This paper addresses Sylvia Plath’s engagement with William Blake’s poetry in “The Pursuit” (posthumously published in 1973) and “Death & co.” (from the collection Ariel, posthumously published in 1965). In a letter to her mother Aurelia Schober Plath dated March 5th, 1956, she mentions “The Pursuit” and explains that the poem is “influenced a bit by Blake, I think (tiger, tiger)” (Letters, 1133). Blake was one of Ted Hughes’ favorite poets, and Plath usually refers to him in conjunction with Hughes’ poetry. Indeed, “The Pursuit” is the first poem she writes about her love story with Hughes, in which he is represented by a panther, that is Plath’s version of Blake’s tiger, who is hunting his prey, which is represented by Plath herself. This poem presents many features (both in style and in content) that echo Blake’s “The Tyger” and shows Plath’s non-casual knowledge of his poetry and her absorption of his vision of nature and of the animal world. “The Pursuit” is a poem directly related to Blake, however one could say that Plath’s representation of nature is strictly connected to his also in many other poems whose references to his poetry are less immediate. I argue that what has been defined as Plath’s “ecopoetics” (Knickerbocker 2012) is also the result of her reception of Blake’s idea of nature. In “Death & co.” Blake is directly mentioned in the first lines of the poem (“The one who never looks up, whose eyes are lidded/And balled, like Blake’s,/ who exhibits/the birthmarks that are his trademark–“). In the introductory note to "Death & Co.," which she prepared for radio broadcast, Plath conveys that the poem "is about the double or schizophrenic nature of death—the marmoreal coldness of Blake's death mask, say, hand in glove with the fearful softness of worms, water and the other katabolists" (294), in her journal she also mentions Blake’s idea of “deadness”, a concept that I would like to explore in this paper. Plath’s admiration for Blake is quite apparent and ascertained, still there is much to be said on the significant and non-incidental impact that Blake’s poetry and visual art did have on her works.
Annalisa Volpone is Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Perugia. She has written on modernism and postmodernism, on eighteenth and nineteenth century British literature (Wollstonecraft, Blake, Coleridge, P. B. Shelley and Mary Shelley). Her research interests include the interconnections between literature and science. She is currently working on a monograph on William Blake and contemporary brain science.