Edge by Sylvia Plath

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

Summary and Analysis

Plath’s poetry was considered as the first and best examples of “confrontational” and “confessional” poetry of her era. Such poetry takes real life events for the poem’s metaphor. Poets often used this tool to “confront” real and imagined characters. Plath’s most famous poem, “Daddy” is a confrontational poem that directly “confronts” Plath’s anger, sadness, and love for her father as he died as a result from taking proper care of his treatable medical condition. When you apply Plath’s confrontational style to the Edge, it suggests that the poetess had considered taking the lives of her children along with her own. The ending of the poem refers to the children being “folded” back into the flower as “petals” and says “we have come so far, it is over.” With these lines, Plath alludes to the idea that life is a journey and death is the reward at the end of the journey, not just for herself; but for her children as well.

No one will ever know what Plath’s true intentions were, but at the time of her death, she took considerable care to prevent her children being exposed to the fumes by stuffing towels below the doors and leaving milk at her children’s bedsides. Despite her tragic death, Plath left behind a legacy of love for her children in her poetry. Sylvia Plath wrote the poem “Edge” six days prior to committing suicide on 11th day of February1963 (Alexander 2). The poem is alleged to be the author’s last work. The form bears an exciting feature. It has ten stanzas, with each having only two lines, seized in an enjambment. The second line of every stanza is at all times half of the building and denotation of the first line of the subsequent stanza. Therefore, the break of verse is also an edge linking the stanzas, which forms an additional equivalence between form and substance of the poem. The sentences are only concluded once they traverse the edge amid the two stanzas, and character in this piece of literature only appears to discover calm and “achievement” when crossing an edge. In the most common interpretations, this edge is referred to as the one occurring between living and dying. This poem does not pursue a specific rhyme scheme. It has various remarkable inner rhymes or assonant constructions such as child-coiled, sweet-bleed, toga-over, flows-scrolls, and rose-close. These terms do not essentially rhyme in the stern sense but they put in to the tranquil tone of this piece of literature and make stronger the plentiful images given. Two common literary devices, that is metaphor and metonymy will be examined, and afterward discover how they have been used in the ‘Edge’.

“Edge” is a short poem in free verse; its twenty lines are divided into ten couplet stanzas. The title suggests a border, perhaps between life and death. One of the last two poems written by Sylvia Plath before her suicide, “Edge” is a meditation on the death of a woman. Written in the third person, the poem may give the impression of offering a detached judgment of the dead woman. This point of view usually suggests a less subjective perspective than the first person. The apparently objective imagery of the poem, however, disguises a high degree of subjectivity on the part of the poet.

“Edge” begins with an implied thesis: A woman is “perfected” by death. It is not difficult to see at least three ways in which the woman has been “perfected.” To “perfect” means to complete, to master, or to make flawless. While literally true that the woman has completed her life, “perfected” also suggests that the woman has mastered womanhood and has been made flawless through her death. These notions of completion, mastery, and achieved excellence are linked to death in the brief second line, “Her dead,” which provides an approximate rhyme with the first line. The second stanza notes “the smile of accomplishment” that adorns the dead body, suggesting that the woman is pleased by the perfection she has achieved. The poet then hints that the woman has achieved death through suicide. The “Greek necessity” that one imagines flowing “in the scrolls of her toga” strongly suggests the ritual suicides demanded of disgraced individuals in the classical world. Although most readers are familiar with the self-inflicted death by hemlock of the Greek philosopher Socrates, ritual suicide (like the toga) is actually associated with imperial Rome. Nevertheless, Plath is able to allude to her own writing through the clever description of the folds of the toga as “scrolls.” The third and fourth stanzas explain the meaning of the woman’s bare feet. They have taken her the length of her life with all its obstacles, but now “it is over.” The sense of relief at journey’s end is apparent. A new and ominous element is introduced in the fifth stanza. Dead children, presumably the woman’s own children, are described as white serpents. Each is coiled before a small “pitcher of milk,” which is “now empty.” Apparently, the children have each drunk the milk and coiled, fetus like, at each pitcher; they are pale, or white, with death. One must consider the possibility that the children have been poisoned by their mother. The sixth through eighth stanzas confirm this suspicion. The woman has “folded/ them back into her body.” She is their mother, and she has taken her children with her into death. The first line of the poem, “The woman is perfected,” now takes on yet another meaning: She becomes whole or complete as all the life that went forth from her is returned to her in death. The poet defends the murder of the children as the mere closing of a flower at the approach of night. The rose draws in its petals (as the mother draws in her children) when the chill of the evening (or, in the case of the woman, death) descends upon the garden. The sensual but ghastly image of the night as a many-throated flower that “bleeds” its odors transforms the traditional literary meaning of flowers and gardens as emblems of love into omens of death. From the lush imagery of the garden at nightfall, the ninth stanza turns to the stark moon of the night sky. The poet imagines the moon’s view of the grisly tableau of the dead bodies of mother and children. Like a nun in a white cowl, the moon in “her hood of bone” surveys the scene without sadness. The final stanza of the poem explains the moon’s indifference: “She is used to this sort of thing.” The dead woman has reenacted an ancient tragedy that the moon has witnessed over and over again. Further, the poem concludes with the hint that the moon bears some responsibility for the deaths. The moon’s “blacks crackle and drag.” – effect of the moon on the earth (dragging the oceans back and forth across the planet in tides) and on the menses of women account for the final verb. “Crackle,” however, suggests something more like sunspots, casting interference and static into the atmosphere and, perhaps, troubling individuals. Such a relationship between the moon and human behavior is acknowledged in folklore (the werewolf is transformed under thelight of a full moon) and even in our vocabulary (“lunatic” derives from the same root as “lunar”). The moon, it is implied, may have influenced the terrible events that “she” then observes impassively.

Themes

Written only six days before the author’s suicide, “Edge” has sometimes been viewed as a formal suicide note. Such a hasty conclusion deprives the poem of its significance as a work of art. As mentioned above, “Edge” was carefully constructed through a series of drafts. A close inspection of its form and imagery confirms an artistic intent, so one must look for the meaning of the poem not in Plath’s biography, but in the poem itself. The poem argues that the woman who is the subject of the poem is “perfected” in death, which alone offers release from her unhappiness. She smiles in death at the conclusion of an obviously painful journey through life. The description of her children suggests the malevolent role they have played in her life. She imagines them back within her as her body closes like a chilled rose. The woman seeks to return to the condition of the virgin, and it is to the virgin goddess, Artemis, that the poet turns for consolation. The solitary, pure white, perfect female offers no sympathy; the suicide has endured the ancient destiny of women. Only the woman who can hold herself aloof from love and its demands can escape a similar fate. It is difficult to imagine a bleaker view of human experience than that which Plath expresses in “Edge.” She suggests that one can find happiness only in absolute solitude, the solitude of death.

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