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Analysis of ‘Edge’ by Sylvia Plath

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Edge’ by Sylvia Plath:

Sylvia Plath was a sensitive person who wanted to be perfectionist. Many considered her to be a model student and a good daughter. As a student she got straight A most of the years and she won many prizes. She got a scholarship to Smith College in 1950 as she had a big list of publications of her poems. While in Smith she is said to have written more than four hundred poems. However beneath all this perfection there was a person who was going through turbulence within herself. She attempted suicide while in college and had a narrow escape. After psychotherapy and electric shock she continued her academics and continued her victorious literary journey. In 1955 she won the Fulbright scholarship to study in Cambridge, England. In 1963 she tried to take her life and this time she was successful

The poet says a woman is perfect when her dead body has a ‘smile of accomplishment’. This woman wears the toga, a long robe used by the Romans, and her bare feet seems to say they have travelled very far and now it was all over. She jumps to an imagery of many dead children who are coiled like serpents, but they were white. There was a pitcher of milk near each child but now the pitcher was empty. She, the dead woman, has brought all the children close to her body. The allusion is, to rose petals which fold in the night giving out odours. Night is compared to stiffness which can mean death. Watching all this is the moon who is only a witness, totally unaffected. It is as if the moon is used to such scenes in her continuous never ending travel.

The poem ‘Edge’ was written six days before Plath’s death on February 11th 1963. Most of her poems are harsh and bold; this one is no exception, only that there is no connection especially the introduction of dead children coiled like white serpents or the pitcher of milk near each child. It might be the expression of her confusion inside as it might have reached a peak by then. It is difficult to summarize with some cohesion as the poem is abstruse and ambiguous. The theme of death is very obvious through direct reference and through allusion. The woman is dead and therefore perfect, the children are dead. ‘Stiffens and odors bleed’ indicates death as only in death there is stiffness and odors.

‘Edge’ is a free verse which has 10 couplets. The lines are short and some lines continue into the next couplet. The poetic device used is enjambment and it has a powerful impact especially in the lines

Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The structure of the poem adds to the ambiguity. Death which is generally seen as something horrible and messy is given a positive tone when she says woman is perfected in death. Another powerful use of language is the contrast created between the whiteness of children, milk and the red blood. White is symbolic of purity and innocence. These innocent children are tainted by the red blood; red being a symbol of violence. Some feel that she must have contemplated killing her children before taking her life and these lines could have risen from that thought. Fortunately she did nothing like that. Axelrod, the musician, concludes, "On an edge between metaphysics and indeterminacy as well as between life and death, Plath's last poem gapes at the space separating words from their referents and meanings, while the moon's shadows 'crackle and drag' to commemorate the dissolution."