Plath laid bare what sadly tore her apart
CONFESSIONAL poetry is the term most often used to describe, and to umbrella a new style of writing which emerged in a post World War 2 United States of America during the 1950s and 60s. It not alone dealt more with the personal, with the ‘I’, but in it, the poet was now prepared to expose their own vulnerability, indeed their own raw emotion, their own fear.
It is typically associated with such poets as Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, pictured, and William D Snodgrass.
Although William de Witt Snodgrass (1926-2009) is often considered by scholars to have been the original Confessionalist, it was never a term that sat comfortably with him, as he felt exposed amongst his peers by his ‘selfness’ in his work, but yet, he continued in this style and format, referring to it constantly as his ‘weakness’.
Nonetheless, the influence took hold, inspiring others, and collections such as ‘Life Studies’ (1959) by Robert Lowell (1917
1977) which dealt with personal troubles and mental illness were considered ground breaking material.
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is perhaps one of his more celebrated contemporaries. She typified this new writing that although hugely dealing with ‘fear’, had the courage to abandon self-interest and curiosity in writing and focus on self revelation.
Margaret Rees from World Socialist review observed that ‘Plath let her work express primeval fears. In doing so she laid bare not only what tore herself apart but also strongly hinted at the failing tensions beneath the surface of the American way of life’. A brave stance in McArthurism America!
In her short poem ‘Child’, Plath very simply, but severely, charts her total anguish about the hopes and fears for an infant, born into this world, into her world.
She charts her want and her wish for what should be, for the new. But this is smothered in hopelessness, the poem never gives even a hint of any faith in possibility. It remains only a wish for the singular, clear, beautiful... stalk without wrinkle. Her vision, and more importantly her personal experience of reality, is a troublous one, of wringing hands (Yeats’ hands that fumbled in a greasy till?) and a dark ceiling without a star. As the reviewer wrote, she certainly laid bare what tore her apart, sadly.