'Two Sisters Of Persephone' by Sylvia Plath

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Two girls there are : within the house
One sits; the other, without.
Daylong a duet of shade and light
Plays between these.

In her dark wainscoted room
The first works problems on
A mathematical machine.
Dry ticks mark time

As she calculates each sum.
At this barren enterprise
Rat-shrewd go her squint eyes,
Root-pale her meager frame.

Bronzed as earth, the second lies,
Hearing ticks blown gold
Like pollen on bright air. Lulled
Near a bed of poppies,

She sees how their red silk flare
Of petaled blood
Burns open to the sun's blade.
On that green alter

Freely become sun's bride, the latter
Grows quick with seed.
Grass-couched in her labor's pride,
She bears a king. Turned bitter

And sallow as any lemon,
The other, wry virgin to the last,
Goes graveward with flesh laid waste,
Worm-husbanded, yet no woman.

Submitted by Shawna Senko

Editor 1 Interpretation

Two Sisters Of Persephone: A Haunting Tale of Love and Loss

Few poets can capture the complexities of love, loss, and grief as Sylvia Plath did. Her haunting poem "Two Sisters of Persephone" is a prime example of her ability to weave together myth, symbolism, and personal experience into a poignant and unforgettable work of art.

At first glance, "Two Sisters of Persephone" seems to be a simple narrative. The speaker, who we can safely assume is Plath herself, tells the story of two sisters who are separated by death. One sister, who is in the underworld, longs to be reunited with her living sister. The other sister, who is still alive, is consumed by grief and can only think of her dead sister. The poem ends with a powerful image of the two sisters reaching out to each other across the divide between life and death.

But as with all great poetry, there is much more going on beneath the surface. In this essay, I will explore the many layers of meaning in "Two Sisters of Persephone" and show how Plath's use of myth and symbolism illuminates the themes of the poem.

The Myth of Persephone

To fully understand "Two Sisters of Persephone," we need to first examine the myth of Persephone. In Greek mythology, Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. One day, while gathering flowers in a meadow, Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter was devastated by the loss of her daughter and went on a rampage, causing a famine on earth. Zeus eventually intervened and brokered a deal with Hades: Persephone would spend half the year in the underworld with Hades, and half the year on earth with Demeter. This myth explains the changing seasons, as Demeter's joy at being reunited with her daughter in the spring leads to the bounty of the harvest, while her sorrow at losing her daughter in the fall brings the barrenness of winter.

Plath uses this myth as a framework for her poem, but she also subverts it in several ways. Firstly, the two sisters in the poem are not mother and daughter, but siblings. This emphasizes the importance of sisterhood in the poem, and suggests that Plath is exploring themes of familial love and loss. Secondly, while Persephone's abduction ultimately led to the changing seasons, the separation of the two sisters in Plath's poem leads only to grief and longing. There is no sense of balance or harmony in the poem, only a painful sense of loss.

Symbolism and Imagery

Plath's use of symbolism and imagery in "Two Sisters of Persephone" is masterful. The poem is filled with vivid and haunting images that linger in the mind long after the reading is over. Let's look at some of the most potent images in the poem.

The Flowers

The flowers that the living sister holds are a recurring image throughout the poem. They represent the beauty of life, but also its fragility and impermanence. The fact that the flowers are wilting and dying mirrors the sister's grief and the sense that something beautiful has been lost forever.

The Underworld

The underworld in Greek mythology is a place of darkness and death, but it is also a place of transformation and rebirth. In Plath's poem, the underworld represents the ultimate separation between the two sisters. It is a place of longing and despair, but also a place where the dead can find a kind of peace.

The Hands

The image of the two sisters reaching out to each other with their hands is perhaps the most powerful image in the poem. It represents the desire for connection and the hope that somehow, despite death, they can still be together. But it is also a reminder of the unbridgeable gap between life and death, and the ultimate futility of their longing.

The Personal and the Universal

Despite the mythic framework and the potent symbolism, "Two Sisters of Persephone" is ultimately a deeply personal poem. Plath's own experiences with loss and grief are clearly present in the poem, and her use of myth and symbolism allows her to explore these emotions in a way that is both universal and deeply personal.

