Analysing Plath and de Souza as Women Confessional Poets

Since poetry writing began, many poets have been using confessional poetry as a tool to write and express their thoughts, emotions and life experiences. Confessional poetry as a style first emerged in the 1950s in America. This kind of poetry is generally described as the poetry of ‘I’ , where poets focus on their extreme life moments and experiences which hold great importance in their lives. Confessional poetry in some manner makes the poet feel more truthful and honest towards oneself and if we look at it from a readers’ perspective then the common public feels more connected to the lines and messages, which is written in a certain manner makes the readers at some point or the other feel so connected to everything the poet writes and expresses through his/her poems.

Confessional poetry was a reaction to the depersonalized poetry written by academic writers such as T.S Eliot and W.H Auden. All the poets starting from Lowell started to write poetry which did not adhere to the idea of modernism which promoted that poetry is a thing apart from its creator and does not have room for personal self in it.

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All the confessional poets started writing in an extremely personal way by taking details from their own lives. The confessional poets of the 1950s and 1960s pioneered a type of writing that forever changed the landscape of American poetry.

All the poets who have been writing in this style of poetry obtain a certain amount of popularity in regards to the substance that they provide through their poems.

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Sylvia Plath and Eunice De Souza both have been very conveniently read as so to say ‘Confessional Poets’ by their writing style. Sylvia Plath has been writing mostly about her personal experiences in a manner that they appear as the direct transcriptions of her suicidal mind whereas De Souza while drawing from her personal life successfully manages to connect them with the broader context of cultural and political scenarios. Many critics have been constantly arguing that the poetry of Sylvia Plath is mostly universal rather than personal. Robert Lowell was a very big influence on Plath as she considered him as her teacher and mentor. Eunice De Souza’s poetry has been a medium for us to peep into her personal life and sufferings whereas on the other hand into the dichotomy of the female psyche.

These poets that we study as ‘Women Confessional Poets’ can be more than just this title which is crowned on them. It is arguable that both Plath and De Souza write poetry which is highly confessional in nature but rather than so conveniently and easily looking at them like confessional poets we can readily try to identify and reason with this plausibility of reducing all their life work into just something which is autobiographical and only related to their lives. If we look at their poetry in a more cohesive manner then we can locate another angle to their art and talent because the main motive of any artist is not just making their life public by writing poems but other than that they think that they have a social role as well. Poetry has ever since been a medium to bring progress and social change. Confessional poetry is just only a style of writing , one of the modern fields of poetry and not just any term which can sum up the life work of two great women poets.

The poems of Sylvia Plath have always been a medium for her to describe and express her intense emotions. Some of her best confessional poems are ‘Daddy’, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’. Along with being a confessional poet, Plath has also been known as a feminist poet because in many of her poems she openly expresses her concerns and voices out against male dominance in the patriarchal society. It has not been hidden that how troublesome Plath’s life has been, through ‘The Bell Jar’, we get a deeply autobiographical picture of her life. Despite the fact that Plath has had suicidal tendencies and she looks out for death mostly through her poetry, we observe that both life and death operate simultaneously in her poems. The power that Plath gives them, they appear as dramatic agents embodied in people, trees, houses, colours and animals. A very good example of how Plath makes this work is her poem ‘Lady Lazarus’. It shows the transformation of death into life.

But in the end, she makes it very clear that the circle of our existence, the transformation of death comes through life. She dramatizes the complete destruction of personality and body. Plath very skillfully demonstrates a much more versatile handling of metaphor and treatment of the myth of Lady Lazarus. Lady Lazarus is a quasi-mythical figure, a parodic version of the Biblical Lazarus who was raised by Jesus from the dead. The way Plath brings out her emotions to show the strength that is inside her and which she wants everybody to have is the message that one can comprehend through the poem.

A prime example of how Plath depicts the hardships faced in her personal life is her poem ‘Daddy’. The types of hardships that Plath has faced in her life makes it difficult for her to write in an extremely positive manner but she has always managed to be a different person for each of her audiences and yet none of her identities is bearable for her. Plath was very heavily inclined towards the subject matter of writing confessional poetry, therefore, we have mostly associated her poetry with her personal life. In ‘Daddy’, we see a depiction of a relationship between Plath and her father, who was a Nazi and died when she was just 8 years old.

The image which Plath creates of her father through the poem is very ambivalent to the type of emotions she must have felt towards him and we get a mixed picture. This can also happen because most of her memories were created when Plath was a child but this, in fact, makes it more disturbing when we see the images of childhood memories with the mention of Nazis and concentration camps.

The pain that Plath experiences come from the association his father had with the Nazis and the Jewish heritage which she gets from her mother. Although we have seen most of her poetry is written in an autobiographical style, we still cannot adhere to the fact of diminishing her to be read only as a confessional poet.

