‘Silence of another order’: Negativity and trope in the late poems of Sylvia Plath

Emma Jones

Abstract


Sylvia Plath is a negative poet. This, I think, few would deny. The popular conception of Plath as the depressed poet par excellence has made her a fantasized conduit of the death-drive. Plath as the word-made-death involves her readers in a drama where poetry-as-logos impels her participants to death-as-telos. In such a reading the poems enact a drama in which she plays the wronged, vengeful, and ultimately self-liberated heroine. The negativity of death aids the triumph of rebirth. This is the theme of the textual drama that is Ariel.

Such a view represents a reading that is all too common in Plath criticism. Its increasing contestation has seen numerous useful analyses of Sylvia Plath as a mythic figure in cultural consciousness, a myth that crosses the usual boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.

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