Poetry Sunday: Letter in November

Sylvia Plath has always been a bit of an enigma for me. She was undoubtedly a writer of enormous talent, but it always seemed to me that the imagery that she used was more designed to obfuscate than to reveal and to draw the reader in.

Then I ran across this poem while searching through the archives of the Poetry Foundation and I was struck by her brilliant use of the imagery of color to express emotions. She talks of the world turning color and refers to pods of the laburnum (poisonous); then she goes through a litany of colors, starting with black, then "tawn," green which is soft and delectable and cushions her lovingly, on through red which seems to make her "stupidly happy," and finally gold. She loves the gold-ruddy balls on her seventy apple trees, as well as their gold leaves. But seemingly she cannot leave us with this warm and happy image and she contrasts it with the "thick gray death-soup" which apparently surrounded her.

We know that she suffered from clinical depression throughout her life and this poem, it seems to me, is a perfect reflection of that. She cannot simply revel in the beautiful November colors. She is constantly brought back to the gray. 

Letter in November

by Sylvia Plath

 Love, the world
Suddenly turns, turns color.
 The streetlight
Splits through the rat's tail
Pods of the laburnum at nine in the morning.

It is the Arctic,

This little black
Circle, with its tawn silk grasses - babies hair.

There is a green in the air,
Soft, delectable.

It cushions me lovingly.

I am flushed and warm.

I think I may be enormous,
I am so stupidly happy,
My Wellingtons
Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.

This is my property.

Two times a day
I pace it, sniffing
The barbarous holly with its viridian
Scallops, pure iron,

And the wall of odd corpses.

I love them.

I love them like history.

The apples are golden,
Imagine it ----

My seventy trees
Holding their gold-ruddy balls
In a thick gray death-soup,
Their million
Gold leaves metal and breathless.

O love, O celibate.

Nobody but me 
Walks the waist high wet.

The irreplaceable 
Golds bleed and deepen, the mouths of Thermopylae.


  1. Hmmm...It's kind of dark with occasional happiness thrown in. I'm not sure I like it, but it reflects the grayness of November quite well.

    1. It certainly could be seen as a reflection of the gray days of November and of the gray days and nights of Plath's soul.


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