Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The term “Konfessional” has been applied to the poetry of Sylvia Plath. It refers to a poem in which the poet speaks in her own person, not as the impersonal poet or through a persona. Subjects and themes of confessional poetry are usually intensely personal, often disturbing, experiences and emotions. “Poppies in July” has sources in Plath’s life, and its meaning is strongly implied by its place in a sequence of poems Plath wrote during a three-month period in the summer of 1962: “The Other,” “Words heard, by accident, over the phone,” “Poppies in July,” “Burning the Letters,” and “For a Fatherless Son.” Sylvia Plath committed suicide on February 11, 1963, by inhaling fumes from her gas stove.

In her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963), published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas just before her death, Plath depicts the schizophrenic episode that preceded her first suicide attempt, when she was twenty. Esther Greenwood, the heroine, imagines that a great bell jar has descended around her, enclosing her in an invisible and colorless barrier between herself and the world. She attempts to kill herself by taking sleeping pills. The bell jar parallels the “glass capsule” of “Poppies in July.”

Although the poem reflects events in Plath’s life, it transcends purely personal experience and stands on its own, communicating its meaning without the need for references to outside sources. The poet...

(The entire section is 461 words.)