When you hear the word "poetry," do you think about depressed folks sitting around in black turtlenecks, writing about their horrible and depressing lives? If you answered "yes," then you may very well have Sylvia Plath to thank for this stereotype. Plath was one of the leading "confessional" poets, a group of writers who drew from their personal suffering in their writing.
Sadly, Plath had plenty to draw from. Her father died when she was only eight, and her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes was no bed of roses, either. She poured all of this darkness into her poetry, but it's not just doom and gloom for the sake of being mopey (or as an excuse to rock black turtlenecks). Plath's poetry is filled with wild imagery and delicious language. "Mushrooms" (1960) is just one yummy example.
First published in The Colossus and Other Poems, the poem (and the book in general) was received well, and most critics agreed that Plath was a poet to watch out for. The most popular interpretation of the poem is that it's a feminist rallying cry, showing the struggles of women to assert themselves in a male-dominated society. Some have even theorized that it's inspired in some part by the way Plath felt overshadowed by male poets like her husband. In 1982, nineteen years after Plath's death in 1963, Hughes published his wife's Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. "Mushrooms," along with the many other poems in the collection, is still seen as one of most haunting and beautiful pieces in the history of American poetry.
Why Should I Care?
Maybe you're not a housewife living in the '50s. Okay, we're almost completely positive you aren't, unless you turned your washing machine into a time machine or something. Even if you aren't one of these stereotypically disempowered ladies that many say "Mushrooms" speaks for, we're pretty sure you can get into this poem.
Everybody feels oppressed and unappreciated sometimes, right? Maybe, you feel isolated because of your ethnicity or social class. Or maybe you feel like the kids at school don't include you like you'd want. Or it could be that you're super-popular with everything going for you, but you feel like nobody appreciates or notices the real you.
Whatever your particular situation is, Sylvia Plath's "Mushrooms" works as one big pep rally—albeit kind of a moody one. This poem declares that those who are shunted to the side and unappreciated are on the rise. The people in charge might not notice now, but one day everybody will appreciate just how much these "mushrooms" are worth.