UNIVERSITY OF BAGHDAD
A STUDY OF IMAGERY IN SYLVIA
PLATH’S SELECTIVE POEMS
SUBMITTED TO THE COUNCIL OF THE
COLLEGE OF EDUCATION FOR WOMEN
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF MASTER OF ARTS IN
AYDA THAMER SALLOUM AL-DAFFAI
Asst. Prof. MAYYADA K. AL- GAILANI
MARCH / 2006
I certify that this thesis was prepared under my supervision at the University of Baghdad as
a partial requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in English Literature.
Name: Asst. Prof. Mayyada K. Al-Gailani
In view of the available recommendation, I forward this thesis for debate by the
We certify that we read this thesis and as examining committee, examined the
student in its content, and that in our opinion it is adequate as a thesis for the degree of
Master of Arts in English Literature.
Approved for the Committee of the College of Education for Women.
To my wounded country, "IRAQ" , its honest
people and my family.
To the purest soul I have ever known Sahar
Abdul-Haleem Kashif Al-Gitta'a.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the administration
of the College of Education for Women, involving the Dean Dr. Nadhim
Rashid, the Dean Assistants, Dr. Samira Al-Badri and Assist. Prof. Mrs.
Many thanks are due to the English Department, especially to the
Head of the Department, Dr. Shatha Al-Sa'adi and to the coordinator of
the higher studies Miss. Nawal Fadhil for their exceptional
understanding and encouragement.
I would also like to express my indebtedness to my supervisor
Assist. Prof. Miss Mayyada Kassim Al-Gailani whose unique patience
and tolerance have proved quite fruitful.
I am deeply grateful to those who sustained me by their helpful
ideas and special advice. They include my instructors in the M. A.
Program Professor Dr. Mohammed Al-Da’ami and Dr. Muayed Enowya.
Finally, I am grateful to my family members, friends and
acquaintances whose words of encouragement supported me,
especially, Mr. Hayder, Mayyada, Maysoon, Zainab, Enass, Dr. Maha,
It is not so long, since, the American poet, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
was generally distinguished as a confessional poet. She strived to
confess and express her personal problems, both inner and outer. Her
frequent subject was the circumstances of her personal world and the
difficulty of moving outside it. She found in the Confessional Genre, that
was flourished in the middle of the twentieth century an appropriate
outlet to her inner struggle, and a language that can express her inner
torment. Being highly self indulgent, the confessional poets in general,
and Plath more particularly, tended to portray their psychological
disturbances, family problems, and domestic concerns in their literary
works. They tried to unload their own grief and sadness by matching it
with general and poetic perspectives.
Hence, Plath scrutinized every aspect in her environment, trying to
find a meaning for her existence or something that could embrace her
frustrations and disappointments. She treated her surroundings in a
unique imaginative way, turning every simple incident in her life into
The present study aspires to analyze and investigate in depth
Plath's treatment of different kinds of poetic imagery accounting for the
private and personal thematic aspects that she intended to depict. The
approach is both biographical and critical throughout, aiming at
providing the key to a full understanding of the poet's highly personal
imagery and to the revelation of the preoccupations of her poems. This
is achieved with specific references to representative poems from her
early volume The Colossus and the later one Ariel.
The thesis falls into three chapters that lead to a conclusion. The
first chapter is divided into two sections: section one attempts to survey
the twentieth century American poetry that led to the emergence of
the Confessional Poetry. It traces the gradual appearance of this genre,
its pioneers, and characteristics. Section two sheds light on Plath's life
and the psychological problems that stirred her to write such
distinctive, autobiographical poetry.
The second chapter deals with Plath's early volume, in which she
dwells meditatively on her surroundings in an attempt to investigate
the direct causes behind her inner torment. It illustrates her way of
presenting the world as a mysterious and fearful entity, which provides
her with suggestive images of herself and her unlimited personal
The third chapter investigates Plath's later poetry that proves her
poetic development just as it reveals the unbearable psychological state
that she reached during this period.
The conclusion sums up the findings of the study, attempting a
comparison between the two volumes in correspondence to Plath's
own psychological state.
