Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Few poets have resisted the impulse to, at some point, write about the nature of poetry. Sylvia Plath was no exception, and “Words” is such a poem. Most poems of this type take as their theme the enduring nature of poetry and its ability to immortalize the poetic vision. They are essentially a praise of the power of poetry. Plath too acknowledges the enduring nature of poetry. Her poetic utterances travel out in all directions from the center of her creation. The poems exist as a separate entity, to be met by any traveler on the road of life. For Plath, though, the poems seem to lose importance once they are out of her control. Met with later, they are “dry and riderless,” seemingly without relevance to the person who has gone on down the road.
The act of writing seems to be both what Plath celebrates and what in the end fails her. For Plath more than for most writers, her writing is her life. Her writing as a whole reveals a continuing effort to control the conflicts and obsessions of her life through the tight structure of her craft. In the twenty carefully crafted lines of “Words,” Sylvia Plath lays bare the emotional journey of her life, from creative power to despair and death.