10 Most Famous Poems by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) was an American poet who was among the leading writers of the twentieth century. She is regarded as a pioneer in the genre of Confessional poetry, a term used to define poems which focus on the individual; her experience, her psyche, her trauma and the like. Her first poetry collection The Colossus and Other Poems was published in 1960. Plath committed suicide, at the age of 30, on February 11, 1963, by placing her head in the oven with the gas turned on. Some of her best known poems were written in the months leading to her suicide. They were published after her death as part of her renowned poetry collection Ariel. Know about the poetry of Sylvia Plath by studying her 10 most famous poems.

#10 The Applicant



First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something's missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed

To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they'll bury you in it.

Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start

But in twenty-five years she'll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it's a poultice.
You have an eye, it's an image.
My boy, it's your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.


The Applicant was written by Sylvia Plath in 1962, the year before her death when she entered a period of high creativity and wrote some of her most famous poems. The poem puts the reader in the shoes of an applicant. It is ambiguous in the sense that it can be applied to a number of situations and more importantly the words of the speaker, or the interviewer, are such that they address a male at times and a female at others. The Applicant is renowned for its dark humor, its strong commentary on commercially-orientated society and for its bleak and humorous view of materialistically driven marriage.

#9 The Munich Mannequins



Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children.
Cold as snow breath, it tamps the womb

Where the yew trees blow like hydras,
The tree of life and the tree of life

Unloosing their moons, month after month, to no purpose.
The blood flood is the flood of love,

The absolute sacrifice.
It means: no more idols but me,

Me and you.
So, in their sulfur loveliness, in their smiles

These mannequins lean tonight
In Munich, morgue between Paris and Rome,

Naked and bald in their furs,
Orange lollies on silver sticks,

Intolerable, without mind.
The snow drops its pieces of darkness,

Nobody's about. In the hotels
Hands will be opening doors and setting

Down shoes for a polish of carbon
Into which broad toes will go tomorrow.

O the domesticity of these windows,
The baby lace, the green-leaved confectionery,

The thick Germans slumbering in their bottomless Stolz.
And the black phones on hooks

Glittering and digesting

Voicelessness. The snow has no voice.


In this poem, Sylvia Plath recounts her experience on a trip to the German city of Munich. In early 1960s, fashion models were gaining popularity, especially those from Germany. Also, at the time, models were sometimes referred to as mannequins; hence the title The Munich Mannequins. The poem expresses Plath’s take on the superficiality in the world of fashion models. The poem begins with the above mentioned famous lines suggesting that just like inanimate mannequins, models can’t have children as they can’t risk their “perfection” by becoming pregnant. In another famous line of the poem, Plath refers to the conservative Munich as the “morgue between Paris and Rome”. The Munich Mannequins is popular for being a powerful commentary on the media created perception of an ideal female form and the perception of an ideal women, in general, in a male dominated society.

#8  The Colossus



I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It’s worse than a barnyard.
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.
Scaling little ladders with glue pots and pails of lysol
I crawl like an ant in mourning
Over the weedy acres of your brow
To mend the immense skull plates and clear
The bald, white tumuli of your eyes.
A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered
In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stroke
To create such a ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,
Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.


This poem was published in 1960 as part of Plath’s first poetry collection The Colossus and Other Poems. It is the most well-known work of the collection. The narrator of the poem is placed in the classical world and mourns her inability to put back together a toppled colossus. The colossus is a statue, a father, a mythical being; he is a ruined idol. Plath uses classical imagery throughout the poem to depict the situation and state of mind of the narrator. The poem is classified as Confessional poetry, like most of Plath’s poems. Confessional poems focus on the experience of the individual. The fact that the statue is addressed at one point as “father” has caused most critics to link this poem with Plath’s own father, though others believe it to be about her idea of a fallen father figure.

#7 Edge



The woman is perfected.   
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,   
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,   
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,   
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.   
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals   
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,   
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.


This poem was written on February 5, 1963. Six days later Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Edge, which paints the image of a woman and children in death, is widely considered to be the last poem written by Plath and some regard it as more of a suicide note. Consisting of ten two-line stanzas, the poem is abstruse in nature with the narrator being a woman who has recently committed or is soon to commit suicide. Dead children, coiled as serpents, have been folded by the woman in her body. The moon, is a witness to the scene but is not perturbed as it is “used to this sort of thing”. Edge remains one of Plath’s most renowned poems for being her last; and for exploring the relationship between art and life and death.

#6 Morning Song



Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry   
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.


