Misinterpretations |3| Child by Sylvia Plath

It’s time to get down and dirty with Child by Sylvia Plath. You may have had it forced upon you in school and if you haven’t had it forced upon you then you can read it here.


Child by Sylvia Plath is a poem about her child being born and Sylvia thinking the baby is quite perfect. She hopes her child will have a brighter and shinier life than her own experiences of mental illness. It’s powerful stuff, but what if you didn’t know about Sylvia? So much of her poetry is informed and interpreted as it is, because we know all about her.



Taken at face value – this poem could mean something else entirely. Given its title – we would have to assume it was addressing a child. But why a baby? Could it not be a sulky teenager? Nobody looks at a baby and says “child.” But quite a lot of people like to remind teenagers (particularly sulky ones) that they are still a CHILD.

What if the first stanza is really a backhanded slap-in-the-face to a child that has conjunctivitis in one of their eyes? “Your clear eye,” insinuates that the other eye is probably not clear. Sylvia only compliments the clear eye. A teenager  would definitely take this the wrong way, they’re hyper sensitive like that. Especially when they have conjunctivitis in one eye.

Sylvia continues to say she would like to fill her child’s eyes with colours and ducks, for me this is quite a violent image. Will she savagely throw ducks at her teenager’s eye? I would rather not dwell on it.

Then we come to the second stanza –  the poet and child do some good clean meditation together and think about flowers. Which is nice after the whole duck debacle.  I particularly like the element of resolve here. You know – despite your terrible scummy eye and my forcing of ducks upon you – we still love each other.

The third stanza is a bit bizarre. It seems they’ve been ironing stalks – stalks of flowers? Maybe? And then they go swimming in a shitty pool. It must be shitty because Sylvia wishes it to be grand and classical.  So we can deduce that the pool is neither of those things and is therefore very modern or pretty shit.

And finally, the fourth stanza – she is obviously worried because she is wringing her hands. She is also troubled by the fact that her daughter has ripped all the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars off the ceiling. It’s pretty obvious to the discerning reader that her child is growing up and apart. That those glow-in-the-dark stars were something they pasted to the ceiling in a tender childhood moment, and that now their absence is bringing out the passive aggressive tendencies of the mother/poet.

The passive aggressive behaviour which the poet initially explored in stanza one. Which brings us back to the slight at the teenager’s gammy eye. Which brings the poem full circle. We are left with a profound sense of what it is exactly that the poet has said.