#PoetryPromise February: Cinderella by Sylvia Plath

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for February is Cinderella by Sylvia Plath.

Cinderella by Anne Anderson (source)

Cinderella by Anne Anderson (source)

Plath is my all-time favourite poet – see my post The Book That Made Me for more on this. This poem, one of the Juvenilia published in her Collected Poems, was written in her early twenties. When I read it for the first time, it dazzled me with it’s technical skill and imagination.

The prince leans to the girl in scarlet heels,
Her green eyes slant, hair flaring in a fan
Of silver as the rondo slows; now reels
Begin on tilted violins to span

The whole revolving tall glass palace hall
Where guests slide gliding into light like wine;
Rose candles flicker on the lilac wall
Reflecting in a million flagons’ shine,

And gilded couples all in whirling trance
Follow holiday revel begun long since,
Until near twelve the strange girl all at once
Guilt-stricken halts, pales, clings to the prince

As amid the hectic music and cocktail talk
She hears the caustic ticking of the clock.

Plath’s relish for the interplay of language, meaning and sound is unparalleled. She interweaves internal rhymes, assonances and alliterations in this poem so that the first ten lines are a firework display, mimicking the fairytale ball. She uses the sonnet form deliberately, both for its overtones of love but also for the inevitability of its structure. No matter how much fun you have in the first three quatrains, that crushing final couplet is coming. And what a couplet it is, staggering out of the stuttering line 12, with the panicky ticking of the clock echoing through the language.

It’s hard not to get caught up in Plath’s own life story when reading her poetry, but the dazzling flair of the beginning of the poem which can’t escape an inevitable doom seemed too pat a metaphor even for me. The appropriation of a well-known story for a personal twist, however, is something that I’ve enjoyed in Carol Ann Duffy, Jean Rhys, and Gregory Maguire, and something Plath herself would return to in her controversial adoption of holocaust imagery in her later work.

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