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A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’

‘Dying is an art, like everything else’: ‘Lady Lazarus’, as the poem’s title implies, is a poem about resurrection – but implicit within its title, and Sylvia Plath’s reference to the man whom Jesus brought back from the dead, is the idea of annihilation or extinction, a theme that is never far away from us with a Plath poem. You can read ‘Lady Lazarus’ here before proceeding to our analysis below.

Sylvia Plath wrote ‘Lady Lazarus’ in October 1962, only a few months before her suicide, and the poem is shot through with references to her previous suicide attempts. (Plath would kill herself in February 1963, in a London apartment she had decided to rent because W. B. Yeats had once lived there. As she suggests in ‘Lady Lazarus’, she had attempted suicide previously at roughly ten-year intervals.) Sigmund Freud, in his 1920 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, had described Thanatos or the death-drive – what Philip Larkin called ‘desire of oblivion’ – as a compulsion to repeat, and this is how ‘Lady Lazarus’ begins: Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’

Written in October 1961 as she was beginning to find her own distinctive poetic voice, ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ is one of the most widely discussed and analysed of Sylvia Plath’s poems. This is perhaps inevitable, in a poem which is so loaded with symbols; our instinct as readers, and as literary critics, is to decode the symbol or discover what the poem really ‘means’. You can read ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ here before proceeding to our analysis below.

Sylvia Plath wrote ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ in 1961 while she was suffering from writer’s block. Plath’s husband, the poet Ted Hughes, suggested that she write a poem about the view outside their bedroom window. Hughes later recalled that, from the window of their house in Devon, they could see a yew tree in the churchyard to the west of their house. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Elm’

Like many of her poems, including her mature poems from her late period, ‘Elm’ is an obscure Sylvia Plath poem which resists straightforward analysis. Plath’s complex and ambiguous use of symbolism renders ‘Elm’, if not impenetrable, then at the very least, challenging. You can read ‘Elm’ here before proceeding to our analysis of the poem below.

The elm tree is a tree associated with rebirth. Unlike the yew tree – which, in Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’, is associated with masculinity, Christianity, and death – the elm tree offers hope of revival and resurrection. Like another Sylvia Plath poem which has attracted a good deal of analysis and commentary, ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Elm’ is about rebirth, but with the knowledge that in order to be reborn there must first be death. Read the rest of this entry