Childless Woman Analysis by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was arguably one of the most prolific confessional poetry writers of the 20th century. Plath combines traditional classical poetry themes with confessional style poetry. Academics and critics have suggested that she has used her poetry as a narrative vehicle to express her emotional turmoil. For instance, one of her most well known poems, ‘Daddy’ clearly reflects upon her relationship with her father. Furthermore, it has been suggested that part of it represents her turbulent marriage to the poet Ted Hughes. In order to analyze Plath’s poem there are two main points that need to be taken into consideration. Firstly it is essential to read about Plath’s personal life and history as it’s absolutely crucial to understanding Plath’s poems. That is, unlike other poets, Plath appears to use her poetry as a therapeutic measure when she was suffering from depression.

Additionally Plath was desperately depressed and attempted suicide many times during her life and writing career. Unfortunately she succeeded and passed away on February 11th 1963. Secondly, there is a need to consider the society that Plath was in during her writing career. It was the 1960’s and American society was considered to be patriarchal. That is controlled by males and theorists have suggested that Plath may have felt restricted by this.It follows then, that in order to analyze her poems it is difficult to ignore these factors. Let’s begin by considering, Plath’s ‘Childless woman’ Plath skillfully uses naturistic metaphors with this poem, which clearly reflects her feelings and experience after her miscarriage. For example, in the first verse :

The womb

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Rattles its pod, the moon

Discharges itself from the tree with nowhere to go.

This is the most important, as its only two words. This serves two purposes. Firstly it highlights the main message of the poem. Secondly it becomes important in the next verse as Plath directly links this by incorporating and contrasting personification with naturistic metaphors. Plath personifies the tree as a metaphor for herself and then identifies and compares it to herself

My landscape is a hand with no lines,

The roads bunched to a knot,

The knot myself,

Myself the rose you acheive—

This body,

This ivory

This clearly reflects the miscarriage as Plath appears to be using ‘rose’ as a metaphor for the lost child. Again there is the two word emphasis but this time it is more detached ‘ this body,this ivory’

In the next two verses the shift moves back and forth between personification and personal:

Ungodly as a child’s shriek.

Spiderlike, I spin mirrors,

Loyal to my image,

As mentioned earlier it’s important to read Plath’s background in order to put her poems in context. During the time of her writing, little was known about the reasons for miscarriages and women often blamed themselves, believing that something they did may have caused it to happen. Others assumed that it was God’s will and her choice to use the word “ungodly’ is interesting. Her anger and inner turmoil is quite clearly reflected with dramatic imagery in the first two lines of the next verse:

Uttering nothing but blood—

Taste it, dark red!

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And my forest

The last verse has many similarities with the first verse as again Plath skilfully uses naturistic metaphors, whilst identifying herself- ‘my funeral’

My funeral,

And this hill and this

Gleaming with the mouths of corpses.

Claire Richards B.A (hons)