لم يمض الكثير, لتميز سيلفيا بالث (1932-9932) كشاعرة بوحية, فهي كانت
ييمنبة سباقة لالعتراف والتعبير عما يجول في داخلها من اضطرابات نفسية, سواء بسبب
أفراد عائلتها على كيانها الذاتي, أو نتيجة وساوس داخلية مدمرة أدت إلى عدم تمكنهبا مبن
التفاعل بصورة طبيعية مع ما يحيط بها. فتمثل موضوع شعريا األساسي بمعاناتها و ظروف
عالمها الخاص وصعوبة االبتعاد أو التخلص منه. فوجدت بالث في مجال الشعر الببوحي
الذي أزدير في أمريكا في منتصف القرن العشرين,منفذا واسبعا لالفصبا عبن عبذابها
الداخلي, ولغة تستطيع من خاللها التعبير عن مآسيها.
لقد تميز الشعراء البوحيين عموما وبالث على وجه التحديد, بتجسيد مشاكلهم العائليبة
واضطراباتهم النفسية في كتاباتهم األدبية, محاولين أفضاء ما في كنانتهم من حزن وألم على
شكل أمثلة وصور شعرية. لذلك تمعنت الشاعرة في كل دقائق بيئتها محاولة إيجباد معنبى
لوجوديا أو شيء ما قادر على احتضان ما تعانيه من خيبة أمل. وعلى البرمم مبن شبدة
انغماسها الذاتي, تعاملت بالث مع ما يحيطها بطريقة خيالية فريدة من نوعها, محولبة كبل
حدث بسيط في حياتها الى موضوع أدبي ملونً بصور شعرية تتنامم مع حالتها النفسية.
تتطلع يذه الدراسة الى تحليل وكشف الكيفية التي تعاملت بها بالث مع مختلف أنواع
الصور الشعرية وتوظيفها للكشف عن مايات شخصية وذاتية. لذلك فأن البحث يتناول حياتها
العائلية واألدبية على حد سواء, محاوال إيجاد وسيلة لفهم صوريا الشعرية ذات البعد الذاتي.
ويذا يظهر بجالء في صور معبرة من ديوانها األول (العمالق) وديوانها األخير (أرييل).
تتضمن الدراسة ثالثة فصول مؤدية الى خاتمة الموضوع. ويقسم الفصل األول الى
قسمين,يتناول القسم األول تطور الشعر األمريكي الذي أدى الى ظهور ما يسمى بالشعر
البوحي, مصورً تطور يذا النوع األدبي ورواده وخصائصه العامة. بينما يسلط القسم الثاني
الضوء على حياة الشاعرة وبيئتها االجتماعية ومشاكلها النفسية التي أدت بها الى كتابة يذا
النوع المتميز من الشعر الذاتي.
في امَا الفصل الثاني فإنه يتعامل مع الديوان األول للشاعرة الذي يظهريا ويي تسه
اإلمعان بما حولها للكشف عن معاناتها الداخلية، ويصور طريقتها في تمثيل العالم, حسبما
ترتأيه, ككيان مخيف ومامض يمديا بصور معبرة عن ذاتيتها.
ويتناول الفصل الثالث ديوانها الشعري االخير الذي يثبت تطور قدراتها الشعرية في
والبعد النفسي الذي وصلت اليه التعامل مع صور وخياالت حادة وفظة ومتوحشة تتناس
قبيل انتحاريا في 1963.
اما الخاتمة فقد تناولت االستنتاجات التي تمخضت عن الدراسة، مع مقارنة بين ديوانيها
وتطور الشاعرة في التعامل مع الصور الشعرية.
