Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The poems of Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus, and Other Poems are metrically free but stanzaically strict; only rarely does the poet choose the foot over the syllable. That the poems are nevertheless very rhythmic is attributable less to an adroit syllabic measure than to felicitous aural features such as internal rhyme and alliteration. If Plath’s line was only modestly fresh in 1960, her marriage of sound and sense in poetic diction was dramatically innovative and became a hallmark even of her most mature period. The free line is, however, joined almost invariably to patterned stanzas that repeat themselves precisely within poems. Tercets, quatrains, and quintains predominate. Pervasively, however, the free rhythms of the verse soften the rigid impression made by the formality of the stanzas. Such an effect underlies “Aftermath,” within which the separation of the octave and sestet and the nine-syllable line mask the fact that the poem is an Italian sonnet. The play of these apparently oppositional choices created the blend of tradition and reformation that Plath desired for her first collection of lyrics.

The imagery and metaphors of the poems convey relentlessly the inner emotional life of the persona. Indeed, there is but one voice behind these poems. It may be called “confessional,” a word too often applied to Plath’s verse, but it must be understood as less singular and female than modernly nihilistic in a fashion beyond gender...

(The entire section is 408 words.)