The Last Poem Sylvia Plath Wrote

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 11 2013 6:14 PM

The Last Poem Sylvia Plath Wrote


Six days before she died, Sylvia Plath wrote two very different poems: “Balloons,” which evokes two children at play with inflated “oval soul-animals,” and “Edge,” which paints the image of a woman and two children in death. It is widely held that “Edge” is the last poem Plath ever wrote, though, as with many of the events of her final days, there is debate over sequence and intention.

Plath—a self-aware archivist concerned with the legacy of her papers, especially in the final months of her life—didn’t make it clear which poem she wrote last. In a journal entry, she notes that she submitted “Edge” and “Balloon,” along with a number of other poems, to The New Yorker on Feb. 4, though the handwritten drafts of the two poems are dated the following day.


Ultimately it matters little whether “Edge” was Plath’s final poem, or just a very late one. Whenever it was written, “Edge” is about the very last of known experiences, about perfection achieved only after (and because) the subject’s brief candle has gone out. “The woman is perfected.,” it begins. “Her dead/ Body wears the smile of accomplishment.” Is this a reference to suicide? The significance of that “accomplishment” is evasive. But Plath seems to be hinting at an awareness of the way death certifies an artist’s memory, and tragedy can lead to recognition. It was likely not a coincidence that The New Yorker published seven of her poems in August 1963, a few months after Plath’s death.

As a teenager Plath often reflected upon death and its finality. “I don’t believe there is life after death in the literal sense,” she wrote in her journal in 1954. “I don’t believe my individual ego or spirit is unique and important enough to wake up after burial and soar to bliss … If we leave the body behind as we must, we are nothing.” But at the end of that same entry, an uncertainty appears: “Is that life after death—mind living on paper and flesh living in offspring?” she asks. “Maybe. I do not know.”

“Edge” is an elusive poem. But if life after death really is “mind living on paper,” then Plath, certainly, is alive. You can read “Edge” in its entirely at the Guardian.

William Brennan is an associate editor at The Atlantic. His work has also appeared online at The New Yorker. You can follow him on Twitter.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 17 2014 4:08 PM How Teflon Is Vladimir Putin's Popularity?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
Sept. 17 2014 4:10 PM Can These Women Fix the NFL? Or will the NFL fix them?
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 4:07 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Genius of Jenson’s Roman
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?