The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Death & Co.” is a short poem in free verse, its thirty-one lines divided into seven stanzas. The title suggests the name of a business or corporation; its function is to establish the mood of the poem, which is ironic and mocking. Death is often viewed with ambivalence, something that not only takes away life but also (sometimes mistakenly) offers comfort to those who are in pain or who believe in an afterlife; death can seem cold and officious, but also, perhaps, ironic in the form it finally takes. The poem is written in the first person in the form of a confession monologue in which the speaker mockingly describes a terrifying—and coldly businesslike—scene unfolding before her eyes. While it is often the case that poets use a persona to distinguish themselves from the poem’s speaker, no such distinction is implied in this poem. The poet Sylvia Plath, like the speaker, conceives a monologue wherein one person speaks alone. Although Plath is considered by many to be a “confessional” poet, this poem seems less like a confession to someone, explicitly or implicitly, and more like a monologue to the self.

“Death & Co.” begins with the idea of a duality, a form common to many of the subjects in Plath’s poetry. In this case, the speaker, while being visited by two mordant and menacing figures, becomes aware that death is not singular but has two faces. It is a realization that does not surprise her (“It seems perfectly natural...

(The entire section is 548 words.)