Plath's early work, prior to 1956, gives very little indication of the dynamic poetic genius she would later unleash on the world. That said, there's one poem, "Sonnet to Satan," that really stands out and shows just about all of the elements that Plath would ultimately use to construct masterpieces.
There's a lot going on in this poem, but the first and most obvious element is, of course: surprise. A general rule of thumb with Plath is, if the poem doesn't start with a surprise, it probably won't be a very good Plath poem. Most, if not all, of her best poems like "Daddy," "Ariel," "Lady Lazarus," "Candles," and the like are based on hitting the reader where they least expect it.
Here, in her college years, Plath decided to shock the grown-ups by writing a poem to Lucifer. What's even more shocking is she chose to do so in a sonnet. A demanding, exacting form that moves fast and demands facing contradictions, and immersing in often violently contrasting emotions.
In other words, the definition of a Plath poem.
Note two additional fingerprints: an almost-rigid attention to meter and a bold identification with myth. These are elements that Plath uses in all of her best work. Later, when she learns to fuse myth with the elements of her personal life, we'll see how and why her contribution to Confessionalism is different (and more important) than Sexton's or Lowell's though they also combined myth with personal experience.
The first lines of the poem are bangers and show us a lot about Plath's poetic identity:
In darkroom of your eye the moonly mind
somersaults to counterfeit eclipse
These are probably the best lines of the poem and also the lines that most clearly foreshadow the poet she would become. Strong verbs, bold metaphor, and an intense focus on psychological landscapes help Plath go straight inside Satan's head here, not to fix what ails him, but to see what's in there. The word "moonly" is brilliant and shows the witchy side of Plath that, like her mathematical mind, is more inborn than learned.
Plath had a burning desire to see behind the veils of everything, including the devil. That's the most important thing to take away from this early gem. The thrill of the poem is not that she dared to write about the devil, but that she dared to go inside Lucifer's imagination. What she finds is order and pride.
No-one, not even Dante or Milton, had gone quite that far, at least not while dressed in a schoolgirl's uniform, half-waiting to be a doctor's wife.
Click the pic above and read the poem for yourself. See what you think of it and let me know.
Next Monday, we'll take a look at "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" which is a poem that surprised Plath when she wrote it and changed the way she looked at poetry, and the world, for good.
Meanwhile enjoy the full moon and consider listening to one of my new songs, linked below. I've been blowing off steam from writing by making music. Have a listen and leave a like or even subscribe to my YouTube channel!
I recommend "Tornado Jam" which is a song I wrote about the tornado that ripped through our area a couple days ago. I made a cool video for it.
Also, if you need a hand revising and /or polishing your poems. I've helped lots of poets. If you order in July, you'll get a free copy of my 7 Secrets of Poetry pdf!!!