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Plath's Presentation of the Frightening but Liberating Freedom of the Natural World

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Sylvia Plath does present the frightening but liberating freedom of the natural world as preferable to the oppressive, patriarchal structures of the manmade world. The poet makes effective use of conceptual landscape and personification in her poetry, and the ‘natural world’ often seems to echo the narrative voice’s mood clearly. But at the same time , there seems to be a lack of sympathy between nature and the voices we hear. The lack of sympathy comes from inflicting harsh and authoritarian treatment, and occasionally relating to or denoting a system of society or government by men in her work.

In several of Plath’s poems, there is a suggestion of feeling alarm; Wuthering Heights and others all include vindictive natural details. The poem Wuthering Heights depicts a woman walking across “unstable” moorlands, and for readers familiar the works of Emily Brontë, the title instantly indicates a violent and powerful landscape. This is fitting with the critic Janice Markey saying that Plath’s poems about Yorkshire are ‘uniformly bleak and negative’ . The opening lines of Wuthering Heights immediately indicate that the narrator is uncomfortable in the environment. She feels extremely threatened by nature, trapped, stuck in a “ring [of] faggots”, and incapable to get away because the horizons are “disparate”- using a plural for “horizons” is unsettling as we are used only one, everything to her is “tilted” making it seem warped and confusing. Everything is not as it seems, the landscape threatens to “dissolve and dissolve” as she moves – the woman is personifying the moors and making them seem untrustworthy, highlighting her dislocation. After this, Plath goes to describe the other features of the environment around the narrator. There are sheep, and grass, and the fierce winds that threaten to “funnel [her] heat away”. The “heat” is representative of her life and to use a draining verb like “funnel” suggests that the difficult landscape is slowly consuming her. In the third stanza, the sheep are now made the focus, initially they seem harmless, but in line four they too become vile, as they “take in” the narrator with their eyes. Once again, this verb suggests the woman is being consumed by the natural world, a notion reinforced when Plath references the story of Red Riding Hood. Her description of the sheep in their “grandmotherly disguise” is almost comical, it adds to the power of the natural environment, and recall the harsh reality and horror of the fairy tale and relating it to her current situation. All of this indicates how frightening the natural world is to Plath, and you’d think the narrative voice would be more preferable to the manmade world. However, Sylvia Plath closes the poem by focusing on the house lights she sees in the “narrow”, “black” valleys- they fail to provide comfort. There is no feeling of welcome here; instead the gleam seems unkind and miserable. The negativity of the imagery displayed in this poem validates Janice Markey’s reading of it. Overall, Wuthering Heights represents the harshness of the natural world, but it is more embracing, and freeing compared to the manmade world.

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The poem of Finisterre is one that demonstrates the frightening but liberating freedom of the natural world in several aspects. The poem starts, setting the narrative at “land’s end”, meaning there is a liminal space between land and sea. It’s a boundary concerning life (the land) and death (the sea)- the sea often depicts death in many of Plath’s poems. This is the literal translation of Finisterre. When Plath talks about “the sea exploding/ With no bottom, or anything on the other side of it,/ Whitened by the faces of the drowned”, she is using war imagery to make it seem like there is a direct threat to the cliffs, but also, to the narrator/Plath herself. The premise that the sea has ‘no bottom’ seems ominous, if someone were to fall in, they would be falling forever. Also, it makes it seem like the sea holds secrets which may be used against the narrator.

The reference to the ‘drowned’ portrays the sea as a killer – otherwise it could mean suicide, a premise which is often explored in Plath’s poetry, connecting with her own failed suicide attempt and eventual successful one. Either way, the sea keeps secrets in its depths, and it is forceful and threatening as it ‘cannons’ into the cliffs. Referring to it in the last stanza as “the Bay of the Dead” could be a clever critique on how Plath believed that the human treatment of the natural world is related with “messy wars” but is ignored by those around, just seen as property for living and business. The sea is both threatening and compelling. It is compelling in the sense that the “Lady of the Shipwrecked is in love with the beautiful formlessness of the sea” and this conveys Plath’s wish for civilization to be more ‘earth-centred’ and make them understand ‘how culture depends invariably on nature.’ , meaning their lives depend on the natural world around him. Finisterre obviously presents the natural world as frightening in Plath’s poetic form, but it is frightening because of its connotations to manmade events. She demonises the natural world – the natural world man has affected.

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Plath’s Presentation of the Frightening but Liberating Freedom of the Natural World. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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