CR Episode 101: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

Download Link: Released on 1 November 2021

The panel reads three poems by Sylvia Plath, “Tulips”, “Lady Lazarus”, and “Daddy”, tracing in them themes of self-annihilation, and analysing references to her depression and to the conflicted relationships she had with her father and husband.


  1. Hi Critical Readings Team!

    I wanted to drop you a line to say how much I’ve been enjoying your excellent podcasts. I started listening a few months ago and have found I’m hooked. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’ve got through them all!

    I enjoyed the latest one on Sylvia Plath. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about her knack for “vividness”. It’s as though everything she feels and experiences has been dialled up to 11. It reminded me of a Philip Larkin essay (‘Horror Poet’) where he makes a similar point, praising Plath’s brilliance and originality, but also reflecting on how, at least in the later poems, it comes at the cost of addressing themes with which it’s harder and harder for the average reader to identify.

    From a personal perspective, my favourite bits of Plath tend to be those which can be enjoyed without reference to her biography – eg Morning Song, Poppies in October, Balloons. I would guess she must be one of the first major poets to write about how it feels to be a new mother…? The later poems – the ones directly about her emotional trauma – I find harder to appreciate fully, though clearly they’re works of genius. In particular, something has never sat quite right with me about the way in which she feels so free to bring in the holocaust as a correlative for her own suffering. But then I am English, and we can get a bit squeamish with this stuff!

    Anyway, thanks again for the podcasts. All power to your elbows! Surely it must be time for one on Ted Hughes?


  2. Thank you for your comment, Chris! We are all delighted to read that you are enjoying our podcast. We promise to keep making new episodes so that, by the time you have listened to them all, there will be even more episodes for you to enjoy.

    Speaking for myself now, I have not yet read Larkin’s “Horror Poet” essay, and I appreciate you mentioning that discursive connexion between the two poets. Vividness is a great word for the intensity of her poems, even if it is ironic (from vivus, full of life). Reading Plath is a bit like turning up the colour saturation on the television to the point where the colours are not merely bright, nor intense, but almost painful to behold.

    Regarding the “enjoyment” of Plath’s poems, perhaps it is one of the strange things about Plath that, perhaps more than any other poet, it is her least enjoyable poetry which is her most exceptional and widest-read. Although, come to think of it, Dylan Thomas shares that quirk with Plath, if to a lesser degree. I think she might be pleased by that connexion.

    I was going to suggest Ted Hughes for the next week or two, but couldn’t recall in the moment whether we had done him or not. I find that we haven’t, so all I will say is: stay tuned. And of course: Share and Enjoy!

    – Dr. Cooper

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