When we started studying Sylvia Plath in school, the general feeling was one of foreboding. We all knew her work was depressing, that her life was pretty tumultuous and in the end depressing, and that after having to learn off eight of her poems and write elaborate essays on he use of metaphors and similes we would probably all be depressed too.
However, even though the general consensus is that she is petty bleak, I think The Times are Tidy stands out for me as an interesting poem. It’s much less introspective than her work after her influential workshop with Robert Lowell, and focuses on political themes and her dissatisfaction with the era she lived in.
I think personally I liked this poem as it sort of captured the feeling that historical books and films give me: yearning for an older, more exciting and dangerous time. Plath uses the classical figure of the hero and mixes it with a more modern (well, modern in 1958, when the poem was written) image: “Unlucky the hero born in this province of the stuck record.” I loved this image of an adventurous hero trapped in the urbane toil of provincial life, as annoyed as one gets at a stuck record.
Plath also uses archaic words such as “crone” for witch to link back to a passed time of adventure, courage and glory. If I were to write a time-travel themed book which had an introductory poem, I would use this poem. It’s nearly managing to squeeze its way into my top two (three if it’s included) poems, including The Lake Isle of Inisfree by WB Yeats and Sea Fever by John Masefield.