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Tips for Teaching the Poems of Sylvia Plath

written by: Julia Bodeeb • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Sylvia Plath was a poet fond of imagery and vivid word play in her poems. She wove a dramatic picture with her words. Reading her poems helps students understand the power of imagery and personification to make writing its most lively and fascinating.

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    I am Vertical

    “I am not a tree with my root in the soil

    Soaking up minerals and motherly love."

    “The Trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.

    I walk among them, but none of them are noticing."

    In the poem “I am Vertical" Sylvia Plath seems to want attention from the elements of nature. She uses personification when she describes how she walks in the forests but the trees do not notice her. This poem also uses imagery to portray a sense of isolation. The writer seems envious of the trees that have motherly love and serenity in their existence to an extent that they do not notice interlopers.

    Ask students how they feel when they go into the woods or a park for a nature walk. Do they think about the trees? Do they observe nature or are they just wrapped up in their own thoughts?

    Have the class pick one aspect of nature and write two stanzas of a poem using imagery and similes. Then ask volunteers to analyze aloud the imagery they used and ask the class for commentary.

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    Southern Sunrise

    “A quartz clear dawn

    Inch by bright inch

    Guilds all our Avenue,

    And out of the blue drench

    Of Angels’ Bay

    Rises the round red watermelon sun."

    Nature comes alive in the imagery in “Southern Sunrise."The words used give an image of an immense sun gradually creating a day of sunshine. The use of the phrase “guilds our Avenues"implies that the sun in some way throws a golden light of privilege over the homes.

    Ask students what they think of comparing the sun to a watermelon? Why does the author use this comparison?Ask students to write 5 similes to compare the sun to an item of their choice.

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    Mushrooms

    “Nudgers and shovers

    In spite of ourselves

    Our kind multiplies,

    We shall by morning

    Inherit the earth

    Our foot’s in the door."

    Sylvia Plath seems to personify mushrooms in this poem. She compares them to humans in their pushiness. She talks about how they “multiply" and will take over the earth. There are themes of power and manipulation in this poem.

    This poem could serve as a discussion prompt for issues such as population control and learning about world issues such as countries like China that limit each family to one child only.

    Ask the class who they think will “inherit the earth." Do certain populations have a better chance of survival than others?

    Continue the discussion by asking if it is rude to be pushy or if it is important to seize power as the chance arises?

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    Fiesta Melons

    “Each wedge wears a studding

    of blanched seeds or black seeds

    To strew like confetti under the feet of

    This market of melon-eating

    Fiesta-goers."

    Ask students why the author so vividly describes the seeds of the melons? What could the seeds symbolize? Also discuss the theme of the poem.

    Ask students to write two separate sentences describing a time when they were at any outdoor event and what they ate there.

    Ask students to look through at least five of Sylvia Plath’s poems to find examples of imagery and personification. Then have the students create an original poem of at least 15 lines that contains imagery, similes, and personification.

    Evaluate student progress in this lesson by giving a grade for class participation during discussions about the poems by Sylvia Plath. Then also give a writing grade for the poem they create.

References

  • “The Collected Poems” Sylvia Plath, 1981, Harper & Row, NYC.