Let's say you're walking down the street. Let's say you stop some smart-looking girl; she's wearing glasses, she's carrying a big ol' pile of books. Let's say you ask this smart-looking girl what she knows about Sylvia Plath. We would bet you every dollar in our Shmoopy bank account that this smart-looking girl is going to tell you one of two things.
- Sylvia Plath killed herself.
- Sylvia Plath was a poet.
Actually, we're pretty sure that this smart-looking girl is going to share both of these factoids with you. Probably in that order.
As far as the poetry world goes, Sylvia Plath is a superstar. She was born in Boston in 1932 went to the all-girls Smith College. She then received a Fulbright Scholarship (fancy), moved to England, and met and fell head-over-hells in love with poet Ted Hughes. They married in 1956. They had two kids, went to a lot of parties, and Plath wrote a whole lot of awesome poems and a novel (The Bell Jar) all before turning thirty. Awesome, right?
Well not quite, because, as you know by now, Plath killed herself in 1963. And her life was not all that rosy. Her father died when she was very young, and she suffered from depression her whole life. She had even tried to commit suicide several times before.
"Lady Lazarus," a poem that Plath wrote in 1962 not long before her death, is one of the most amazingly tortured and beautiful and powerful poems of all time (really, we are not exaggerating), and it comes directly out of Plath's angst.
Unfortunately, because Plath's life was so interesting and tragic, people have the tendency to let her biography (more specifically, her suicide) overshadow her work. Though this is understandable—"Lady Lazarus" is a poem about suicide and resurrection, after all—it would be a huge mistake to ignore Plath's actual poetry. Plath's legacy endures because her poems are awesome, tragic, completely bizarre, perverse, and heartbreaking all on their own and all at the same time. And that's why we're still reading her today.
Why Should I Care?
Just admit it: There's a tiny bit of you that is, or once was, just a little bit emo. Maybe you really like dark eyeliner, or maybe you blog about the cruelness of the world, maybe your parents drive you nuts, or maybe they once did.
If you can relate to any of these things, you'll just love "Lady Lazarus." It's a poem about all those staples of emo-dom—suffering, pain, death. And hey, if you're in an emo mood, you'll love all of Ariel (Plath's last and best book of poems, in which "Lady Lazarus" appears).
If you've ever fancied yourself just a little darker, a little more intense, a little deeper than your average guy or gal, "Lady Lazarus" will give you some seriously emo street cred, and a hefty arsenal of death imagery to pepper your own poems with. Just make sure you go watch a heartwarming movie afterward. We recommend Rudy.