7/01/2019

Critical Appreciation of the poem " The Rival" by Sylvia Plath.


The poem 'The Rival' was written before July, 1962, one year before she died, and was inspired during Plath's stay at her husband Ted Hughes's home in Devon, England. Plath is describing her rival expressing gloomy yet powerful, emotions. It wasn't included in a book-length collection until after her death. Ariel, the last of Plath's poetry collections, came out in 1966. Plath's suicide in 1963 and her separation with her husband made a serious compulsion on the critic to have a
biographical interpretation of the poem. At first glance, the poem "The Rival' seems to refer to Assia Wevill, the mistress of Ted Hughes. It is possible that it refers to Sylvia's mother, or to the relationship between some friends of hers who were having marital difficulties, more likely it is a combination of these things, like many other good poems of English literature.

The speaker is describing her rival, addressing as 'you' saying that her enemy is beautiful but yet destructive and influential / impactful. The speaker is describing this person, "this rival' as evil and manipulative, saying she uses a gift she has for the cause of mischief. Referring back to the first stanza when the speaker states her rival resembles the moon, here the speaker refers to the rival as "her' indicating she is a female and saying she 'abuses her subjects too meaning that even though this person looks innocent she still uses her power against people to put them down. Although the rival looks loving, she is also deadly like a poisonous gas. In the last stanza the speaker implies that the rival is far away in a different continent 'Africa' but still no day is safe from her influence on the speaker.

The pleasure of reading 'The Rival' derives from Plath's efficient use of figures of speeches. The controlling metaphor of the poem is the extended metaphor comparing the writer's imagined rival with the moon. This serves to emphasize the distance in the speaker and her rival's relationship and the cold hardness with which Sylvia regarded her rival, supposedly her mother. She describes the rival as seeming to be kind and beautiful but having ulterior motives and a ravenous side. The image of moon as 'great light borrowers' implies that Sylvia's mother takes the life from her just as the moon takes the light from the sun. 'The moon, too, abuses her subjects, But in the daytime she is ridiculous' is also part of the conceit. It demonstrates that the speaker is jealous of her enemy and believes that she is up to no good. 'Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes', relates the theme of lifelessness. It also conveys Aurelia feeling impatient with Sylvia, again drawing attention to the stone comparison will the mention of a marble table. The destruction of the relationship is portrayed through the use of poisonous imagery such as 'cigarettes', and 'carbon monoxide', showing how relationship is 'annihilating'. Moreover the poem applies sarcasm and allusion to mythology to focus on the interesting relationship.

The poem is styled after the poems of a group of poets called confessional poets. Confessional poetry is a genre of poetry first identified in the decades immediately following the Second World War. It was initiated with the publication of Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959). With its origins in the British romantic poets of the 19th century, such as Wordsworth

Coleridge, confessional poetry of the modern era focused on inward expressions of conflict and emotion through the use extremely personal details from the poet's life. In essence, professional poetry is poetry that uses relatively conversational style, to expose or confess intimate and often painful details
from the poet's own personal life. The poem 'The Rival is written in a simpler style, with a more economical use of words, more direct and pointed phrasing. "The Rival' deals
with the very personal issues of suicide (expensive as carbon monoxide), sexual rivalry (beautiful but annihilating), and, most dramatically, her complicated relationship with her mother like her relationship with her father. Critic Mary A.Murphy writes about the confessional poets that their poems are not open wounds on the page. Their work is a crafted response to their overwhelming emotional impulses. They use the sharply defined sensory prompts and the everyday language of the common person learned from the imagist school. The profound intimacy of the poetry demands such an accessibility.”
The tone of the poem is more conversational. It adheres less to formal meter and rhyme as it has to express the inner personal sentiment of a confession. The poem consists of four
stanzas. The first three stanzas have equal number of lines, five lines each and the last stanza has only two lines giving a final
blow to the tensed relation between the speaker and her rival. Thus the form and structure of the poem befits the content of it.
Thus this short poem is stunning in its originality, wit, and brutality. Plath's use of metaphor and simile is vivid and original, and she manipulates images evocatively throughout her work. This is a visual poetry of a high order. Plath also impresses us with her carefully judged ability to combine colloquial and figurative language giving her poem a raw energy and power that are exhilarating.

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