دراسة الصور الشعرية في قصائد مختارة
للشاعرة سلفيا بالث
رسالة مقدمة الى مجلس كلية التربية للبنات
كجزء من متطلبات نيل درجة الماجستير في األدب اإلنكليزي
عايده ثامر سلوم الدفاعي
بسم هللا الرحمن الرحيم
وُ ل ر
َق ْ َب
صدق هللا العظيم
(طـه: من اآلية111)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.1 FROM OTHERNESS TO PERSONALITY:
THE 20th CENTURY AMERICAN POETRY……….….1
1.2 SYLVIA PLATH: A BALANCE OF TORTURE AND
THE COLOSSUS: LIFE AS A GARDEN OF
ARIEL: THE DIALECTIC OF DEATH…………….…82
1.1 From Otherness To Personality: The Twentieth Century
After the end of the Second World War, the American literary
scene witnessed a remarkable upheaval towards the autobiographical
and confessional tendencies in writing. American poets from the 1950s
up to the present believe strongly in the importance of the poet’s
personal voice and the free treatment of his private subject matters.
They distrust the idea of aesthetic distance and anonymity that
flourished in the first half of the twentieth century under the influence
of the modernist poets like T. S. Eliot and John Crowe Ransom. Instead,
a sense of immediacy and directness has been gained by sacrificing
those previously esteemed values. For the late American poets, the
basic challenge is "directed against the Eliotic cult of impersonality.”1
Historically speaking, T.S. Eliot, the major modern poet and critic,
in his landmark essay “Tradition and The individual Talent” (3636)
defined poetry as “an escape from emotion and personality.”2 He
encouraged a sense of impersonality and openly declared that “the
more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him, the man
who suffers and the mind which creates.”3
Robert B. Shaw ed., American Poetry since 1960: Some Critical
Perspectives (Great Britain: A Carcanet Press Publication, 1973), p.1.
The Academy of the American Poets, "Life Studies : American
Poetry from T. S. Eliot to Allen Ginsburg, 1997- 2004" (URL: http://
www.poets.org./ copy. cfm.), retrieved in February 5, 2005. p. 1.
The Colossus: Life as a Garden of
Out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.
W. B. Yeats
Written between 1956 and 1959, The Colossus contains a number
of poems, which are dominated by images, and metaphors that explore
the relationship between the poet and her world.1 They reveal her
reaction to the history of her family members, like her memories of
childhood; the complete sadness that obsessed her at the death of her
father; the unhealthy relationship with her mother; her inner
disturbances and psychological problems; as well as her experience in
the mental institution. Thus, the volume as a whole is dominated by a
pessimistic point of view and the poetic voice seems to be controlled by
“a great sense of threat.”2 This sense of threat is revealed in her
imprisonment in the past, realizing that her identity is dominated
negatively by her family history. Many critics argue that this volume
portrays a persona who is subdued to an irreclaimable past. She cannot
overcome the problems that she has faced at her childhood and
adulthood, a matter that deprives her from living normally. Being
affected by her past, she is neither able to enjoy her present nor trust
the meaningfulness of her future. She strives to find a meaning for her
existence, searching for her lost identity, and attempting to gather her
disintegrated personality. Thus, her poetry in general and this volume
more particularly is governed by a sense of nothingness,
meaninglessness and loss.3
ARIEL: The Dialectic of Death
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”
The poems that are collected in Ariel, the last of Sylvia Plath's
volumes of poetry, were all written in the last year or so of her life,
between 1962 and 1963. They present an urgent and speedy tone that
accommodates her increasingly painful life and unbearable
psychological state. In this period, the poet lived a very miserable life,
turning completely into an arrogant, angry and tough person. After
being abandoned by her husband who left her alone with two children
in freezing months, she began to lose her patience and tolerance. Her
usual reticence both in her social manners and literary writing has been
diminished.1Describing the nature of the poems collected in Ariel, P. R.
King states that
They have an intensity and energy which
suggest she had really broken into a part of
her sources of feeling that required the most
urgent release…. The heart of Ariel's poetry is
life-blood indeed; there she moves into a fully
mature and individual style which is expressed
in a voice that rises out of her deepest, most
With an era in American history typified by a deficiency in the
public values and general facts, there emerged a need for a more
straight, direct and undeviating language that enables the poets to
speak of their lives and their obsessions in unique persistence and
daringness. The troubled years extending from the beginning of the
twentieth century up to the present had a chaotic literally maddening
effect on the poets' mind, which the confessional poets cleverly manage
to convey with a blend of craft and vulnerability. Like so much poetry by
the confessional poets, the source of Plath's poetry is her own life: the
very real strains and conflicts that she has experienced, while
attempting to gather her shattered personality. This personality that
had been influenced by her family members. It is a poetry, which
depicts a persona that suffers from entire loss of selfhood and futile
search for identity.
