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Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge, before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer. She was the daughter of a German immigrant college professor, Otto Plath, and one of his students, Aurelia Schober. The poet’s early years were spent near the seashore, but her life changed abruptly when her father died in 1940.

In 1940, when Plath was eight years old, her father died as a result of complications from diabetes. He had been a strict father, and both his authoritarian attitudes and his death drastically defined her relationships and her poems—most notably in her elegiac and infamous poem Daddy.

She became one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century. By the time she took her life at the age of 30, Plath already had a following in the literary community. In the following years her work attracted the attention of a multitude of readers, who saw in her singular verse an attempt to catalogue despair, violent emotion, and obsession with death. In the New York Times Book Review, Joyce Carol Oates described Plath as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English.” Intensely autobiographical, Plath’s poems explore her own mental anguish, her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, her unresolved conflicts with her parents, and her own vision of herself.

After Hughes left her for another woman in 1962, Sylvia Plath fell into a deep depression. Struggling with her mental illness, she wrote The Bell Jar (1963), her only novel, which was based on her life and deals with one young woman's mental breakdown. Plath published the novel under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. She also created the poems that would make up the collection Ariel (1965), which was released after her death. Sylvia Plath committed suicide on February 11, 1963.

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.


Sheep in Fog is a short poem of atmospheric imagery reflecting loneliness. Though Plath herself described the poem as a description of a horse's movement, the experience of reading it is less lucid. The poem was written on December 2nd, 1962, but significantly revised in January 1963.

What catches the reader's eye first, is the imagery in the title. The poem is entitled "Sheep in Fog”. The word "Sheep" is often associated to the word lost. Hence the common phrase "Lost Sheep”. Plath used the animal "Sheep" to transfer the emotion: confusion of being lost. The word "Fog" only acts as an enhancer in replicating the "lost" effect. To be in fog, literally means to be stuck in a vague distortion of uncertainty. Therefore, the title "Sheep in Fog" depicts Plath's uncertainty and lost of hope in her future.

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.

The title of poem refers to how Plath felt: she was like a lost sheep wandering in a meaningless world. The fog emphasis these feelings of isolation and obscurity. She thought, she always disappointed people around her. However the death frightened her. She called “heaven” a terrifying place, without stars and a father. She communicated these feelings through the use of contrasting images of blackness and whiteness, while “The hills step off into whiteness”, in the later stanza “Morning has been blackening”.


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