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Juvenilia by Sylvia Plath


It may be considered excessive to recommend an entire canon of a poet’s work to read, so I will refrain from doing so. However, I was recently gifted The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Within this collection is a section entitled “Juvenilia,” containing poems that were written when Plath was somewhere around 25. As the book states, “Many of them were written as class assignments for her English professor at Smith College.” I found it interesting to read such a highly-regarded poet’s earlier work, especially pieces from such a formative time in a person’s life. Elements of Plath’s later poems are certainly present; she has a consistent rhythm that is backed by¬†surprising¬†and artful word choice, along with an unmistakable tone. In this sub-collection Plath seems to effectively draw emotion and meaning largely from imagery. The majority of the poems are dark in nature but that in no way makes this collection any less devour-able. At times it was difficult not to read through the poems rapidly one after the other, as Plath is skilled at drawing the reader in. One of my favorites was April Aubade:

Worship this world of watercolor mood
in glass pagodas hung with veils of green
where diamonds jangle hymns within the blood
and sap ascends the steeple of the vein.

A saintly sparrow jargons madrigals
to waken dreamers in the milky dawn,
while tulips bow like a college of cardinals
before that papal paragon, the sun.

Christened in a spindirft of snowdrop stars,
where on pink-fluted feet the pigeons pass
and jonquils sprout like solomon’s metaphors,
my love and I go garlanded with grass.

Again we are deluded and infer
that somehow we are younger than we were.

I was fascinated to witness what control of language Sylvia Plath demonstrated even as she was writing in college. I found the collection to be both inspiring and enthralling.

-Emily Humberson

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