Hence, a highly self-centered poet like Plath, lived a life within
herself and linked private images and motifs into sequences that form a
symbolic enactment part of a coherent drama. Moreover, the personal
origin of imagery does not diminish the coherent strategy of her poetry.
Rather, Plath's development of key images like, the moon, black and
white, stone, and water enables her to deliver a painful chaotic
experience in a highly unified poetry. The handling of image sequences
or image clusters reflects a lively exploration of one's hidden emotions
and feelings. She approaches her life and surroundings as an explorer of
a mysterious land, investigating minor incidents in her life that might
provide her with a new meaning to her existence.
In her early volume, The Colossus, she is stirred by the common
sights of her environment and surroundings, turning them, by a
transcendental vision into direct expressions of her inner torment. She
vests different kinds of poetic imagery: natural, mythological, cultural,
archeological, and simple tales. She dwells on the complexes of
different phenomena that might acquire her an opportunity to retain
identity, and show a relative degree of stability. She enacts her dilemma
through interacting images and symbols all of which serve to express
her private secrets.
Later on, in her posthumous volume, Ariel, the imagistic and
ideological elements reveal a persona who has reached the peak and
the utmost point of her torment. She begins to correlate her own
tragedy to global patterns of torture, a matter that reflects her ability to
eliminate this infinite universe into her own subjectivity just as she is
able to widen her personal tribulations into universal legend. This
ensures her status as a relatively tormented human being. The
powerful, fierce, and striking images that prevail in her later poetry
reflect the freedom that Plath gained from cautious treatment of her
imagery in her early poetry. She does not superimpose images
carelessly, rather all the images that appear in her later poetry are
already in embryonic form in her early poetry.
Her habit of presenting important images provides the basis for her
later personal imagery, in which few personal images and tremendous
psychic opposition predominate. For instance, in The Colossus, the
incorporation of a mythological and archeological dimensions guaranty
the conversation of the personal facts and fantasies into universal truth.
While in Ariel, those personal facts acquire a political and historical
dimensions that makes her choose the modern images of torturer and
tortured as emblems of her personal tragedy.
Gradually, her poetry comes to reveal her indulgence in the idea of
death as a solution to her dilemma. This is confirmed in Ariel. After
presenting the basis of her torture, and achieving the wanted familiarity
with her readers, she begins to talk freely about death. In her later
poetry, she is able to discard the formality and restraint that control the
poems of her earlier work, in favor to a much freer, more immediate
poetry that prevails the world of Ariel. Most of her early poems are
concerned with evaluating and defining the relationship between the
poet and her surroundings. Whereas, the fierce images of her later
poetry portray a persona who courageously confronts the bleakness of
her world. She directly fuses her inner world with the outer one, aiming
to project the hallucinating psychological state that she has reached.
Yet, The images of death and violence which appear more clearly
in Ariel do not represent the negation of life; on the contrary, they
confirm life. For her, it is necessary to fear and confront death in order
to learn how to survive. In other words, Plath's idea of death consists of
the belief that she speculates in the face of death. It is the belief that
denies death as an end, which carries her forward and over into
another space. Rather, death for her is an inevitable step that acquires
her a rebirth. It liberates her from the controlled, disintegrated,
shattered and weak personality, turning her into a strong, courageous
figure that could avenge her torturers.
Hence, birth, death, and rebirth constitute a never ending
circularity. On one hand, she wants to die in order to be as pure as a
child and regain her peaceful childhood. On the other, her death is
supposed to create out of her, a new and strong personality. Thus, her
pursuit of the secret end is obviously revealed in the experience of
Hence, the important issue of reading Plath's poetry and
understanding her poetic strategy is the consistency and depth that she
obtains in elaborating her personal themes by using different kinds of
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