Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-8lphq Total loading time: 0.471 Render date: 2022-07-03T13:21:35.958Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true
This chapter is part of a book that is no longer available to purchase from Cambridge Core

4 - Mothers, Mirrors, Doubles: Anne Stevenson's Elegies for Sylvia Plath

Adam Piette
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
Angela Leighton
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Get access

Summary

Anne Stevenson's elegy ‘Letter to Sylvia Plath’ (1988) is a curious performance. It hovers between conventional pastoral elegy, with its summoning of the natural forces of ‘English springs’ – the Grantchester willows, the Cam, the bull thrush shouting from the thicket – and rather cool assessment of Plath's poetic forces, as though sitting in judgement on the fragile and ferocious intensities of the dead poet's art. Clearly issuing in part from a complex sense of relief at the release from the grip of Plath's life story, after the agon of Stevenson's controversial biography, Bitter Fame (1989), the poem is streaked through with both admiration for ‘the fiercest poet of our time’, and an admonitory rhetoric that amounts to subdued rebuke, some lines inviting a belittling, even patronising tone (‘Poor Sylvia, could you not have been / a little smaller than a queen?’) in the tradition of critical elegies. Bitter Fame had been similarly bifold, at once celebratory of the poems with its lovely close readings, and moralising against Plath's surrender to her own temptations, her selfishness, her panicky sense of mission. The elegiac gesture in ‘Letter to Sylvia Plath’ is something of a broken one, for the reasons that the biography falls short: because the relationship with Plath was too close for comfort, a doubling of impulses in Stevenson that her poetics and critical sense could not quite control. But the very failure, I would argue, reveals something else: a charged engagement with a cluster of interrelated ideas: the double, the social forms of the maternal imago, the struggle for fame, which informs much of Stevenson's work as it did Plath's.

Type
Chapter
Information
Voyages over Voices
Critical Essays on Anne Stevenson
, pp. 55 - 70
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×