Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

“My tree stays tree”: Sylvia Plath and Ovid’s Daphne

Ranger, Holly


Holly Ranger


Critical appraisals of Sylvia Plath’s oeuvre remain dominated by psychoanalytic readings that conflate the writer’s life and work. Poems such as ‘Electra on Azalea Path’ are presented as emblematic of what is perceived to be Plath’s autobiographical identification with -- and self-positioning in her work as -- Electra-mourning- Agamemnon (Plath’s father, Otto, died of complications related to untreated diabetes shortly after her eighth birthday). One consequence of this biographical bias is that when the presence of classical allusion in her work is noted, scholarly focus falls on Plath’s brief references to Greek tragedy. Within this critically-constructed biographical matrix comprising Plath, her father, and the classics, however, is the little-noted fact that it was Otto who first introduced Sylvia to Latin. This essay re-focalizes discussions of Plath’s classicism around her literary engagement with Latin literature and with Ovid’s Metamorphoses in particular. I focus on Plath’s engagement with the tale of Daphne across five of her poems: ‘On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad’, ‘On a Plethora of Dryads’, ‘Pursuit’, ‘Virgin in a Tree’, and ‘Elm’, and I explore her poetic responses to the allegorical and thematic possibilities suggested by the tale to her as a woman artist in the 1950s. Using Ovidian myth to speak of contemporary women’s lives, Plath engages with the tale in a search for artistic and sexual independence. In conclusion, I argue that Ovid’s tale of Daphne is as programmatic for the themes of Plath’s poetry as it is for the Roman poet’s epic text.


Ranger, H. (2019). “My tree stays tree”: Sylvia Plath and Ovid’s Daphne. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 27, 215-237.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 30, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 23, 2019
Publication Date Jan 23, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 24, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 24, 2019
Journal International Journal of the Classical Tradition
Print ISSN 1073-0508
Electronic ISSN 1874-6292
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Pages 215-237
Keywords Classics; General Arts and Humanities; Cultural Studies
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in International Journal of the Classical Tradition. The final authenticated version is available online at:


Downloadable Citations