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Home » » Poetic technique of Sylvia Plath

In her early poetic career, Sylvia Plath was trying to produce tightly structured poems. She favoured much musical and lyrical poetry that had a singing sound. Later she admitted that she found the forms she adopted in the early and mid 1950s constricting, although she remained more comfortable with strict forms than free verse. Early poems, such as “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper” and “Resolve” seem more formal and disciplined than later works, which have a vivid directness achieved partly through the use of rhythms that are closer to those of speech. 

Sylvia Plath experimented with various traditional forms, the sonnet, the villanelle and terza rima. She worked particularly productively with the Three-line stanza (tercets) and many of his best poems are written in this form: “Morning Song”, “Crossing the Water” for examples. Sylvia Plath uses unrhymed couplets extremely effectively in “A Birthday Present” and “Edge”. There is an inventive playfulness in the choice of nine-line stanzas in “You're”, the form reflecting the duration of the speaker’s pregnancy. 

The impression of energy in Sylvia Plath’s poems is achieved in different ways. Early in her writing career the poet worked with a thesaurus on her lap, which perhaps slowed her down. The poem she produced after she had abandoned this practice often have a swifter pace and more fluid feel. Her husband Ted Hughes, said that she began to write speedily, and many of her later poems, such as “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” seem to call out to be read in an energetic way. The use of run-on lines helps her to convey restlessness and forward movement in “Ariel”. 

Sylvia Plath makes extensive use of figures of speech in her poetry. These enable her to bring ideas to life very vividly for the reader. It also helps her build up association between her subjects or personae and the landscapes they are placed in. Similes and metaphors are used in sufficient numbers. In ‘Words’ the poet conveys her poems’ independent life through descriptions of horses and their “indefatigable hoof-taps”. The axe and sap that she alludes to also help us understand the painful writing process the poet goes through as she tries to produce her “echoes” (poems). Metaphor can be decidedly discomforting too.

Sound patterning is important to Sylvia Plath. She uses half rhyme, alliteration and assonance throughout her work. In “Daddy” the speaker’s anguish and rage are conveyed by the inconsistent “oo” sounds that dominate the poem. The last line of “The Munich Mannequins.” is stark because of the vowel sounds. Overall, Sylvia Plath’s use of figurative language makes her verse arresting and hard-hitting. 


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