Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written only six days before the author’s suicide, “Edge” has sometimes been viewed as a formal suicide note. Such a hasty conclusion deprives the poem of its significance as a work of art. As mentioned above, “Edge” was carefully constructed through a series of drafts. A close inspection of its form and imagery confirms an artistic intent, so one must look for the meaning of the poem not in Plath’s biography, but in the poem itself.

The poem argues that the woman who is the subject of the poem is “perfected” in death, which alone offers release from her unhappiness. She smiles in death at the conclusion of an obviously painful journey through life. The description of her children suggests the malevolent role they have played in her life. She imagines them back within her as her body closes like a chilled rose. The woman seeks to return to the condition of the virgin, and it is to the virgin goddess, Artemis, that the poet turns for consolation. The solitary, pure white, perfect female offers no sympathy; the suicide has endured the ancient destiny of women. Only the woman who can hold herself aloof from love and its demands can escape a similar fate.

It is difficult to imagine a bleaker view of human experience than that which Plath expresses in “Edge.” She suggests that one can find happiness only in absolute solitude, the solitude of death.