(Masterpieces of American Literature)

One of a series of poems based on her father’s (and subsequently her own) knowledge of beekeeping, “Stings” uses the behavior of bees within their hive as an allegory for her own obsession with death and renewal. A free-verse poem, “Stings” describes the transfer of the bees to the woman who is their new owner. During this transfer, the bees sting a third person, a scapegoat figure; the stinging of the scapegoat enables the hive to renew itself and replace or awaken its sleeping queen.

In this hive there are drudges, “unmiraculous women” who are only interested in things of the household/hive, and there is a sleeping queen. The speaker refuses to identify with the drudges: “I am no drudge/ Though for years I have eaten dust/ And dried plates with my dense hair.” She identifies with the queen, old and worn out, or more accurately with the queenship: The queen dies and is replaced by another queen, but the queenship is immortal, going through generation after generation.

When the bystander is stung, he takes away the pain and exorcises the male at once. The bees that stung him—they are presumably a part of her, too—“thought death was worth it”; their sacrifice was needed to exorcise the male. The rebirth, or recovery, follows: “I/ Have a self to recover, a queen.” Now that the scapegoat is gone, the queenship, glorious, can revive, with power and dominance and nothing of the drudge:

More terrible than she ever was, redScar in the sky, red cometOver the engine that killed her—The mausoleum, the wax house.

This poem, written a year before “Daddy,” expresses much of the same theme, but here the theme is presented through the metaphor of the hive. The hive expends part of itself to expel the male and free the queen. The queen, liberated by the removal of the male, is triumphantly empowered.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anderson, Robert. Little Fugue. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005.

Axelrod, Steven Gould. Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Bassnett, Susan. Sylvia Plath: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Brain, Tracy. The Other Sylvia Plath. New York: Longman, 2001.

Bundtzen, Lynda. Plath’s Incarnations: Woman and the Creative Process. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Butscher, Edward. Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness. New York: Seabury Press, 1976.

Butscher, Edward, ed. Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977.

Hall, Caroline King Barnard. Sylvia Plath. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Hughes, Frieda. Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition, by Sylvia Plath. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Hughes, Ted. Birthday Letters. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Kirk, Connie Ann. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Malcolm, Janet. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Middlebrook, Diane. Her Husband: Hughes and Plath—a Marriage. New York: Viking, 2003.

Stevenson, Anne. Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

Wagner, Erica. Ariel’s Gift. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.