Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath

A year of Lucy Sweeney Byrne’s old favourites

Author Sylvia Plath: Her life and death are interwoven, irrevocably, with our understanding of her work, and must be read as such.

Author Sylvia Plath: Her life and death are interwoven, irrevocably, with our understanding of her work, and must be read as such.

 

Winter Trees consists of poems written in the nine months before Plath’s death (Ted Hughes, in his opening note, writes that “the poems in this volume are all out of the batch from which the Ariel poems were more or less arbitrarily chosen”), alongside a longer work, written earlier and designed to be read aloud, titled Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices.

On the whole, there’s certainly less finish on some of these poems, compared with those in Ariel; some have the unpolished quality of drafts. But this, to me, is a strength. Through them, we read hints of Plath's process, her fierce desire to convey their aches, their angers, as well as their moments of pathos.

They are the attempts of a woman to communicate her struggle. (I hate the word “struggle”, but here it feels appropriate, and by it I suggest no simpering, no sentimental self-pity – there’s absolutely none of that.) The results are often stunningly beautiful.

Plath is, throughout, fearless. Dangerously so. She writes candidly of motherhood (most notably in Child, Fatherless Son and Three Women), totally disregarding the taboos around suggesting its agonies. She writes of her terrible isolation, of betrayal, alongside, constantly, her thoughts of death.

There’s no point in pretending to read Plath’s poetry from this period without relating it to her death. It’s one of the very few occasions upon which to disregard the context would be to reduce the work.

Thoughts of suicide

Plath’s life and death are interwoven, irrevocably, with our understanding of her work, and must be read as such. It is, after all, what she’s writing about: one feels from almost every page the chilling sensation of what it might feel like to be truly contemplating suicide.

Plath takes us to the edge of what human experience can bear, and there, at that precipice, she composes some of the most graceful, enraged, exhilarating and affecting poetry ever written.

Plath was her own sacrifice, her life her own cadaver, and from her findings we are left with these raw and bloodied poems.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.