To Time – An early Sylvia Plath Sonnet

The following sonnet was written by Sylvia Plath about 1952-53 at the age of 19-20, and probably as a student as a class assignment for her English professor, Alfred Young Fisher, at Smith College. Apparently SP followed the annotated suggestions of her professor.

Sonnet: To Time

Today we move in jade and cease with garnet
amid the clicking jewelled clocks that mark
our years. Death comes in a casual steel car, yet
we vaunt our days in neon, and scorn the dark.

But outside the diabolic steel of this
most plastic-windowed city, I can hear
the lone wind raving in the gutter, his
voice crying exclusion in my ear.

So cry for the pagan girl left picking olives
beside a sun-blue sea, and mourn the flagon
raised to toast a thousand kings, for all gives
sorrow: weep for the legendary dragon.

Time is a great machine of iron bars
that drains eternally the milk of stars.

Sylvia Plath

This poem was taken from the Juvenilia section of ‘SP Collected Poems’.

Here are some questions to promote discussion …

What type of sonnet … what is the rhyming scheme and metre?

What is the overall issue of concern?

How does jade and garnet relate to time?

Why does the poet view the city as plastic-windowed?

What is the overall feeling conveyed by the second stanza?

Why a ‘legendary dragon’ … why weep for the dragon?

What is missed by the reader if only the couplet is read?

And for the creative, write an alternative couplet based on a positive perspective of time in relation to the universe, for example …

time endlessly spreads the rays of the sun
throughout our world touching everyone.

Your word in my ear ...

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