Plath, Sylvia

United States, (1932-1963)

Sow

  1. God knows how our neighbor managed to breed
  2. His great sow:
  3. Whatever his shrewd secret, he kept it hid
  4.  
  5. In the same way
  6. He kept the sow–impounded from public stare,
  7. Prize ribbon and pig show.
  8.  
  9. But one dusk our questions commended us to a tour
  10. Through his lantern-lit
  11. Maze of barns to the lintel of the sunk sty door
  12.  
  13. To gape at it:
  14. This was no rose-and-larkspurred china suckling
  15. With a penny slot
  16.  
  17. For thrift children, nor dolt pig ripe for heckling,
  18. About to be
  19. Glorified for prime flesh and golden crackling
  20.  
  21. In a parsley halo;
  22. Nor even one of the common barnyard sows,
  23. MireRsmirched, blowzy,
  24.  
  25. Maunching thistle and knotweed on her snout —
  26. cruise–
  27. Bloat tun of milk
  28. On the move, hedged by a litter of feat-foot ninnies
  29.  
  30. Shrilling her hulk
  31. To halt for a swig at the pink teats. No. This vast
  32. Brobdingnag bulk
  33.  
  34. Of a sow lounged belly-bedded on that black
  35. compost,
  36. Fat-rutted eyes
  37. Dream-filmed. What a vision of ancient hoghood
  38. must
  39.  
  40. Thus wholly engross
  41. The great grandam!–our marvel blazoned a knight,
  42. Helmed, in cuirass,
  43.  
  44. Unhorsed and shredded in the grove of combat
  45. By a grisly-bristled
  46. Boar, fabulous enough to straddle that sow’s heat.
  47.  
  48. But our farmer whistled,
  49. Then, with a jocular fist thwacked the barrel nape,
  50. And the green-copse-castled
  51.  
  52. Pig hove, letting legend like dried mud drop,
  53. Slowly, grunt
  54. On grunt, up in the flickering light to shape
  55.  
  56. A monument
  57. Prodigious in gluttonies as that hog whose want
  58. Made lean Lent
  59.  
  60. Of kitchen slops and, stomaching no constraint,
  61. Proceeded to swill
  62. The seven troughed seas and every earthquaking
  63. continent.

Sylvia Plath. The Colossus and Other Poems. New York: Vintage, 1962.

Editor’s Note:

Here is an audio recording (763KB) of Sylvia Plath reciting ‘Sow.’ plath.mp3

Totem

  1. The engine is killing the track the track is silver,
  2. It stretches into the distance It will be eaten nevertheless.
  3.  
  4. Its running is useless.
  5. At nightfall there is the beauty of drowned fields,
  6.  
  7. Dawn gilds the farmers like pigs,
  8. Swaying slightly in their thick suits,
  9.  
  10. White towers of Smithfield ahead,
  11. Fat haunches and blood on their minds.
  12.  
  13. There is no mercy in the glitter of cleavers,
  14. The butcher’s guillotine that whispers: “How’s this, how’s this?”
  15.  
  16. In the bowl the hare is aborted,
  17. Its baby head out of the way, embalmed in spice,
  18.  
  19. Flayed of fur and humanity.
  20. Let us eat it like Plato’s afterbirth,
  21.  
  22. Let us eat it like Christ.
  23. These are the people that were important—
  24.  
  25. Their round eyes, their teeth, their grimaces
  26. On a stick that rattles and clicks, a counterfeit snake.
  27.  
  28. Shall the hood of the cobra appal me—
  29. The loneliness in its eye, the eye of the mountains
  30.  
  31. Through which the sky eternally threads itself?
  32. The world is blood-hot and personal
  33.  
  34. Dawn says, with its blood-flush.
  35. There is no terminus, only suitcases
  36.  
  37. Out of which the same self unfolds like a suit
  38. Bald and shiny, with pockets of wishes,
  39.  
  40. Notions and tickets, short circuits and folding mirrors.
  41. I am mad, calls the spider, waving its many arms.
  42.  
  43. And in truth it is terrible,
  44. Multipued in the eyes of the flies.
  45.  
  46. They buzz like blue children
  47. In nets of the infinite,
  48.  
  49. Roped in at the end by the one
  50. Death with its many sticks.

Sylvia Plath. Ariel. New York: Harper & Row (1966).

Stillborn

  1. These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.
  2. They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
  3. Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
  4. If they missed out on walking about like people
  5. It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.
  6.  
  7. O I cannot explain what happened to them!
  8. They are proper in shape and number and every part.
  9. They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
  10. They smile and smile and smile at me.
  11. And still the lungs won’t fill and the heart won’t start.
  12.  
  13. They are not pigs, they are not even fish,
  14. Though they have a piggy and a fishy air —
  15. It would be better if they were alive, and that’s what they were.
  16. But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,
  17. And they stupidly stare and do not speak of her.

Sylvia Plath. Crossing the Water: transitional poems. New York: Harper & Row (1971).

About the Poet

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), US poet and novelist. Plath was married to poet Hughes, Ted and she committed suicide at age 30. She was a Pulitzer Prize-winner (posthumously) for Collected Poems, edited by Hughes.

Plath is a heroine to many feminist readers for her intense and harrowing confessional poetry. [DES-6/03]

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