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This review is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

DEFENSIVE POSTURES Sylvia Plath, Collected Poems, ed. Ted Hughes (Faber) £4.25

In the low price of the Collected Plath we have at least a material bargain: 139 previously unpublished poems in addition to the already published 136, together with notes and grouping by chronology. Fifty selected examples of pre-1956 'juvenilia' are followed by the poems up to the 1963 suicide, many of them dated to month and day, enabling the reader, as never before, to trace the sequence in which styles come and go, attitudes are struck but never entirely dropped, along a career of revealing consistency. For what comes through more clearly than ever amidst all the progressions and regressions, first hints and later expansions, dalliances and tighter insistencies, is the sameness of impulse by which a writer drives herself towards the kind of ecstatic aplomb, the blazing look of the unchallengeable, too weak in early gaucheries. It is the winning of a manner, not a consciousness; and our being able to read an almost complete poetic Plath-to see, for instance, how early whimsy and easy ennui persist behind the later defences, the more enigmatic maniacal calm or black glee-shows very much how, ultimately, her theme had to be the continual building of the immune out of the vulnerable, or the playing of one against the other. Here are the tactics of a personality where bad nerves and nerveless force come together at their most extreme in one impenetrable, teasing posture-never to be unwrapped no matter how many layers are supposedly being taken off or how much of the ...


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