Sylvia Plath was born in Boston in 1932. She married Ted Hughes and she had two sons: Frieda and Nicholas. She was one of the most important exponents of the confessional poetry, an autobiographical genre born in the USA between 1950's and 1960's.
Plath tried to kill herself many times during her life. The events in the summer of 1953, when she first attempted to commit suicide, suggested her a novel, "The Bell Jar", the only she wrote. She died in 1963, when she placed her head in the oven, with the gas turned on. Her works were darkened by a sense of imprisonment and looming death. After her divorce from Hughes, in 1962, her poems were full of vengeance, rage and despair. Many of Plath's later poems deal with the "domestic surreal" in which Plath takes every day elements of life and twists the images, giving them an almost nightmarish quality.
Sheep in fog (published in Ariel collection)
The hills step off into whiteness. People or stars Regard me sadly, I disappoint them. The train leaves a line of breath. O slow Horse the colour of rust, Hooves, dolorous bells - All morning the Morning has been blackening, A flower left out. My bones hold a stillness, the far Fields melt my heart. They threaten To let me through to a heaven Starless and fatherless, a dark water.
The poem is set in December. It mostly lists unassociated images, but they are chained in a metaphor where the subject is Plath’s spiritual experience.
It is foggy and there are some sheep. Everything is quiet and slow. The speaker is riding a horse down a hill, that is mostly hidden by the fog’s whiteness. The horse’s hooves are like “dolorous bells”. A train’s smoke trails off like breath. A flower is left out. “People or stars” regard the speaker sadly: she disappoints them.
The morning is becoming worse and worse: the speaker is referring to the weather or, perhaps, to her feelings. She feels a stillness in her bones and the fields melt her heart. They threaten to allow her into a heaven without stars and a father. It is “a dark water”.
The poem was written in 1962, but it was substantially revised in January 1963. The changes Plath made left the poem darker. This is not surprising: she would commit suicide a month later. The poem is composed by five stanzas, each of three verses. Plath used many personifications: the stars regard her sadly, the train has breath and the fields threaten her. She uses enjambments (figures of speech in which a sentence is split between two verses), too: the theme of the horse in the second stanza continues into the third one, as the one of the morning is broken across the third and the fourth. These figures create a sense of estrangement and uneasiness.