Study Guide

Lady Lazarus Introduction

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Lady Lazarus Introduction

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.

  1. Sylvia Plath killed herself.
  2. 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.

What is Lady Lazarus About and 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.

Lady Lazarus Resources


Plath, According to the Academy of American Poets
Check out this brief but illuminating intro to the poet for the skinny on her life and work.

Some Criticism of "Lazy Lazarus"
And by criticism, we mean analysis, written by fancy pants, elbow-patched professors.


Sylvia (2003)
Check out the trailer for the 2003 film, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Plath reads "Lady Lazarus"
It's neat to hear the poem in her own voice, if you can get past the super creepy video, and the few places where she's tweaked the lines

Plath reads "Daddy"
Whaddya know? Another super creepy video.


"Lady Lazarus" read by the poet herself
She gives us chills. What about you?

Ryan Adams…
…sings his song "Sylvia Plath."


Plath in Her Youth
What are you looking at, Syl?

Plath and Hughes
Plath and her husband in 1956, looking not unhappy.

Articles and Interviews

An Interview with Plath
Here's some insight on what makes her tick.


The Collected Poems
Find 'em all here.

The Bell Jar
If you like her poetry, you'll love her novel.

The Unabridged Journals
Want to know what she was really thinking? Crack open Plath's journals for the exclusive scoop.

Where "Lady Lazarus" first hit the scene.

Ariel: The Restored Edition
Check out the original manuscript here to get in touch with the poems as Sylvia saw them.

Movies & TV

Sylvia (2003)
A biopic featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and James Bond, oops we mean Daniel Craig.

The Bell Jar (1979)
This one's based on Plath's shocking novel.

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