The BBC published a piece in 2021 titled "Sylvia Plath: Will the poet always be defined by her death?" Unfortunately, this is a question asked by many critics, and the answer varies depending on who you ask.
Even if you don't know anything about Plath's work, you may know that the writer died by her own hand. So let's take a look at Plath's life and work, focusing on what the writer had to say about death, pain, and grief.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Sylvia Plath Quotes About Death
- Sylvia Plath Quotes About Grief
- Sylvia Plath Quotes About Pain
- Sylvia Plath Quotes to Share at a Funeral or Memorial Service
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston in 1932 to Otto and Aurelia Schober Plath. Otto was a German college professor, and Aurelia was one of his students.
Otto died in 1940, and the family moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts, where Aurelia taught advanced secretarial studies at Boston University.
Sylvia began writing as a teen. Some of her work was published, and she won several literary awards.
During her college years, Plath began to suffer from the symptoms of severe mental health issues. She wrote, "It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it."
At the age of 20, Plath attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. She survived and received electroshock therapy as treatment. Plath used these experiences to write her only published novel, The Bell Jar. She also published a volume of poetry called The Colossus.
When Plath studied at Cambridge University as a Fulbright Scholar, she met fellow poet Ted Hughes. The two married in 1956 and had two children. The marriage ended in 1962. Plath committed suicide by inhaling gas from a kitchen oven a year later.
Margaret Rees wrote the following about Plath's work: "Whether Plath wrote about nature, or about the social restrictions on individuals, she stripped away the polite veneer. She let her writing express elemental forces and primeval fears. In doing so, she laid bare the contradictions that tore apart appearance and hinted at some of the tensions hovering just beneath the surface of the American way of life in the post war period."
However, Timothy Materer wrote, "The critical reactions to both The Bell Jar and Ariel were inevitably influenced by the manner of Plath's death at 30."
Whether Plath will always be defined by her death is up for debate. However, her confessional poetry continues to be taught and studied in academia, and Plath is one of the best-known female American poets of the 20th century.
Now, here are some quotes about death by the poet herself.
Sylvia Plath Quotes About Death
Hughes published another volume of Plath's work after her death called Ariel. A. Alvarez wrote that Plath made "poetry and death inseparable. The one could not exist without the other. And this is right. In a curious way, the poems read as though they were written posthumously."
Here's some of what Plath had to say about death.
1. "The woman is perfected, Her dead, Body wears the smile of accomplishment"
These are the opening words of "Edge," a piece that Plath wrote a week before she killed herself.
2. "I am the ghost..."
"I am the those of an infamous suicide,
My own blue razor rustling in my throat.
O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at
Your gate, father – your hound-bitch, daughter,
It was my love that did us both to death."
These words are from "Electra on Azalea Path." Critics say that this piece is about the death of Plath's father. In Greek tragedies, the "Electra" character blames her mother for her father's death and seeks to kill her mother in retaliation.
3. "Dying, Is an art, like anything else."
These lines are from "Lady Lazarus." Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus.
Plath died by sticking her head in an oven. Before taking her life, she protected her children by sealing them into a nearby room. Tragically, Plath's son, Nicholas, took his own life in 2009.
4. "Eternity bores me, I never wanted it."
This quote is from "Years," which was published in Ariel after the author's death.
5. "The fountains are dry..."
"The fountains are dry and the roses over.
Incense of death. Your day approaches.
The pears fatten like little buddhas.
A blue mist is dragging the lake."
This is the first stanza of "The Manor Garden."
6. "Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."
These lines are from The Bell Jar.
Sylvia Plath Quotes About Grief
Plath lost her father when she was eight years old, and this experience influenced her work. Here are some quotes from Plath's poetry, novel, and journals about grief.
7. "I have always been scared of you..."
"I have always been scared of you
With your Luftwaffe, your boggledygoo.
And your neat moustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O you—”
These lines are from Plath's most famous piece called "Daddy." Plath was eight years old when her father died from complications of diabetes in 1940.
8. "The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther."
This quote is from The Bell Jar.
Sylvia Plath Quotes About Pain
To say that Plath struggled with life is an understatement. She wrote in The Bell Jar: "I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.'"
Here are some quotes from Plath's work and journals about pain.
9. "A living doll..."
"A living doll everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.
It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it's a poultice.
You have an eye, it's an image.
My boy, it's your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it."
These words are from "The Applicant" – a piece first published in The London Magazine. It was also included in her posthumous collection called Ariel.
10. "Is there no way out of the mind?"
Plath had many struggles with mental health issues. These words are from a poem called "Apprehensions."
11. "Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute, Brute heart of a brute like you."
This is a stanza of "Daddy," which may have been about Plath's German father, Otto Plath. According to an article published in The Guardian, Plath wrote that Otto "heiled Hitler in the privacy of his home." FBI files show that Otto may have had "pro-German sympathies."
12. "Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air."
These are words from "Lady Lazarus."
13. "They all wanted to adopt me in some way and, for the price of their care and influence, have me resemble them."
This quote is from The Bell Jar.
14. "What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age."
Plath wrote these words in her journal.
15. "I talk to God but the sky is empty."
She wrote these words in her journal. This phrase was preceded by this sentence:
"I need a father. I need a mother. I need some older, wiser being to cry to."
Sylvia Plath Quotes to Share at a Funeral or Memorial Service
Plath has been called a "confessional poet," meaning that she wrote about her experiences with mental health issues, sexuality, and other subjects considered taboo at the time. Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell are also regarded as confessional poets.
Perhaps this style of poetry appeals to you (or appealed to your loved one), and you wish to share these honest, unromantic views of death at a funeral service.
Here are some quotes by Plath that you might consider.
16. "One cry..."
"One cry and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons."
These words are from "Morning Song," which Plath wrote as a response to becoming a mother. Instead of describing motherhood in romantic terms, it paints the complexity of emotions that often arise during this stage of life.
17. "It is more natural to me, lying down. Then the sky and I are in open conversation, And I shall be useful when I lie down finally; Then the trees may touch me for once, And the flowers have time for me."
These words are from a piece called "I Am Vertical."
18. "Widow. The word consumes itself."
This is the first line in the poem called "Widow."
19. "Stars open among the lilies. Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens? This is the silence of astounded souls."
Plath wrote this beautiful imagery in "Crossing the Water."
20. "I get a little frightened when I think of life slipping through my fingers like water…"
These are Plath's words from her journal.
21. "Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."
Perhaps this quote from Plath's journals could be helpful for a writer's funeral.
22. "Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I've taken for granted."
Plath suffered from manic-depressive episodes.
23. "What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination."
These words were found in Plath's journals.
24. “I can never read all the books I want, I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
This quote from her journal explains some of Plath’s struggles.
Plath's Words Live On
Regardless of your views of Plath's work, life, and death, her words continue to affect modern audiences. Her poetry may not be typically found on lists of grief or funeral poems. Even though she certainly had a lot to say about death and dying.
- "Sylvia Plath." Poetry Foundation. Poetryfoundation.org. Accessed 10 March 2022.