Today, I thought I would look at a poem by Sylvia Plath on the occasion of her suicide on Feb. 11, 1963 at the age of 30. And fittingly, what some believe to be the last poem she wrote before killing herself, “Edge.”
That age, 30, holds some significance in my head because I never thought I’d live beyond the age of 30. I don’t know what it was about that number, but it was the number in my head for the longest time. That, even if I make it one more year and then another, eventually I’d succumb to my depression and go further with my suicidal ideation before I reached 30. Or that turning 30 itself would be some sort of revolving door into death. In either case.
Unfortunately, that was the case with Plath, having died at 30 after multiple prior attempts to kill herself. And to think the brilliance she offered the world at such a young age.
At only 20 lines, the poem is rather short, but I’ll provide a snippet of, “Edge,” with the full poem available via the Poetry Foundation here.
The woman is perfected.
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Those four lines have to represent one of the best openings to a poem I can recall and it’s hard not to read it in the context of Plath’s own struggles. That is, only in death can one achieve perfection. In life, we’re broken, glued together by necessity to continue navigating through the a broken world, but in death? Peace. And what is peace if not perfection? The absence of perfection is the manifest brokenness and loudness of living.
Plath indicates how far this dead woman has traveled by drawing attention to her feet, which seem to say “we have come so far, it is over.” Indeed, life is but a journey and all of our feet tell that story like rings on a tree.
Is the moon a personification in this poem? To signify that those in the dead woman’s life shouldn’t be sad about her death because she’s finally reached perfection (the previous line about the dead women’s smile and sense of accomplishment)? Which would then translate to a message that the people in Plath’s life shouldn’t be sad because she’s achieved her own accomplishment?
Or, if it’s not intended to be a personification in the sense of a stand-in for the dead woman’s family or Plath’s, maybe it’s a personification in the sense that the moon, obviously, lords over quite a bit of death! One more wouldn’t much shake her “blacks.”
Also, I’m not sure what to make of “hood of bone” as it relates to the moon, but I like that phrase.
Something this poem also evokes, to circle back to my beginning ruminations and connection to Plath, is the sense of death being an inevitability. That it was this woman’s — and Plath’s — destiny. In the deepest throes of my own depression, I thought of my death as preordained in this way. That no matter what I did, I was slowly moving in that direction. That death was ready to catch me. That my fate was to die by my own hand, with not a sad but expectant moon observing.
Of course, I can’t avoid the … white serpent … in the room of this poem, as the dead woman seems to have killed her children.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
The way Plath writes about the children in relation to the dead woman suggests to me, at least, that the woman was “drained” in a sense, by motherhood. That motherhood was taxing. That, with the children dead, the pitcher of milk is now empty and she can close off her “garden” of sorts. And again, having done so, she’s smiling, feeling accomplished in death.
Or maybe, that motherhood is draining not because of motherhood in and of itself, but motherhood within the pain, the loudness and the brokenness of her own life and living within a broken world? Perhaps.
What do you make of this poem?