Morning Song was written by Sylvia Plath shortly after the birth of her first child. It was first published in The Observer in May 1961; later it was included in her famous poetry collection Ariel. The poem deals with the complicated emotions of a mother on being suddenly responsible for a helpless human being. Plath steps outside conventions while expressing her feelings for her newborn child and presents a complicated emotional response for a mother dealing with her new responsibility. The dominant theme of the poem is the narrator’s ambivalence towards motherhood and how her maternal instincts awaken to overcome it. Morning Song is regarded as one of the finest poems on freedom of expression of an artist and it is among Plath’s best-known works.

#5 Lady Lazarus



I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer   

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.


Lazarus of Bethany is a Biblical character who was restored to life four days after his death by Jesus. He is frequently used in popular culture in reference to restoration of life. In this renowned poem, the narrator is facing death for the third time. She faces death once every decade and has been revived twice. At the end of the poem, the speaker again experiences the unwanted rebirth. Plath uses the image of a phoenix rising from the ashes to represent the narrator’s rebirth. The poem ends with the speaker planning to eat the men, or doctors, who restore her to life to make sure they are not able to revive her when she again faces death at the end of the decade. A much quoted poem, Lady Lazarus is seen by critics as a confessional poem in which Plath uses her personal pain to illustrate much wider themes and subjects. Along with Daddy and Mary’s Song, Lady Lazarus is referred to as one of her “Holocaust poems” as she describes the narrator’s oppression with the use of Holocaust imagery.

#4 Ariel



Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue   
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,   
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to   
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark   

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,   
Something else

Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.   
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.   
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive   
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.


Published in a poetry collection with which it shares its name, Ariel was written by Plath on her thirtieth birthday. Due to its motifs of birth and death, it is speculated by critics that the poem acted as a sort of psychic rebirth for the poet. “Ariel” was the name of the horse Plath rode at riding school and it is believed that the poem describes an early morning horse-ride towards the rising sun. By a feminist interpretation, the narrator undergoes a series of transformations through the poem in an effort to build a new identity. She starts by identifying herself as her oppressor, the stallion, symbol of masculinity and male dominance. She then transforms into an arrow to prevent her submission and kill her oppressor; and finally identifies herself as water, a symbol of femininity and purification. The repeated “i” sound in the poem represents the “I” of her identity. Ariel is renowned for its sensuous imagery; and for its varied and complex interpretations.

#3 Tulips



The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.   
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.   
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.   
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses   
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff   
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another, 
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

Read Full Poem Here


In March 1961, Sylvia Plath was hospitalized for an appendectomy, a surgical operation to remove the appendix. She had miscarried just a short time before this operation. Plath wrote this poem on March 18th, 1961, about a bouquet of tulips she received as she recovered from appendectomy. Comprising of nine seven-line stanzas, the poem relates the tension between the speaker’s desire for the simplicity of death and the tulip’s encouragement towards life. The narrator treasures the whiteness and sterility of the hospital room as it allows her to ignore the complications and pains of living. But the tulips; which she equates with excitability, with loud breathing, and with eyes that watch her as she rests; demand that she acknowledge the vivacity of life. The narrator, however, considers them dangerous and alluring like an African cat and accuses them of eating up her oxygen. Known for its rich and strong imagery, Tulips is one of Plath’s most loved and critically acclaimed poems.

#2 Mirror



I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
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 was written by Plath in 1961 but it was published posthumously, ten years later, as part of her collection of poetry Crossing the Water. In this short but famous poem, the narrator is a wall mirror in what appears to be a woman’s bedroom. The mirror, endowed with human traits in the poem, describes itself as “silver and exact” and “not cruel, only truthful”. It is the only thing that gives the woman a faithful representation of herself and though she is disturbed as she looks at her aging self, she can’t help from visiting it over and over again every morning. Critics have speculated that the mirror in the poem provides the woman not only with her physical appearance, but also gives her a reflection of her mind, her soul, and her psyche.

#1 Daddy



You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

Read Full Poem Here


Daddy was written by Plath in October 1962, around four months before her death, and was published posthumously as part of the poetry collection Ariel. Containing sixteen five-line stanzas, the poem is narrated by a girl who has Electra complex, analogous to a boy’s Oedipus complex. It deals with the narrator’s effort to get over her complex emotions for her deceased father, who apart from suppressing her daughter, was also a Nazi. Plath uses dark and vivid imagery in the poem and controversially uses the Holocaust as a metaphor. Several critics consider the poem to be related to the writer’s complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died shortly after her eighth birthday due to diabetes. It is also considered to be an articulation against male dominance. Daddy is the most famous poem by Sylvia Plath and one of the best-known of the twentieth century.

Leave a Comment