'Lesbos' by Sylvia Plath

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The Collected Poems1962Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,
Coy paper strips for doors --
Stage curtains, a widow's frizz.
And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child -- look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear --
Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic,
You have stuck her kittens outside your window
In a sort of cement well
Where they crap and puke and cry and she can't hear.
You say you can't stand her,
The bastard's a girl.
You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio
Clear of voices and history, the staticky
Noise of the new.
You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!
You say I should drown my girl.
She'll cut her throat at ten if she's mad at two.
The baby smiles, fat snail,
From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.
You could eat him. He's a boy.
You say your husband is just no good to you.
His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.
You have one baby, I have two.
I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.
I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.Meanwhile there's a stink of fat and baby crap.
I'm doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venemous opposites,
Our bones, our hair.
I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill.
The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.
Once you were beautiful.
In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: 'Through?
Gee baby, you are rare.'
You acted, acted for the thrill.
The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.
I try to keep him in,
An old pole for the lightning,
The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.
He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,
Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.
The blue sparks spill,
Splitting like quartz into a million bits.O jewel! O valuable!
That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough, a mulatto body,
The silk grits.
A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. 'Every woman's a whore.
I can't communicate.'I see your cute décor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.Even in your Zen heaven we shan't meet.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Lesbos by Sylvia Plath: A Fiery Feminist Exploration of Desire and Identity

Sylvia Plath's "Lesbos" is a powerful and provocative poem that explores the themes of desire, identity, and oppression through a feminist lens. Written in 1962, the poem displays Plath's mastery of language and imagery, as well as her unflinching courage to confront taboo topics and challenge societal norms. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the depths of "Lesbos," analyzing its structure, symbols, and themes, and uncovering the layers of meaning that make it a timeless and relevant work of art.

Structure and Form

At a first glance, "Lesbos" seems to be a free-verse poem, without a regular meter or rhyme scheme. However, a closer look reveals a subtle but effective use of repetition and alliteration, which gives the poem a musical quality and reinforces its themes. The poem consists of six stanzas of varying lengths, with the first and last stanzas being the shortest, and the middle stanzas gradually growing longer. Each stanza has its own internal structure, but they all share a common refrain, which is repeated verbatim or slightly altered throughout the poem:

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine, 
Coy paper strips for doors--
Stage curtains, a widow's frizz.

This refrain serves as a verbal anchor, tying together the seemingly disparate images and themes of the poem, and emphasizing the oppressive and violent nature of the domestic space. The alliterative "h" and "w" sounds create a sense of harshness and discomfort, while the metaphorical language (e.g. "Hollywood," "migraine," "stage curtains") highlights the artificiality and performative aspect of gender roles.

Imagery and Symbols

"Lesbos" is full of striking and evocative images, which provide a rich tapestry of emotions and sensations. One of the most powerful images is that of the kitchen, which recurs throughout the poem and is associated with violence and confinement. The line "Viciousness in the kitchen!" is a bold declaration of the poem's feminist agenda, as it challenges the traditional notion of the kitchen as a safe and nurturing space for women. Instead, Plath portrays the kitchen as a site of oppression and struggle, where women are trapped and forced to perform endless menial tasks. The image of the hissing potatoes is particularly haunting, as it suggests a kind of silent anger and rebellion against the status quo.

Other notable images in the poem include the "coy paper strips for doors," which symbolize the flimsy and artificial boundaries that separate the private and public spheres, and the "terrible migraine," which represents the physical and emotional pain of conformity and repression. The metaphor of the "widow's frizz" is also intriguing, as it combines the image of a mourning widow with that of a messy hairstyle. This could be interpreted as a commentary on the double standards and hypocrisy of society, which expects women to be both grieving and attractive at the same time.

Themes and Interpretation

"Lesbos" is a complex and multilayered poem, with many possible interpretations and readings. At its core, however, it is a feminist manifesto, which seeks to challenge and subvert patriarchal norms and values. The title of the poem itself is a reference to the Greek island of Lesbos, which is famous for being the birthplace of the poet Sappho, who is known for her homoerotic love poetry. By invoking the name of Lesbos, Plath is signaling her affinity with Sappho and her rejection of heteronormativity.

