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Personal Choice 30

Sylvia Plath

A Winter Ship

At this wharf there are no grand landings to speak of.

Red and orange barges list and blister

Shackled to the dock, outmoded, gaudy,

And apparently indestructible.

The sea pulses under a skin of oil.

A gull holds his pose on a shanty ridgepole,

Riding the tide of the wind, steady

As wood and formal, in a jacket of ashes,

The whole flat harbor anchored in

The round of his yellow eye-button.

A blimp swims up like a day-moon or tin

Cigar over his rink of fishes.

The prospect is dull as an old etching.

They are unloading three barrels of little crabs.

The pier pilings seem about to collapse

And with them that rickety edifice

Of warehouses, derricks, smokestacks and bridges

In the distance. All around us the water slips

And gossips in its loose vernacular,

Ferrying the smells of cod and tar.

Farther out, the waves will be mouthing icecakes ---

A poor month for park-sleepers and lovers.

Even our shadows are blue with cold.

We wanted to see the sun come up

And are met, instead, by this iceribbed ship,

Bearded and blown, an albatross of frost,

Relic of tough weather, every winch and stay

Encased in a glassy pellicle.

The sun will diminish it soon enough:

Each wave-tip glitters like a knife.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956. Following a long struggle with depression and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963. She became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Collected Poems.

Poetry doesn’t get any better than this and it is an exemplar to measure our own work against as poets. It contains all of the essential elements of poetry including the most exquisite and finely tuned figurative language. The emotional element is almost without peer.


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