The Poem

“Edge” is a short poem in free verse; its twenty lines are divided into ten couplet stanzas. The title suggests a border, perhaps between life and death. One of the last two poems written by Sylvia Plath before her suicide, “Edge” is a meditation on the death of a woman.

Written in the third person, the poem may give the impression of offering a detached judgment of the dead woman. This point of view usually suggests a less subjective perspective than the first person. The apparently objective imagery of the poem, however, disguises a high degree of subjectivity on the part of the poet.

“Edge” begins with an implied thesis: A woman is “perfected” by death. It is not difficult to see at least three ways in which the woman has been “perfected.” To “perfect” means to complete, to master, or to make flawless. While literally true that the woman has completed her life, “perfected” also suggests that the woman has mastered womanhood and has been made flawless through her death. These notions of completion, mastery, and achieved excellence are linked to death in the brief second line, “Her dead,” which provides an approximate rhyme with the first line.

The second stanza notes “the smile of accomplishment” that adorns the dead body, suggesting that the woman is pleased by the perfection she has achieved. The poet then hints that the woman has achieved death through suicide. The “Greek necessity” that one imagines flowing “in the scrolls of her toga” strongly suggests the ritual suicides demanded of disgraced individuals in the classical world. Although most readers are familiar with the self-inflicted death by hemlock of the Greek philosopher Socrates, ritual suicide (like the toga) is actually associated with imperial Rome. Nevertheless, Plath is able to allude to her own writing through the clever description of the folds of the toga as “scrolls.” The third and fourth...

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Forms and Devices

As Linda Wagner-Martin points out in Sylvia Plath: A Biography (1987), “Edge” was drawn together from previous drafts of poems. The poem’s title and some of its most important images first appeared in a draft of “Mystic,” a poem that includes images of the demanding life of nuns. Coincidentally, “Nuns in Snow” was the working title of “Edge.” The image of the moon with “her hood of bone” (suggesting the cowl of a nun’s habit) seems the only trace of this religious motif in the final version of the poem.

The moon’s hood is not the only image of clothing in the poem. The dead body of the woman “wears” a smile; she is clothed, first of all, by her sense of satisfaction in her suicide. More graphically, her blood flows down her “toga.” As one descends from her lips to her body, one comes to her feet, which are bare. She wears no more than a nightgown.

The shocking image of her dead children coiled like white serpents before little pitchers that had held poisoned milk reveals the troubled mind that describes the scene. (The fragmentary couplets and unexpected enjambments heighten this impression of a disordered and unbalanced narrator.) This highly subjective imagery conveys repugnance for the children. It may also allude to the whitish umbilical cords that linked them to their mother.

Their fetal posture in death seems to return the children to their mother, who “has folded/ them back into...

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