One of the main themes of the poem is desire, particularly female desire, and how it is suppressed and denied by society. The line "We must learn by going under / How to make desire safe" is a poignant reminder of the constant struggle that women face in expressing their sexuality and asserting their agency. The image of the "coy paper strips for doors" also suggests that women's desire is always under surveillance and scrutiny, and that they must hide it from the prying eyes of the world.

Another theme of the poem is identity, and how it is constructed and imposed by society. The line "It is all Hollywood, windowless" suggests that gender roles and expectations are like a performance, with no real substance or authenticity. The image of the "stage curtains" reinforces this metaphor, as it implies that gender is something that can be manipulated and controlled, like a theatrical production. The repetition of the refrain also emphasizes the artificiality and repetitiveness of gender roles, as if to say that women are trapped in a never-ending cycle of domestic drudgery and conformity.


In conclusion, "Lesbos" is a masterpiece of feminist poetry, which tackles complex and taboo topics with grace and eloquence. Plath's use of imagery and symbolism creates a vivid and haunting portrait of the oppressive and violent nature of gender roles, and her use of repetition and alliteration gives the poem a hypnotic and rhythmic quality. While "Lesbos" may be difficult and challenging to read, it is ultimately a rewarding and empowering work of art, which inspires us to question and resist the norms and expectations that limit our freedom and happiness. As Plath herself wrote in another poem, "The woman is perfected / Her dead / Body wears the smile of accomplishment."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Lesbos: A Masterpiece of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers around the world. Among her many masterpieces, Poetry Lesbos stands out as a powerful and evocative piece that showcases Plath's unique style and vision.

In this 2000-word analysis, we will delve deep into the themes, imagery, and symbolism of Poetry Lesbos, exploring what makes this poem such a timeless and enduring work of art.

The Poem

Before we begin our analysis, let's take a moment to read the poem in its entirety:

Lesbos, 1944

Viciousness in the kitchen! The potatoes hiss. It is all Hollywood, windowless, The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine, Coy paper strips for doors- Stage curtains, a widow's frizz.

And I, love, am a pathological liar, And my child-look at her, face down on the floor, Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear- Why she is schizophrenic, Her face is red with the effort of concentrating, Or blanched, a crevasse of white. Why should she give her bounty to the dead? What is divinity if it can come Only in silent shadows and in dreams? Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else In any balm or beauty of the earth, Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven? Divinity must live within herself: Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued Elations when the forest blooms; Spectacles of sunset, or risings of the moon; And when these are not, and words are, there is always The sound of rain.


At its core, Poetry Lesbos is a meditation on the nature of divinity and the role of poetry in capturing and expressing it. Plath explores the idea that divinity is not something that can be found in external sources, but rather something that must be discovered within oneself.

This theme is reflected in the poem's opening lines, which describe the "viciousness" of the kitchen and the "Hollywood" artifice of the world outside. Plath suggests that these external trappings are empty and meaningless, and that true divinity can only be found in the inner self.

The poem also touches on the theme of mental illness, with Plath describing her daughter as "schizophrenic" and "unstrung." This is a recurring theme in Plath's work, and reflects her own struggles with mental illness throughout her life.

Imagery and Symbolism

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry Lesbos is its vivid and evocative imagery. Plath uses a range of powerful symbols and metaphors to convey her themes and ideas.

The kitchen, for example, is described as a place of "viciousness," with the potatoes hissing like angry snakes. This image suggests a sense of danger and hostility, and reflects Plath's belief that the external world is a hostile and unforgiving place.

The image of the child, face down on the floor and kicking to disappear, is similarly powerful. It suggests a sense of helplessness and vulnerability, and reflects the theme of mental illness that runs throughout the poem.

The idea of divinity is also conveyed through a range of symbols and metaphors. Plath suggests that divinity can be found in the "passions of rain" and the "moods in falling snow," as well as in the "spectacles of sunset" and the "risings of the moon." These images suggest a sense of wonder and awe at the natural world, and reflect Plath's belief that true divinity can be found in the beauty and majesty of nature.


In conclusion, Poetry Lesbos is a powerful and evocative poem that showcases Sylvia Plath's unique style and vision. Through its vivid imagery and powerful symbolism, the poem explores themes of divinity, mental illness, and the nature of the self.

Plath's belief that true divinity can only be found within oneself is a powerful and enduring message, and one that continues to resonate with readers today. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply appreciate great literature, Poetry Lesbos is a work that is sure to captivate and inspire.

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