Study Guide

The Colossus Introduction

By Sylvia Plath

The Colossus Introduction

It's probably safe to say that Sylvia Plath is almost as famous for her mega-sad life as she is for her poetry. This is kind of too bad, because her poetry rocks on its own. Her rocky—make that mega-rocky—marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes and her suicide have been the center of a storm of discussion and controversy. Plenty of bad stuff happened earlier in her life as well. When she was eight, for example, her father Otto died from untreated diabetes. His leg had to be amputated, and he eventually died from complications from his long hospitalization, which can't have been an easy thing for an eight-year-old to deal with. (Shmoop: bringing you the understatement of the year.) Yeah, this lady's poems were dark, but you can totally see where all that darkness came from.

Though her life was short and troubled, Plath wrote a ton of poems and earned her place as one of the greats of American poetry. "The Colossus" was first published in The Colossus and Other Poems in 1960. Some have said that the giant shattered statue in the poem is meant to represent the father that Plath lost at an early age. Along with the rest of the poems in the collection, it was received well, and most critics agreed that Plath was a poet to watch out for. In 1982, nineteen years after Plath's death in 1963, Hughes published his wife's Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. "The Colossus" and the many other poems in the collection are still seen as some of most haunting and beautiful pieces in the history of American poetry.

What is The Colossus About and Why Should I Care?

Loss: everybody has to deal with it. Whether it's a loved one, a teddy bear, or an essay that took all night to write but that you forgot to save on your laptop, everybody has lost something in their lives. The sad thing is that a lot of us have lost something that was really important to us. The speaker in Sylvia Plath's "The Colossus" seems to have lost her father (symbolized by a giant fallen statue), and she just can't find her way out of all the emotional baggage that's created. It's a really hard thing to do, but unfortunately almost all us have had to face some similar situation.

Of course, even though the poem is dark, that doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom. Though the speaker doesn't see a way out of her attachment to the past, she has a wry sense of humor about it. When she teases the Colossus of the title for thinking that it's an "oracle," it seems like she's also laughing at herself for expecting it to be (6). As we hear her reflect on her own problems, we get some perspective on our own. Sometimes knowing somebody else is out there, feeling the same way you do, is all it takes to feel a little bit better. Maybe the speaker isn't the only one whose "hours are married to shadow" (28).

The Colossus Resources

Websites

Criticism Galore
This site has lots of great snippets from top critics on "The Colossus."

Plath on Poets.org
Find her biography and links to her poems on the Academy of American Poets' website.

"A Celebration, this is"
This site, made and maintained by Plath scholar Peter K. Steinberg, has lots of information on Plath's life and work, as well as numerous photos.

Plath on Modern American Poetry
The University of Illinois provides commentary on a variety of Plath's poetry, as well as biographical information, photos, and an interview.

Video

Plath, the Documentary
Learn all about Sylvia in this flick.

Sylvia Excerpt
Check out Gwyneth Paltrow enacting Sylvia's final moments.

Audio

Plath, the Interview
This is the audio for a 1962 interview with Sylvia Plath. Plath discusses her poetry and inspiration.

"Remembering Sylvia Plath"
Check out this NPR "All Things Considered" episode on Plath.

Images

Plath and Hughes
Here's a 1956 photo of Plath and her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes.

Self-Portrait
Check out a portrait Plath painted of herself in the early 1950s.

Plath Herself
Here's a classic portrait of the poet.

Articles and Interviews

"You Could Say She Had a Calling for Death"
This is a New York Times article about Plath's life and Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems.

Books

The Collected Poems
Behold: Plath's poems, in chronological order. This collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize.

The Unabridged Journals
Plath wrote in journals from the age of twelve until her death at age 30. The Unabridged Journals offer all of Plath's uncensored journal entries for the first time.

The Colossus and Other Poems
Check out the collection where the poem was originally published.

Movies & TV

Sylvia
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia Plath to Daniel Craig's Ted Hughes in this recent movie.

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