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When, in the old way, inspiration does occur, it releases consciousness from an ordinariness experienced as devoid of meaning or purpose. . . .

The hope held out by such a descent depends upon the workings of the miraculous. Conjoined with the passivity of awaiting a miracle, however, is an effortful resistance that has nothing to do with grace.

... I only know that a rook

Ordering its black feathers can so shine

As to seize my senses, haul

My eyelids up, and grant


A brief respite from fear 

Of total neutrality.

"Seize" and "haul," the verbs that Plath chooses to characterize the moment of Sublime intervention, convey the rook’s effect upon her as they suggest a resistance on her part, a passivity that must be broken through. When this resistance combines with dread, Plath envisions a world that will not break into moments of radiance but yields only absence, an absence synonymous with a world untransformed by an imaginative power envisioned as having been created by forces beyond the self.

... With luck,

Trekking stubborn through this season

Of fatigue, I shall

Patch together a content


Of sorts. Miracles occur,

If you care to call those spasmodic

Tricks of radiance miracles.

The wait’s begun again, 

The long wait for the angel,

For that rare, random descent

The passivity associated with Plath's early understanding of imaginative creativity would later be replaced by a conception of creative powers that originate from within. Such self-reliance, however, depends upon a release from the early poems' fabric of identifications, where the inspiratory powers of the imagination and the voice of poetic authority are both linked to forces external to the self: to the male poet or to an aversive, hostile nature.

Only by reengendering the terms of these initial identifications can Plath escape the equation of poetic inspiration as annunciation and the passivity it entails.


From Women Poets and the American Sublime. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Joanne Feit Diehl.