But the poem is not just about Plath's own grief. It speaks to a universal human experience of loss and longing. We have all known the pain of losing someone we love, and the desire to somehow bridge the gap between life and death. "Two Sisters of Persephone" captures this experience in a way that is both profound and accessible.


"Two Sisters of Persephone" is a masterpiece of modern poetry. It combines myth, symbolism, and personal experience in a way that is both haunting and beautiful. Plath's use of imagery and language is masterful, and her exploration of grief, loss, and the human desire for connection is deeply moving. This is a poem that will stay with the reader long after the last line has been read, a testament to the enduring power of great poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Two Sisters of Persephone: A Masterpiece by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers to this day. Among her many masterpieces, "Two Sisters of Persephone" stands out as a haunting and evocative exploration of the human psyche and the complexities of sisterhood.

The poem, which was written in 1956 and published posthumously in 1965, is a retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone, the goddess of spring and queen of the underworld. In Plath's version, Persephone is split into two sisters, one who remains in the world of the living and one who descends into the underworld. The poem is divided into two parts, each focusing on one of the sisters and their contrasting experiences.

The first part of the poem introduces the reader to the sister who remains in the world of the living. She is described as "the tall one" and is associated with light, warmth, and life. She is surrounded by the beauty of nature, with "the green of her mother's garden" and "the gold of her father's fields" as her backdrop. The sister is also depicted as carefree and innocent, dancing and singing in the sunshine.

However, despite her idyllic surroundings, the sister is haunted by the memory of her twin, who has descended into the underworld. She is "haunted by the dark-haired one," and her thoughts are consumed by the idea of her sister's fate. She wonders what it is like in the underworld, and whether her sister is happy or sad. She longs to join her sister, to experience the mysteries of the underworld for herself.

The second part of the poem shifts the focus to the sister who has descended into the underworld. She is described as "the short one" and is associated with darkness, coldness, and death. She is surrounded by the bleakness of the underworld, with "the black of the ground" and "the white of the bones" as her backdrop. The sister is also depicted as lonely and isolated, with only the ghosts and shadows for company.

However, despite her desolate surroundings, the sister is not unhappy. She has found a sense of purpose and belonging in the underworld, and has become a queen in her own right. She is "the queen of death," and her power is absolute. She is no longer haunted by the memory of her twin, and instead revels in the darkness and mystery of the underworld.

The poem ends with the two sisters reunited, but still separated by their experiences. The sister who remained in the world of the living is "afraid of the dark-haired one," while the sister who descended into the underworld is "afraid of the tall one." The two sisters are no longer identical, but have become different beings entirely.

So what makes "Two Sisters of Persephone" such a powerful and enduring work of poetry? There are several factors that contribute to its impact.

Firstly, the poem is a masterclass in imagery and symbolism. Plath's use of color, light, and darkness creates a vivid and evocative picture of the two sisters and their contrasting experiences. The green and gold of the living sister's world are juxtaposed with the black and white of the underworld, highlighting the stark differences between the two realms. The imagery of bones and ghosts in the underworld creates a sense of unease and foreboding, while the sunshine and flowers of the living sister's world evoke a sense of warmth and comfort.

Secondly, the poem is a powerful exploration of the human psyche and the complexities of sisterhood. The two sisters represent different aspects of the self, with the living sister embodying innocence and curiosity, and the underworld sister embodying power and darkness. The poem suggests that these two aspects of the self are inextricably linked, and that one cannot exist without the other. The sisters' fear of each other at the end of the poem suggests that they have become estranged from each other, but also from themselves.

Finally, the poem is a testament to Plath's skill as a poet. Her use of language is masterful, with each word carefully chosen for its impact and meaning. The poem is full of rich and evocative language, from the "green of her mother's garden" to the "white of the bones." Plath's use of repetition and rhyme also adds to the poem's musicality and impact.

In conclusion, "Two Sisters of Persephone" is a masterpiece of poetry that continues to captivate and inspire readers to this day. Its vivid imagery, powerful exploration of the human psyche, and masterful use of language make it a work of art that is both haunting and beautiful. Sylvia Plath's legacy as a poet is secure, and this poem stands as a testament to her skill and talent.

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