Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There is a certain cleanness about Sylvia Plath's frequently anthologized poem "Edge" which seems to stand at odds with its subject matter. This cleanness, or sterility, is borne out in words like "perfected" and indeed in the one-word title itself—an "edge" is a precipice, or a dividing line, something that neatly splits one thing into two. Here, the edge is seemingly the line between this woman's life, now over, and the death which has "perfected," or completed, her.

Although the poem is in free verse, there is a sort of regularity to it in the way Plath divides it into two-line stanzas. This adds to the sense that we are here dispassionate observers viewing an unmoving tableau as the dead woman, unnamed, lies almost in state. She is pleased with herself, wearing a "smile," and sure that she is presenting an "illusion" of "Greek necessity"—the suggestion here is that she has killed herself, a sort of honor killing, and hopes that others will view it as her only choice. By dying, she has become perfect—but there is also the sense that there is no other thing she could have done in life that would be considered perfect. She is only perfect because she has removed herself from the world altogether, a world which was not made for women to live in as themselves.

The woman has not left her life alone—on the contrary, she has taken her children with her, each a "white serpent" in front of a "pitcher of milk." They are dead, and she has taken them back into herself. The description of the children as serpents is interesting, suggesting something poisonous about them, as if they are alien to their mother and also damaging to her own wholeness. The pitchers of milk might be literal poisoned bowls of milk, but they might also represent the mother's own milk produced for them, but which in the end has killed them—a suggestion that purely by virtue of being her children, her nature has poisoned them and led them to this still and deathlike scene. Unable to cope with the children as separate "serpent" beings from her, the mother has therefore taken them back.

The imagery toward the end of the poem is vaguely suggestive of menstruation and physical womanhood: "bleeds," "odors," and flowers, connected then to the appearance of the moon, a traditionally female-associated body which is also bound up with menstruation and the cycle of womanhood. Here, too, the moon is observing a cycle she has seen many times before: that of women struggling, and ultimately able to be "perfected" only by death.

There is a lot of pain in this poem—the woman, of whom we know very little, can see herself happy only in her death. Given that Plath wrote this poem shortly before her own suicide, it can be inferred that this was a thought Plath had about herself, too.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Themes

Next

Characters