The Poet we know, revere, and maybe fear
Image and quote via NPR
Fifty years ago today, Sylvia Plath ended her life as a major poet and an artist of the highest order. But one could hardly have predicted, from her taut yet unfocused first book, The Colossus, her only book of poetry published in her lifetime, that she would, or even could, become the poet we know, revere — and maybe even fear — as Sylvia Plath.
Most of the poems in The Colossus are the work of an obviously talented writer who is having trouble finding a subject commensurate with her knife-sharp powers of description and emotional clarity.
In "Sow," composed in 1957, Plath trains her gaze on a neighbor's "great sow," which she sees:
Shrilling her hulk
To halt for a swig at the pink teats. No. This vast
Of a sow lounged belly-bedded on that black compost,
Dream-filmed. What a vision of ancient hoghood...
Already Plath can render anything she looks at with stultifying intensity, and she's gaining the control of where to break her lines — her poet's timing — that will make the Ariel poems so searing and sinister. But ultimately, this poem adds up to little more than a prolonged exclamation of, "Wow! That's a really big pig!" The stakes are out of sync: The poem just isn't as important as it sounds.