‘Words’ – Sylvia Plath – Analysis


After whose stroke the wood rings,
And the echoes!
Echoes traveling
Off from the center like horses.

The sap
Wells like tears, like the
Water striving
To re-establish its mirror
Over the rock

That drops and turns,
A white skull,
Eaten by weedy greens.
Years later I
Encounter them on the road—-

Words dry and riderless,
The indefatigable hoof-taps.
From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars
Govern a life.

Sylvia Plath (written in the same month that she died – February 1963)

S1 – Well axes are sharp and cutting their purpose to bite into wood. Words when released for consumption can be sharp and cutting – very true for SP as I think TH would surely agree! They can move from the centre of the person especially if they have been well thought out … and like horses travel … to whom they go is another matter … and what they mean as they are met by travellers who take any notice is again another matter entirely, but once released they can travel far and forever perhaps … SP’s words are at this very moment reaching the minds of many.

S2 – SP’s words were always part of her very being … the sap in the wood … and when released it is impossible for her to recover completely perhaps … or at least settle back to where she was before … you could say it was as though each of her poems was her own baby – I can accept a certain poetic life to this view … however, in this poem we have the intensity of the release of her words in terms of tears and sap, the essence of wood is sap … tears flow from her passion and of course from the head (link to skull) … and we know she put her very soul into much of her writing … and indeed her writing was at times a desperate cry for help given her mental instability.

S3 – words come from the head and thought … and years later this will be the fate of the body … an empty skull … empty after the initial disclosure … and many years later SP perhaps looks back, reflects on what she once wrote … dry and riderless … they are beyond her control and they never have the intensity that they had when first written … I guess the same for everyone who writes from the heart.

S4 … they are indefatigable … never tiring they will travel forever … and in line with horses in the first stanza they are as hoof-taps that will never lose their sound. They come from the rock the solid bottom of the pool … in line with stanza 2 … SP the rock and a rock that is governed by the stars – a distinct spiritual dimension to her life … governed by something outside herself … something fixed and external as the stars above the universe.

2 thoughts on “‘Words’ – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

  1. Excellent analysis! I just posted this poem on my blog (Sylvia passed away on 2/11/63) as a sort of tribute to her. Also I’ve written a haiku or two about SP. A truly great poet. I’m going to bookmark your blog right after I post my comment 🙂

  2. Sylvia Plath’s “Words” put forth some profound ideas of the power of words utilized in poetry. As a poet, Sylvia used poetry to convey her message and as a medium to express her feelings. Through her expansive manifestation, the supremacy and negligence of poetry art which is depicted as words in the poem is heavily intensified.
    The overall structure of the poem is quite free-formed from the number of syllables in each line. This is done to emphasize the competence of poetry and the impact it can make yet overlooked. The number of lines per stanza is however kept unswerving to mimic the tranquil tone of the poem. The number of syllables in each line is one to nine syllables where as the number of lines per stanza a steady four to five lines. The first stanza of the poem denotes the supreme age of poetry. It is the only stanza that is shorter than the rest signifying the exaltation of poetry is not extensive but very brief. The second and third stanzas are composed of five lines.
    The title of the poem introduces a number of significance. It brings in the first impression of a reader about the poem. The word “Words” may lead us to think that the poem is regarding the impression of words on the world and how it is benefited. But instead the poem also designates about the ignorance of poetry as the generation goes by. When you think about words, it reminds you of the art which are solely dependent on it which is poetry where the composition of words is majestic and truly appreciated. The turning point when words are no longer cherished will give an immense effect on the reader. The realization is very important to interpret the poem as a lot of metaphors are applied. This gives a very deep but not forthright meaning.
    The enjambment usage in the first stanza, which is the title “Words” as the first line is very crucial to clarify the intention of the poem. Reading the poem not taking to account the title may drift the reader from the actual purpose of the poem. The line “Axes after whose stroke the wood rings,” may suggest that words are capable of bringing down even the mightiest people. The wood rings might signify a tree which has a lot of wood rings denoting the age of the tree and the axe being small yet powerful enough to bring down the tree. The second, third and fourth line proposes that the outcome of the words can be heard miles away with a ripple effect, signifying that the message can be dispersed to all corners of the globe. Poetic arts are a very dispersible medium to convey a message. It can bring a certain impact on the world. The usage of repetition of the word “echoes” implies that the speaker is amazed by the ability of words to spread out. The word horse symbolises words that can deliver message miles and miles with such great power and finesse (simile).
    The second stanza opens out the notion of the deterioration of poetry appreciation. The first line of the second stanza, “The sap” refers to the effects of the words conveyed. “Well like tears” is a similitude to the pain and suffering of the speaker when his/her poetic arts is not acknowledged. This is because the speaker is fully dependent on the success of her poems to convey messages. “like the/Water striving/To re-establish its mirror/Over the rock” suggest that the speaker is trying to recover from the loss to become a more vivid and clear figure.
    The third stanza is a continuation of the last stanza. The line “That drops and turns/A white skull,” proposed that with time, the words become unappreciated and dies off implying the use of ‘white skull’ in the poem. The white skull symbolises death and demise of the poetic arts. “Eaten by weedy greens.” means that the words exist but it is forgotten and neglected which suits the speaker describing the white-skull weedy greens as in fungal growth. The line “Years later I/Encounter them on the road______” states that years later, the speaker found her words again but there is a turning point.
    The final stanza justifies the turning point in the poem. The line “Words dry and riderless,” implies that the poetic art was once described as a powerful tool and being vibrant and energetic like a horse, now became insignificant and expendable. “The indefatigable hoof-taps” line in the poem suggests although diminished, the art persistently seek to be sought out again by one who appreciates them. Hoof-taps again symbolises the effort of the ‘horse’ from the fourth line of the first stanza to push on insistently. But the result of the attempt is unknown because everything is already fixed by one’s fate congruent with the phrase ‘From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars’. The line “Govern a life.” might suggest that the stars which are high above symbolises an unknown being or structure that is deciding one’s fate.
    The poem “Words” portrays the hegemony and abandonment of poetry art which is described purely in a metaphorical way. Sylvia Plath manipulated the poem with devices such as repetition, metaphors and enjambment which made the poem truly remarkable and majestic. The elucidation of the poem is vague yet powerful enough to embolden the younger generation to preserve poetic arts.

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