Poem Sampler

From the Archive: Sylvia Plath

 Dark, tormented "love" poems; Plath's last works in Poetry magazine

"Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss"
—"Fever 103°," Sylvia Plath, Poetry, August 1963


Sylvia Plath probably isn't the first poet who comes to mind when young lovers are trying to find a poem to impress their sweethearts. In all of her tightly-tuned, startling verses, one is hard-pressed to find even a single sentimental nugget, let alone the type of love-talk that induces swoons. However, when it comes to plumbing the depth of one's own desires, there are few who have gone so deep, or have contained their discoveries so expertly, in poetry.

Many of Plath's poems are about love. As has been popularized in recent biographies and the film Sylvia, Plath was a smiling, attractive young woman who outwardly presented herself as a model of feminine charm. Yet this polished facade belied Plath's torment. She inwardly doubted that she could be satisfied with the conventional happiness promised by marriage, children, and a set of brand-new appliances, and in her poems these doubts accelerate into full-fledged terror. Nevertheless, she never outwardly revealed the extent of her suffering. One is fascinated to think about how she imagined herself when she wrote her first Poetrybio sheet:

"Have spent vacations from Cambridge Fulbright living in Paris, Rome, Madrid, seeing Riviera via motor scooter; spent summer writing and sketching, time divided between fishing village on Spanish southern seacoast and Bronte moors in Yorkshire; plan to return to America after final exams in June, write on Cape all summer and combine teaching college English with writing."

Plath appeared several times in Poetry, the last time in August 1963 with "Fever 103°," "Purdah," and "Eavesdropper." The first of these, especially, shows her at the height of her powers, using a feverish delirium as a metaphor for love gone awry:

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss.

Yet all three of these poems are fascinating—and often disturbing—in their rapidly-shifting depictions of a female speaker as, at turns, a "lantern," a "pure acetylene/ Virgin," a "mirror," a "peacock," a "lioness," and, in "Eavesdropper," a shockingly bitter housewife. The bio sheet she completed for these poems (included here) is dated January 29, 1963, less than two weeks before her death.

 


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Originally Published: February 1, 2007

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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