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Sylvia Plath and the Poem as Germination


Close observation of the plant and mineral worlds allowed the American poet to produce a body of minutely detailed musicality.

American poet, Sylvia Plath is known among an increasing number of readers for grand poems like “Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus” and even for the play, “Three Women” an imaginative work of authorial power. Plath’s attention to the precise timing of image, agility of verse, and mastery of building with emotional materials, are all qualities present in much less well-known works.

The poem presented here, “Mushrooms” radiates something elemental. According to scholar Elizabeth Hulverson it’s the first poem in which Plath presents a characteristic feature of her style, one she’d later perfect in Ariel. Namely, this is in the overlapping of verses, which gives the poem a breakneck speed, and which emphasizes the effect of minutely observing the plural lives and fecundity of wild mushrooms.

Plath was an unequalled observer of the natural world, especially at its vegetable and mineral base. The rhythms of the immobile and their apparent permanence, allow Plath to dip into those very rhythms to observe their own vital circulation, with fear neither of passing through dark areas nor of staying in them to report on what exists in the invisible, like an epic heroine, discreet and distanced.

Beyond the scandalous biographical details (the stormy marriage to fellow poet, Ted Hughes, the theatrical and overanalyzed suicide), Sylvia Plath was a poet with knowledge of and respect for technical and imaginative mastery. Such mastery led her into the depths where she could rightly describe what thrives in them.


By Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very

Whitely, discreetly,

Very quietly

Our toes, our noses

Ake hold on the loam,

Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,

Stops us, betrays us;

The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,

The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.

Our hammers, our rams,

Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,

Widen the crannies,

Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,

On crumbs of shadow,

Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.

So many of us!

So many of us!

We are shelves, we are

Tables, we are meek,

We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers

In spite of ourselves

Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning

Inherit the earth.

Our foot’s in the door.

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