes blood red signifies suffering, vulnerability or mental assault. Black is the colour of death and foreboding. It is predominantly a masculine colour, frequently used to convey Sylvia Plath’s dissatisfaction with male sex. White is particularly an intriguing colour, while blue is the colour of motherhood. It is also the colour of the threatening sea. Green is the only colour that we might feel unambiguously positive about. It conveys fertility and endurance.


Throughout her whole career, Sylvia Plath was interested in Greek myths, as many modernist poets were. The most important Greek myths that appear in her work are the legends of Electra, Medusa and the Colossus, which she took as the title for her first collection of poems. In her later works, however, she began to rework stories more thoroughly, forging her own associations and meanings.


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