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The large following Sylvia Plath's poetry has acquired since her untimely death will no doubt insure an unusual degree of interest in this collection. Readers who are not already devotees, however, will likely find that interest greatly out of proportion to its object. The previously unpublished work (including a selection of juvenilia) here printed holds no revelations, while most of the well-known later poems, now that their initial shock has worn off, seem sadly diminished by the passing of their particular moment. This volume does fill out our picture of Plath's development, but fails, ultimately, to justify the kind of claims implied by such a comprehensive presentation. What it does make clear is that Plath, despite the undeniable growth in her technical abilities, never devised a method to express the full power of the painful and violent emotions that were her subject. In the more amibitious later poems, Plath's language continually breaks down into exaggerated rhetoric under the weight of too extreme an experience. Those few poems that combine the focus and reserve of her early work with the urgency of her final phase seem now her most durable accomplishments: ""Years later I/ Encounter them on the road--/Words dry and riderless,/ The indefatigable hoof-taps./While/ From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars/Govern a life."" But in reading most of this volume one can hardly help feeling that Plath's ambition far outstripped her achievement.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row