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Analysing the Moon and the Yew Tree

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This poem fundamentally details how Sylvia Plath sees her life, through the metaphors and images she was so fond of. By using the word “planetary” in the first line, we gain a sense of how she saw her role in the world – still part of the solar system, but living in her own world, disconnected and distanced from everyone else. The point of the poem is to illustrate the different relationships Sylvia Plath had with the three most important and influential people in her life; her dead father, her mother who offered her little, if any support, and the elusive Hughes.

By deliberately identifying throughout the negative(“She is not sweet like Mary”) Plath subtly portrays herself as a victim, not accusing her mother of neglecting her, just suggesting and implying that one of the reasons for her “complete despair” is this women. Her parents never saw her depression, and Hughes was – seemingly – oblivious to her neediness, and she could not turn to religion for hope and comfort, finding blind faith to be restrictive. It is a desolate poem, haunting in its imagery and the empathy it inspires. Sylvia Plath is looking for a way back to herself, to life – she is suicidal. “Separated from my house by a row of headstones.”

She seeks rescue and hope in religion “How I would like to believe in tenderness —-” but the saints are only cold delicate statues “stiff with holiness” and she finds no help. She seeks rescue through nature but nature treats her as if she were God and holds the answers to life’s grief – she has no answers. She seeks rescue in the moon but the moon only reflects back her own wild and frightening despair and she is tormented by it. Separated from herself by thoughts of suicide she desperately looks to nature, the Holy Mother and church, and the sky – but all she ever sees are frightening reflections of herself, darkness and death. According to some critics/writers the Yew tree represents death, rebirth and resurrection. Also, the sap from the yew is poisonous, so it could have a number of interpretations.

It is heartbreaking that Plath was looking at something so romantic and seeing something so desolate. The poem marks a time in her life when she felt nothing but sorrow which is why this poem is so deep. The moon-her mother is darkness and holds no way out. The Yew tree is a symbol a sign pointing to her mother, the moon. She feels uncomfortable here, the spirit of the dead all around her quilting her like a blanket. She moves steadfastly out of the graveyard, the moon, and the church teeming with spirits. She moves to her home, which is her safety and shield from the darkness. In The Moon and the Yew TreePlath is writing about her relationship with her parents and about her psychic state. The moon surfaces again and again as her mother. “Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.”
She is not at her house (i.e. she is not comfortable & happy with her life), which would be the salvation. The only way of getting back to her house goes through the graveyard, and the graveyard is not the place she wants to go to. The churchyard’s Yew points her Moon, but “The moon is no door”, so it offers no escape, she just “simply cannot see where there is to get to”. After presenting us with her nightmarish inner landscape, the Fatherless, hopeless underworld with “no door,” note the subtly ironic diction with which Plath introduces the nearby church into this landscape: the bells “…bells startle the sky-

…affirming the Resurrection
…bong out their names.”
A marvelous image that works on two distinct levels: First, we can imagine that Hughes’ each Sunday morning comically jolted from their breakfasts by these alarming bells; on the Second level, however, the sky, Nature itself, is jolted, giving us the sense of an artificial intrusion upon the natural order — Christianity as an affront, almost, to the amoral reality of pagan Nature. This ironic tone increases as we are at last introduced to the Yew Tree. The yew “points up”, directing the poet’s attention from the church back to the moon. Here, black humor kicks in with full force as the poet’s voice, batting its eyes, becomes almost childlike: “The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.”

Plath then gives us one of the most brilliant images in all of her poetry, a shockingly macabre, blasphemous moment: “Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.” This can be a reference to the traditional Roman Catholic Madonna, Rome’s sanitized Mother Goddess, slowly parting her robes to unveil herself as the famously grotesque Ephesian Artemis, covered from head to toe with breasts, at which this swarm of bats and owls have been clustered, “sucking at the peps of darkness.” (“The Stones”). As these nocturnal predators fly off in a swarm of shrieks, Plath has, with one line, toppled two thousand years of Christianity and reinstated demonic pagan Nature. After this horrific scenario, she then turns her attention coyly back to the church and muses, “How I would like to believe in tenderness.

The face of the effigy, gentled by candles, Bending, on mein particular, its mild eyes.”
A shocking, brutal, and sadistic moment, yet with a subversive humor (“stiff with holiness”) that prefigures and points toward the later, gleefully sadistic voice of the “Ariel” poems. At this point in her development, Plath imagines the Yew tree’s message to be “blackness and silence.”

This yew, ‘pointing’ mutely at the moon is trying to send the poet’s consciousness a very strong message indeed, and one which she will later hear loud and clear as her true voice triumphantly emerges: that the “door” Plath seeks so desperately is, in fact, through that demonic female moon, “bald and wild.”