In this poem, Plath likens mushrooms growth to women’s emergence and rise from being oppressed and fight for recognition. Plath’s poetic world seldom remains within a simplistic model. It is characterized by the complexity of its schema, ontological violations, cognitive jumps and the layers of worlds that inhabit a stanza of poetry. This is definitely the case with “Lady Lazarus”. By drawing into her knowledge world of European history, religious studies, psychology and personal observations, Plath has created a poem of chilling imageries, morbidity and feminist triumph. While talking about her suicide attempt and depression, Plath does not forget to put up her voice in a manner which shows that she would not face any kind oppression emotionally as well as mentally and physically.

The way Eunice De Souza writes her poetry is a bit different from Sylvia Plath. De Souza makes a lot of mention about the problems which she faced during her lifetime because of her background as she belonged to a Goan- Catholic Community. The major theme that is prevalent in the writing style of De Souza is mostly resentment. Through the poetry of De Souza, we can understand that there is a constant search for identity. She offers a very wide range of volatile emotions through her poetry, changing direction and gaining effect from her inner contrasts, conflicts, ironies and satires. If we look De Souza’s poem with the light of confessional poetry, we see that she expresses her depression and inner feeling which have all piled up through the experiences of her life. The subject matter in De Souza’s poetry is mainly about the Goan – Portuguese community. The arid scenery that de Souza portrays in her poem “Landscape” seems more hostile to her because of its metaphorical semblance to the troubled periphery from where her marginalized community experiences it.

The expressions that De Souza uses like ‘pungent air’ and ‘rags that float upstream’ show a sense of horror and dissatisfaction with the surroundings. There is also a sense of uncertainty which lingers throughout the poem. Despite all the problems that the community faces while living in such conditions, it appears as if they have learnt to live in these places. De Souza’s poems, however, hover on the Goan – Catholic community whose pursuance she does not discard in her poetry. The way in which De Souza constantly uses Portuguese names and the events that take place in the same community illustrate her adherence to her communal ethos whose minority status she is aware of, though there is a little attempt in De Souza in endorsing the group’s solidarity.

De Souza not only writes about her community but also about her own experiences as a woman.De Souza fortifies the confessional mode with physical and natural imagery which externalizes her mental state of internal suffering. However, race or minority status is not the only impediment on the way of enacting her identity. The condition of De Souza is worsened by her gender. Many critics argue that De Souza is not a feminist poet. However, she only portrays the present condition of women without sympathizing with the characters she writes about in her poems. In her poem, ‘De Souza Prabhu’, she writes about her own personal experiences, the poem is highly confessional and autobiographical in nature but still, it doesn’t just stick to that. Through the poem, De Souza portrays a picture of the Indian community where a female child is seldom welcomed in an Indian family, irrespective of racial pedigree, as De Souza writes:

Not only limiting to confessional poetry, De Souza successfully talks about other important political and cultural issues in her poems for example, ‘Conversation Piece “and ‘Bequest’. In ‘Catholic Mother’, de Souza raised her voice against bearing a number of children and unawareness for family planning among people. In ‘Conversation Piece’, she writes about how a person who belonged to the Catholic community got confused about a ‘shivalingam’ and an ‘ashtray’.

De Souza is aware of the identity crisis her community has been subjected to but she does not glorify or try to earn sympathy for her community. Instead, she uses her voice as a poet to communicate the voices of people suffering through her poems.’De Souza is equally sharp-tongued and self-critical when she writes about herself’, says Saikat Guha in his essay ‘The Poetry of Eunice de Souza, and Pursuit for the Ways of Belonging’. As a confessional poet, the sense of critique which De Souza has for herself is not really seen in Plath’s poems. A comparative study of Sylvia Plath and Eunice de Souza reveals not only their achievements as confessional poets but also the strength and weakness of this mode in addressing the complexities of the modern life. Eunice de Souza desires to move from bondage to freedom, from indecision to self-assertion, and from weakness to strength. Her poetry becomes a tale of the lacerated psyche and at this time she yearns for peace and tranquillity whereas for Plath it has always been a therapy, a mode of getting it all out, all the troublesome thoughts and painful emotions she was going through.

Obviously, both the poets are known for their confessional poetry, for the shocking disclosures of the most intimate and private experiences of physical type or precisely their experiences as females which have been very intricately described in their poems. Mary A. Murphy writes about the 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’.While this mode enables them to unburden their guilt-ridden self, they on their part, shape and perfect the mode, taking it to the utmost point. Both Plath and De Souza have been two great women poets of their time. Both of them have written about some very serious issues which are needed to bring in the light of common masses. Whereas if we limit them to only as ‘Women Confessional Poets’, we are somewhere disgracing their abilities and endowment as poets.


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Analysing Plath and de Souza as Women Confessional Poets. (2022, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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