The Collected Poems

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Overview

A new edition of Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems, edited and with an introduction by Ted Hughes

Containing everything that celebrated poet Sylvia Plath wrote after 1956, this is one of the most comprehensive collections of her work.

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Overview

A new edition of Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems, edited and with an introduction by Ted Hughes

Containing everything that celebrated poet Sylvia Plath wrote after 1956, this is one of the most comprehensive collections of her work.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061558894
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 64,042
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932-63) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at Smith College. In 1955 she went to Cambridge University on a Fulbright fellowship, where she met and later married Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a novel, The Bell Jar (1963). Her Collected Poems, which contains her poetry written from 1956 until her death, was published in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Other posthumous publications include Ariel, her landmark publication, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams and The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962.

Biography

"I was supposed to be having the time of my life," Sylvia Plath writes as her alter ego Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. Like Esther, Plath was a bright young woman who had earned scholarships and awards, and had all the talent to back them up, and saw this—but could never enjoy it. Her struggles with depression were in fact what often motivated her to write, until she committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.

Plath is among the best-known confessional poets, coming from a school (at its peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s) that left few stones unturned when it came to self-examination and revelation. Though not always bald or literal in her expression, Plath chronicled her flirtation with death—and with life—in her poems. She writes in "Lady Lazarus," a verse about a woman rising from the dead yet again, "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell./I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I've a call." She has an ability to convey deep, almost frightening emotion, but do it in a deceptively lilting, almost-but-not-quite humorous language.

"Lady Lazarus" was published in Ariel (1965), a collection that appeared posthumously, as did other well-known collections such as Crossing the Water (1971), Winter Trees (1972) and Collected Poems (1981), for which Plath was awarded the Pulitzer. Though not all death and despair, Ariel stands out among Plath's works because it represented a departure from the first collection that was published while she was still alive, The Colossus and Other Poems, but primarily because it was such an intimate record of the end of her life. As poet Bob Hass remarked in a PBS interview, "Readers in general discovered this book [Ariel] of a young woman with two babies, whose husband had left her, living in a cold house, trying to be a mom, trying to be a writer, trying to put her life together, who didn't make it—who killed herself—and wrote poems full of rage, bravery, and it electrified people."

Plath's father died when she was eight years old, an event from which the poet never quite seemed to recover. She writes in Ariel's "Daddy": "At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do." Oddly (or perhaps appropriately) for a woman so devastatingly able to feel and react to people, Plath often writes about humans as objects, things that make noise, can be broken or repaired, marked in a continuum from birth to expiration. A child on the floor is like "an unstrung puppet"; cats howl "like women, or damaged instruments"; people are compared to statues. The technique provides a twisted understatement to the emotional effects Plath writes about, in a world where even the states of love and motherhood are accompanied by darkness.

Whereas Plath's poems often seem strange and dreamlike, The Bell Jar is direct and accessible. It ranks with Catcher in the Rye in both literary achievement and status. Plath gets across not only what it feels like to struggle with the most deadly and devastating emotions, but also how hapless and impotent the people around her are in coping with her. She portrays a woman at odds with the world, but does so without affect or pretension. It's no wonder the book has become a classic, particularly among young female readers. At times of despair, readers find comfort and empathy in Plath's words. All of her painfully wrought "confessions" are of us, for us.

Good To Know

Plath married fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she met while studying in Cambridge. At the time Plath killed herself, Hughes had left her for another woman (who also eventually killed herself). He wrote about his relationship with Sylvia in Birthday Letters, an autobiographical collection of poems published just before he died in 1998.

Plath was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia (2003), a film produced by the BBC and Focus Features. The Bell Jar was adapted to the screen by director Larry Peerce in 1979.

The Colossus was Plath's literary debut in 1960, but she also published A Winter Ship that same year, anonymously. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Victoria Lucas (pseudonym)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      February 11, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Read an Excerpt

1956

Conversation Among the Ruins

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
With such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?



Winter Landscape, with Rooks

Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone,
plunges headlong into that black pond
where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind
which hungers to haul the white reflection down.

The austere sun descends above the fen,
an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look
longer on this landscape of chagrin;
feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook,
brooding as the winter night comes on.

Last summer's reeds are all engraved in ice
as is your image in my eye; dry frost
glazes the window of my hurt; what solace
can be struck from rock to make heart's waste
grow green again? Who'd walk in this bleak place?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    good book

    I enjoyed reading this book. I went to a book discussion on the bell jar last week. Very intense writing.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Genuinely artistic poetry.

    When I began reading poetry, I brought a bias with me: I hated free verse. I didn't see the point to it, and couldn't understand why a person would write a poem without a fixed structure. And though I now enjoy free verse very much, I continued to hate it for years. But during this time, I read Sylvia Plath, and during my free verse-hating period, she was the only free verse poet I liked (and was proud to announce).

    There's something unique to Plath's poetry that no other poet, free verse or fixed (not even Sexton), can match. This voice, with it's rich imagery, sounds, and tone, draws it's reader (or listener) in immediately and doesn't let go. It's a painful voice, a voice filled with tragedy; but it's also powerful, and controlled.

    This collection, containing all of Plath's poetry, including those written in juvenilia, is a perfect representation of that voice.

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  • Posted April 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A New Respect for Poetry

    I will admit upfront that I am not a poetry person. I have respect for it, yes, but I am unable to write and read it is as much as I enjoy to write and read prose. I found Sylvia Plath's poetry after reading The Bell Jar. I was absolutely in love with The Bell Jar and immediately searched for more writings and I stumbled upon Plath's poetry. After reading this book I have a new respect and liking for poetry. I love Plath's dark style and concepts, and I was impressed with her use of imagery and her sentence structure. Out of the book, "Lady Lazarus" was my favorite. It is such a beautiful poem. There is so much behind it and so much represented in her words that it is really impressive.

    It is poems like "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy" that make me want to read more poetry.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Deeply Moving

    A deeply felt collection of poems by Sylvia Plath. You can start to grasp the inner workings of Plath's dark mind through her poems. Written from the late 50s up untill a few days before her death by suicide. By far the best collection of poems ive read. She helps you figure out yourself through her flaws and tragities by far the best poet and novelist ive ever read she's my very favorite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2006

    How I became unpopular

    I read Sylvia Plath.Her poetry seems like well written suicide notes.Though Ive been there myself I don't see why anyone sane would want to read her.The only poem of hers I like is 'Daddy' and that should be followed by a reading of Tender is the Night

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2000

    Plath's Creation of an Epic Assortment of Poetry

    Sylvia Plath's beautiful collection of poetry has proved itself to be one of the most enjoyed books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Her deep and moving poems awakened my emotions and opened a window to inspiration. Reading this book is a MUST.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2000

    the best of the confessionalists

    there isn't much i can say about sylvia plath that hasn't already been said. this is a wonderful collection of poems by one of the greatest contemporary female poets. the later works are her best (1962-3), and it was nice to have seen some of her juvenalia. a must for a poetry lover

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    Posted May 24, 2010

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