To some critics, Sylvia Plath openly states that it is a poem about her “mind”, in the very first line. It is a subjective landscape of her psyche. First, it is “cold and planetary” – No warmth. No bloom. No fertility. Almost a moonscape. Bathed in an unearthly “blue” light. The only vegetation besides the Yew, are those “grasses,” which are strangely alive, clutching at her, weeping, “unload their griefs”, begging her, like God, for mercy- “murmuring of their humility” In other words, the grasses think she is God – because they’ve never seen Him, He is absent. This is a godless universe in which she wanders. Around her swarm ghosts, the “fumy, spiritous mists.” Where are we? We are in Hades, Hell, the land of the dead (the yew tree, in fact, as Hughes has pointed out elsewhere, stood in the west, the traditional entrance to the Underworld). This is further supported by the sudden revelation of the “headstones,” graves – we are literally in the land of the dead. Sylvia is in Hell, where God is absent, or dead. Notice that the graves, the dead, separate the poet from “my house”. In other words, she is in this graveyard, this underworld, and sees, off in the distance, her house, perhaps with its lights twinkling, where her husband, child, and her life, reside. It is just here that she chooses to say, “I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door.”
In other words, we have the speaker wandering in the land of the dead, where the very grasses are in a torrent of grief, surrounded by spirits and a wall of graves, her home (a symbol of her positive life, of salvation) is unreachable, and she is looking desperately for a door that will allow her to get to that “house,” that life. But there is no door, no exit. Suddenly, a new presence appears: the Moon. She thinks at first it might offer hope, a “door,” a way out. But no door is available. The poet will tell us a few lines later that “The moon is my mother.”The moon, the Mother, is “White as a knuckle and terribly upset.

It drags the sea after it like a dark crime.”
The sea is Female, a fluid realm, the site of our origin, the waters of the womb, etc. but, in another sense, the sea literally functions as Sylvia Plath’s only physical barrier against her mother, who is across the Atlantic. Here, suddenly, horrifyingly, Mom appears, dragging the sea after her, like a placenta and a “dark crime.” We discover that this Mother is also in grief, to such an extent that the sound is literally choked in her throat — “…quiet, with the O-gape of complete despair.”

So, there’s been a dark crime of some sort. (Might be a reference to Aurelia’s second marriage & her ignorance of her children, which she might have finally realized that she had done wrong). “I live here.”

Apart from the literal truth of this statement, since we are also in a churchyard next to a house in Devon, Sylvia Plath is telling us point-blank, ‘This is where I live day to day, my inner world! And these things are always present here to haunt me.’

Sylvia Plath, a complex poet, a complex mind, was born on October 27, 1932 and committed suicide on February 11, 1963. During this short thirty years, many works were provided that served as a window into one fragile mind. Years of mental stability acted as a catalyst for the production of many famous works. Although it is still difficult to analyze Plath’s mind, its products are still being cherished and praised. Plath published many works in her lifetime, yet her most famous works were published after her death. Plath’s work as well as her many memories continue long after her passing. In Plath’s work, death, conflict, & personal experience all play major roles.They serve as themes in the deep and realistic poetry that is Plath’s work. The poetry of Sylvia Plath contains various themes that stem from the author’s mind and internal battles. A large portion of Sylvia Plath’s work contains the theme of death. This theme is most present in her earlier poetry. Plath seems to be almost fascinated with death. Her elegant use of words makes the reader feels as if the icy breath of death is upon their neck. Yet death is not always welcomed as a theme in Plath’s work.

Her early work shows a distinct tension between the allure of death and human’s nature to resist it. Often this “death” is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of doom. A distinct origin for this doom is not clear but nature is often a catalyst for it. Varying aspects of nature serve as agents of doom. Even the most innocent things such as grapes on a grapevine or moon can manipulate themselves into inevitable doom. Plath’s poems also contain a ‘preoccupation with danger’. This danger does not come from external sources however but from inside the mind. Sylvia has been hailed as a kind of “archangel of confessional poetry” and her poetry has been described as being “at once confessional, lyrical, and symbolic”. The styling that has led to the continuity of her art and its relevance to society can be attributed to many factors and techniques common among her poetry and prose, namely her unique uses of rhythm and meter, her prevailing themes of death, feminist criticism, her use of the technique of ‘doubling’ and her unique approach to characterization.

Plath’s approach to rhythm and meter in her poetry was all her own. Her earlier poems were composed slowly and with great care, while her later poems were written at a greater and increasing speed. The older poems follow, for the most part, a rhythm and meter that is a sort of “finger – count” with each line of each stanza set to a rigid standard of syllables. Her newer poems however, fall into a less rigid set of standards, and are composed of a rhythm and meter that is more of an “ear – count”as Plath would speak the poems as she wrote them “out loud as they came in the urgent and accelerating rhythms of her own voice”. Since Plath would speak these poems in “her own voice” as she wrote them, the poems’ rhythm and meter cannot be considered anything less than unique.

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