The Moment Sylvia Plath Found Her Genius

1960s: Days of Rage

“The voluminous critical conversation about Sylvia Plath has tended to orbit a few topics: her suicide, of course, and the ways mental illness and madness perhaps predicted her death and marked her poetry; the blazing ferocity of her posthumous masterpiece Ariel; the co-opting of images and metaphors (from the Holocaust, for instance) in those late poems; and the overall relationship of her biography to her supposedly confessional poems, especially when it comes to Ted Hughes, his affair with Assia Wevill, and his curation of Plath’s legacy after her death. These are all compelling topics, and they’ve had a deep and lasting effect on how we read Plath’s poetry. But I prefer to think about Plath’s amazing poems and the creative surges that enabled her to write them. In Plath we have a unique example of rapid, surging development of a poet’s art. In only seven years—from 1956, when the…

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