Analysis of ‘Sheep in Fog’ by Sylvia Plath

Sheep in Fog

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was a poet whose fame kept growing after her death. After her suicide her husband, Ted Hughes, collected her poems she had wanted to publish and released it under the title of ‘Ariel’. He had left out so many of the poems she had selected, on purpose, and they were some of her best poems. Then in 2004 another edition was published and in this edition all the poems that were left out were included and one of them was ‘Sheep in Fog’.  This edition met with great success and it was considered as a big literary event and the reputation of Plath solidified a little more.

‘Sheep in Fog’ was one of the poems written during her last years and like all later poems it dwells on her depression, rejection and loneliness.  In an interview to BBC, Plath spoke about the poem clearly: "In this poem ['Sheep in Fog'], the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep." However this is not clear to the reader.  It looks like a list of different images with no connection. She starts off by saying that the hills have been covered with fog and had turned white. ‘People or stars’ look at her sadly maybe she disappoints them.  In the next stanza she brings in a train whose smoke is compared to breath and then she describes a rust coloured horse which is moving very slowly. So, the hooves make a low sound; when the horse moves slowly the bell on the horse also gives out a ‘dolorous’ sound. The morning which should be bright is becoming black. She shifts the attention to herself in the next stanza. She, like a lone flower is left out and there is ‘stillness’ in her bones. In all these images of depression there is one good scene. A far away field touches her heart and melts it. Those fields which melted her are threatening to send her to a heaven which is like dark water and without stars and fathers.

This poem has fourteen lines split into five stanzas and they are non-rhyming sentences. The animal mentioned in the title of the poem is the sheep. The sheep is a social animal and can never be seen alone. In the poem the poet wants people around her but fails to find people or even stars to be with her. ‘Sheep’, is mentioned in the title but it does not find any mention in the poem. The visual images mentioned speak volumes about the state of poet’s mind. Some of the examples are “dark water", "slow train", "blackening morning", "horse the colour of rust" and "a flower left out". These images indicate that she was moving far away from humanity. If we consider the use of colour imagery there is remarkable use of it. The’ whiteness’ of the hills moves to the ‘rust’ colour of the horses. Then the morning becomes ’black’ and finally the waters of heaven are ‘dark’. The image of heaven is also broken but she plays safe by saying ‘a’ heaven and not ‘the heaven’. So it can be that there is a heaven like that which has no stars and no fathers and where the waters are dark. The hills are personified as she writes they ‘step off into whiteness’. The stars too look at her sadly and she is personifying the stars. Not only the imagery but the disconnect between the images gives the reader a thought that the poet was in depression. It is a clear case of confessional poem where the state of mind is reflected through her theme, her images and even her lines.

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