Plath Exam Help


Previous questions on Plath


“Plath’s provocative imagery serves to highlight the intense emotions expressed in her poetry.”
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this assessment of her poetry?  Support your answer with suitable reference to the poetry of Sylvia Plath on your course.



“The poetry of Sylvia Plath is intense, deeply personal, and quite disturbing.”
Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry? Write a response, supporting your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have

(from Examiner’s guidelines)

Reward responses that show clear evidence of engagement/involvement with the work of the poet. The terms of the question ( ‘intense’, ‘personal’, ‘disturbing’) may be addressed implicitly or explicitly.

Code PP for intense/personal and PD for intense/disturbing

Material might be drawn from the following:
– poems offer deep and moving insights into Plath’s life
– honest expression of feelings
– energetic language/startling imagery
– density and complexity of the poetry



“I like (or do not like) to read the poetry of Sylvia Plath.”

Respond to this statement, referring to the poetry by Sylvia Plath on your course.

Expect candidates to focus on the reason(s) for liking or disliking the poetry. A thorough treatment of one reason could be sufficient for full marks.
Some of the following areas might be addressed:
– striking originality – a distinctive poetic voice
– language and imagery are unusual, startling
– poetry offers insights into her life
– intensity and energy of the verse
– an interesting preoccupation with life’s darker side
– the density, complexity of the poems


“The poetry of Sylvia Plath is marked by great skill and a lasting impact on the reader.”

Write a response to the poetry of Sylvia Plath in the light of this statement, supporting your points with suitable reference to the poems on the course.

Click here to read a sample answer to this question


‘Sylvia Plath is a poet of great talent.’

Discuss this view with reference to the poetry of Sylvia Plath on your course

Click here to read a sample answer to this question


As you can see from the marking schemes for previous questions, it is acceptable to use a range of different points to construct paragraphs in your answer – depending on the question asked. However, it is crucial that you know the following main points about Plath.  It is also essential that you are able to refer to the poem(s) and the quotes that prove these particular points.

Below are only some of the quotes you could use. You do not need to know every quote – just enough relevant quotations for each point/paragraph. You can then use some of these points as paragraphs in your poetry answer. Again, it depends on the question asked (look carefully at the wording.)


Sylvia Plath                                                                                                              Key Points and Quotations


(1) Variety of LanguagePersonal and honest: ‘I’m no more your mother…’ (Morning Song)

‘I admit, I desire,/occasionally some backtalk/ From the mute sky (Black Rook in Rainy Weather)

– Varying from archaic: ‘desultory’, ‘portent’, ‘celestial’

to everyday: ‘I can’t honestly complain’ (BRIRW)

– Energetic: ‘The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry/took its place among

the elements.’

– Use of alliteration to evoke joy of poetic inspiration:

‘…rook/Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.’

‘..its black feathers can so shine/ As to seize my senses..’ (BRIRW)

– Memorable personification: ‘The window square/ Whitens and swallows its dull stars’

(2) Striking Imagery Metaphors: Unusual: ‘New Statue’ , ‘Cow-heavy’ (Morning Song)

Challenging: ‘this glass capsule’ (Poppies in July)

Clever: ‘The eye of a little god’ (Mirror)

Beautiful: ‘Stalk without wrinkle’ (Child)

Deeply disturbing: ‘…this dark/ Ceiling without a star.’ (Child)

‘Little poppies, little hell flames’ (PIJ)

Similes: Memorable: ‘In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

/ Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.’ (Mirror)

‘We stand round blankly as walls.’ (MS)

Occasionally uplifting: ‘ Your clear vowels rise like balloons’

Complex but rewarding: ‘I’m no more your mother/

Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow/ effacement at the wind’s hand.’ (MS)

Dark: ‘…wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a/ mouth.’ (PIJ)

(3) Variety of Tones usedDefensive and arrogant tone of the mirror: ‘I am not cruel, only truthful – /The eye of a little god’ (Mirror)

Desperation: ‘If I could bleed, or sleep!’ (PIJ)

Uncertain: ‘I’m no more your mother….’ (MS)

(4) Density and complexity of the poetrylike the ‘lake’, offers great depth beneath the surface.(M)

‘celestial burning’ appears to be poetic inspiration (BRIRW)

Her personality/anxieties always lurking:  ‘this troublous/ Wringing of hands,’(Child)

Anguish reflected through dark disturbing images ‘little hell flames’ (PIJ)

(5) Diversity of Themes tackled Poetic inspiration: ‘The long wait for the angel.’ (BRIRW)

Challenges for a new mother: ‘I stumble from my bed, cow-heavy and floral’ (MS)

Obsession with appearance: ‘Whatever I see I swallow immediately’(M)

                                 The ageing process: ‘ me an old woman/Rises….’ (M)

Mental illness: ‘I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.’ (PIJ)

Personal suffering versus parental responsibility: Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing./ I want to fill it with colour and ducks.’ (Child)

(6) Continued relevance of her poetryappearance obsessed world that we live in

Issues around self-esteem are still common

Search for identity is a pervasive issue

Dealing with society’s expectations

Struggles around parenthood are still common

Mental illness/suicide are still significant problems

(7) Personal Insights offeredAnxiety around writing poetry: ‘fear of total neutrality’ (BRIRW)

Struggle with being a new parent: ‘We stand around blankly as walls.’  (MS)            Deep concerns over appearance/self-esteem. ‘She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.’(Mirror)

Struggling through life: ‘Trekking stubborn through this season/ Of fatigue’ (BRIRW)

The decline of her mental health: ‘And it exhausts me to watch you’ (PIJ)

‘…this troublous/ Wringing of hands, this dark/ Ceiling without a star.’ (Child)




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