Sylvia Plath Forum

Poetry Analysis/ Discussion


The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

I read this poem only recently, & don't know that much about Plath beyond the usual Hughes/depression stuff. I do, however, have a first-class degree in Eng. Lit, so have a few ideas here.

The 'body' is the moon: classical myth, Cynthia/Diana/Selene etc; she is 'dead' because (a) she has never been alive (unlike Plath), & (b) Plath has 'killed' her in the negative personification she creates here.

I assume the rest flows metaphorically, ie the toga is cloud rack, the stars are the dead children etc. Cf Eliot Prufrock 'As the evening is laid out...Like a patient etherised upon a table', or Thomas Hardy's 19th century as a 'corpse'. Metaphor brings death to life, supposedly.

The rest about the flowers is just lyrical waffle.

The last line about 'blacks crackle & drag': well, who knows? She was mentally ill, & obviously the moon is the most vivid symbol to use to try to focus thoughts of death. It seems at the end of the poem, Plath just loses that focus & grip again, & becomes incoherent or wishes to show incoherence: a poetic demonstration of her psychological state, perhaps.

Len Barron
London, UK
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I believe that in this poem Sylvia Plath talks only about her own death that she's predicting. The "dead child coiled" represents her work, her poems, books... she seems to think that her death will make their importance minimal, that her work will be seen as useless... The moon, I have to admit troubles me. I think the mooon actually represents life, the world: it sees death though it doesn't stop spinning!

Petaouchnok , France
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I too, like David, think that "Edge" is a 'near-perfect' poem. Re: its dating, here's a short passage from my book Chapters In A Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (1976): "Both 'Edge' and 'Balloons' are dated February 5, 1963--a week before Plath's death--and there is no indication of which poem came first. These were apparently the last two poems she wrote, and the last she submitted to a magazine. (Nearly all of the late poems took their final form within a day or two of being written, and they were usually sent out soon after. 'Edge' and 'Balloons' were both sent out the day they were composed.)"

The last two poems of Plath's life center around pictures of a mother and her two children: "Balloons," the daylight poem with its scene of realistic domesticity; and "Edge," the night-time Moon- poem, with the stark image of the dead mother and her two dead children.

While there are certainly poems that pretty clearly point to Assia, I don't agree,Therresa, that "Edge" is one of them--the symbol of the moon is far larger in Plath's poetry. And I'm dubious about "The Rival" being an Assia poem. There were, for Plath, other models who were cold and 'beautiful, but annihilating' (not least of these would have been her disquieting Moon-Muse). Also, "The Rival" just doesn't seem to read as being about someone who has only just been met ["Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,/Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity".] On August 13, Plath wrote to Aurelia Plath about having sublet the London flat to the Wevills; "The Rival" was written in July.

Judith Kroll
Austin, Texas , USA
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Well, I hate to sound redundant, but I have always thought this poem was always a poem directed at and about Assia Wevill and Plath's final relation to Assia. I think most of her later ones were direct attacks on Assia. Assia was her most blatant torment during her last days as all the bios' confirm. There is rumor Wevill harassed her via the post and Plath mentions this in another poem.

She referred to Assia as the moon in "The Rival" and I think in this one she also is referring to Assia, as being the moon.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

She is predicting her own death in "Edge" and Assia's response, was it not what Assia wanted anyway? And it is known that after Plath was dead, Assia revelled in the death, was smug to Plath's old friends and felt and projected herself as the powerful victor.

Assia was "used to that sort of thing" having been a scarlet woman, a predator after only married men. The "blacks" a reference to both Assia's choice of color for most of her clothing and a reference to the spirits Plath felt hovered over Assia, the darkness that Plath felt Assia carried with her?

I know it may seem redundant but I have always felt that her most painful preoccupation during her last days was the agonizing betrayal she suffered at the hands of Assia and Hughes. Her poems concentrate on these two people, and the key words within her poems identify a real obsession, or preoccupation on the betrayal and the triangle. I will always firmly believe "Edge" is her swan song to Assia, one last dig, before admitting defeat.

Therresa Kennedy
Portland, Oregon , USA
Friday, July 8, 2005

I think "Edge" deserves more immediate attention, as it was apparently the last poem that Sylvia Plath wrote, and there seems to be some controversy about its intent and even Plath's mental state when she wrote it. Maybe I'm mistaken, or getting ahead of myself, but I think this is the sort of subject matter the Forum should be addressing.

We're all interested in who Sylvia was and what she was thinking toward the end, and if this is her last poem, it should be inspected carefully and with full regard to the scholarship that has gone before. (Judith Kroll, help me here.) I have always thought of "Edge" as one those near-perfect poems -- like Edna St. Vincent Millay's "SonnetXLIII": 'What lips my lips have kissed' or Housman's "When I was one-and-twenty" -- that marries the author's sentiments with a tight form to produce a poem that is not just memorable but actually quotable.

That Sylvia, in the depths of despair/depression, in the middle of a terrible winter in London, taking care of two little kids, abandoned by her husband, could have come up with such a carefully controlled, perfectly worded poem, is almost beyong imagining. Those last lines are chilling/thrilling even to this day:

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

Show me more haunting, evocative lines from any contemporary poet, and I'll buy you a drink!

David Hall
Fort Collins, Colorado , USA
Sunday, June 26, 2005

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