Verses of Concealed Agonies | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 29, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:37 AM, August 29, 2016

Verses of Concealed Agonies


Poets, authors and playwrights have all along expressed different dimensions of feelings through their literary works. Tales that we come to know from litterateurs of various countries tell us about history, politics, love, despair, joy, remorse and so on. However, there are some particular poets and fictionists that principally focus on personal deprivations, grievances and sufferings in their verses and stories. A strain of subjectivity prevails through the words the concerned author or poet picks, but as the poem or fictional work goes on, it becomes the untold story of many other people. This propensity leads to a confessional approach to literature in both poetic and fictional forms. Confessional poets and their verses have been highly popular with general readers as well as scholars around the world for last several decades. It's called 'confessional' because the poets of this clan expose their concealed agonies and grudges through their poetry, like unfolding their extremely private stories to their readers, garnished with neatly chosen prosody and imagery. Some glaring names in the confessional school of poetry are Sylvia Plath, Kamala Das, Judith Wright, W. D. Snodgrass and Anne Sexton. So, it appears to be the fact that, most of the confessional poets are female ones. Women of different ages have resorted to literature to reveal their concealed pains like Virginia Woolf, a prominent English writer of 20th century did through one of her best-known books A Room of One's Own. 

Andre Rudolph was born in 1975 in Warsaw, Poland and was brought up in Germany. He studied German philology in Martin Luther University of Halle and secured a PhD degree in 2005. His book Confessional Poetry was published in 2015. He has a special devotion for exploring modern poetic trends and has so far written several books on American and European verses in both English and German languages. As illustrated in this book and also known to most of the advanced readers, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), an American literary figure, who has been named above and who is mainly known for her confessional poetry wrote in her poem titled 'Daddy':

But they pulled me out of the sack, 

And they stuck me together with glue. 

And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Mein Kampf look.

The lines quoted above speak of the image of Sylvia Plath's father. The reference to 'Mein Kampf ' reminds us of Hitler's autobiography and it symbolically hints at the authoritative and unfriendly personality her father had. This poem in fact tells us about a troubled relationship between a daughter and a father. Let's take a look at some more lines from the same poem:

 Daddy, I have had to kill you. 

 You died before I had time——

 Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, 

 Ghastly statue with one gray toe 

 Big as a Frisco seal.


The above lines refer to the outburst of the poet's fury over her father. She views her father's image as a 'ghastly statue', far different from the fair and adorable sketch of a father that a daughter would depict. Sylvia Plath, through her poem Daddy virtually made a confessional statement to her readers about her allegations about her dad. The metaphors and symbolism she applied are heavy with sadness, grief and anger. Sylvia Plath killed herself at the age of just 31. Her remorseful poems illustrate her embattled life. Her husband Ted Hughes was a famous American poet too.

Kamala Das (1934-2009), a leading Indian poet, wrote a good number of confessional poems too. Like Sylvia Plath, Kamala Das also exposed her deprivations and anguish in an explicit manner in her verses. This overt exposure of adverse feelings is known as expressionism in postmodern literature. A few lines are given below from a well-known poem by Kamala Das titled 'A Losing Battle':

How can my love hold him when the other

Flaunts a gaudy lust and is lioness

To his beast? Men are worthless, to trap them

Use the cheapest bait of all, but never

Love, which in a woman must mean tears

And a silence in the blood.


The lines quoted above reveal a woman's dolorous expression about loving a man. When a woman loves a man, she is in most cases destined to end up with tears and silent agonies. When one's selfless love for another is not returned the same way, it deeply hurts. That's the significance of the extracted lines in short.

Confessions are found in prose too. Paulo Coelho expressed his feelings about the ups and downs, breezy and bumpy days of his life in his autobiographic book Confessions of a Pilgrim. Leo Tolstoy's book Boyhood is a confessional work with a lot of recollections from the author's life as a child in Russian countryside. Some stories by Richard Grayson also contain a leaning towards confessions. J. M. Coetzee's novel Foe and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer are also regarded as confessional books by some analysts. Samuel Butler's novel The Way of All Flesh may be placed on this list too.


The reviewer is Vice President, Chowdhury Philanthropic Trust, Sylhet, Email:

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