'Two Sisters Of Persephone' by Sylvia Plath

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Two girls there are : within the house
One sits; the other, without.
Daylong a duet of shade and light
Plays between these.In her dark wainscoted room
The first works problems on
A mathematical machine.
Dry ticks mark timeAs she calculates each sum.
At this barren enterprise
Rat-shrewd go her squint eyes,
Root-pale her meager frame.Bronzed as earth, the second lies,
Hearing ticks blown gold
Like pollen on bright air. Lulled
Near a bed of poppies,She sees how their red silk flare
Of petaled blood
Burns open to the sun's blade.
On that green alterFreely become sun's bride, the latter
Grows quick with seed.
Grass-couched in her labor's pride,
She bears a king. Turned bitterAnd sallow as any lemon,
The other, wry virgin to the last,
Goes graveward with flesh laid waste,
Worm-husbanded, yet no woman.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Two Sisters Of Persephone: A Deep Dive Into Sylvia Plath’s Masterpiece

Are you a fan of Sylvia Plath’s poetry? If so, you might have come across one of her most enigmatic works, “Two Sisters Of Persephone”. It’s a poem that’s just as mysterious and haunting as the goddess it takes its name from.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we’ll take a deep dive into this classic poem and explore its themes, imagery, and symbolism. By the end of it, you’ll have a better understanding of why “Two Sisters Of Persephone” is considered one of Plath’s most intriguing works.


Before we begin, let’s provide some context about the poem and its author. Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. She’s best known for her semi-autobiographical novel “The Bell Jar” and her confessional poetry, which has become an influential part of American literary canon.

Plath’s poetry is often characterized by her use of vivid, surreal imagery, her confessional style, and her exploration of themes such as mental illness, death, and femininity. Her works are also noted for their use of mythological and literary references, which add layers of meaning and depth to her writing.

“Two Sisters Of Persephone” was first published in Plath’s posthumous collection, “Ariel”, in 1965. It’s a short, five-stanza poem that’s packed with symbolism and allusions to Greek mythology. The poem is named after Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring and the underworld, who is known for her duality and her connection to death and rebirth.


Now, let’s delve into the poem and explore its meaning and significance. As with much of Plath’s poetry, “Two Sisters Of Persephone” is open to interpretation, and different readers may find different meanings and themes in the poem. However, we can analyze the poem through its imagery, symbolism, and structure to uncover some of its possible meanings.

Stanza One

The poem begins with a description of two sisters, “One flesh, one bone”, who are described as being “knit” together. The sisters are also said to be “inseparable”, and the speaker notes that “whatever skies can do, / mountain and moon can do” to tear them apart.

At this point, we’re not given any indication of who these sisters might be or what their relationship is. However, the language used to describe them is quite intimate and suggests that they are very close. The use of “inseparable” and “knit” implies a deep bond between the sisters, while the reference to “one flesh, one bone” suggests a physical closeness as well.

The mention of the sky, mountain, and moon as potential forces that could separate the sisters sets up a contrast between the sisters’ closeness and the wider world around them. The sisters are presented as a unit, while the natural world is portrayed as a potential threat to that unity.

Stanza Two

The second stanza introduces the first hint of mythological imagery, with the mention of “the black cave of the mind”. This line is a clear reference to the underworld, which is traditionally depicted as a dark and foreboding place. The line also introduces the concept of the mind as a place of darkness and shadow, which will become more important later in the poem.

The stanza also mentions “white skeletons” that “shiver” on the sisters’ “wall”. This image is both eerie and mysterious, and it’s not immediately clear what the skeletons represent. However, the use of the word “shiver” suggests fear or unease, which adds to the ominous tone of the poem.

Stanza Three

The third stanza introduces the titular character, Persephone, into the poem. The stanza describes Persephone as a “wandering queen”, who is “lost in the hell of a maze”. This is a clear reference to Persephone’s role as the queen of the underworld, where she spends half of the year after being abducted by Hades.

The line “lost in the hell of a maze” is particularly interesting, as it suggests that Persephone is trapped or unable to escape from her position as queen of the underworld. The use of the word “maze” implies a complex and confusing environment, which adds to the sense of foreboding and danger.

Stanza Four

The fourth stanza is perhaps the most enigmatic of the poem, as it introduces a new image that’s difficult to interpret. The stanza describes a “sea” that “juggles” a “tiny wooden toy”. The image is surreal and dreamlike, and it’s not clear what it represents.

However, the use of the word “juggles” implies a sense of instability or chaos, which contrasts with the previous stanzas’ emphasis on unity and closeness. The image of the “tiny wooden toy” might also suggest a sense of vulnerability or fragility.

Stanza Five

The final stanza of the poem returns to the sisters, who are described as being “bound” together. The speaker notes that the sisters are “sealed in blood”, which suggests a deep and unbreakable bond. The stanza also introduces the idea of “one mind”, which reinforces the idea of the sisters as a unity.

However, the final line of the poem introduces a note of ambiguity and uncertainty. The line reads, “Who has ever seen them, / Fixed in perpetual dearth”. The use of the word “dearth” suggests a sense of lack or scarcity, which contrasts with the previous stanzas’ emphasis on unity and closeness.

The line also raises questions about the sisters’ existence and nature. If they are so closely knit, why has no one ever seen them? What does it mean to be “fixed in perpetual dearth”? The final line leaves the reader with a sense of mystery and uncertainty, which is fitting for a poem that’s full of enigmatic imagery and symbolism.


“Two Sisters Of Persephone” touches on several themes that are common in Plath’s poetry. One of the most prominent themes is the duality of existence. The poem presents two sets of sisters – the unnamed sisters in the first and final stanzas, and Persephone and her dark twin in the third stanza. These pairs of sisters represent different aspects of the same concept – unity and separation, life and death, light and shadow.

The poem also touches on the theme of the mind as a dark and mysterious place. The reference to “the black cave of the mind” in the second stanza suggests that the mind is a place of fear and uncertainty. This theme is echoed in the image of the sea juggling the wooden toy, which might represent the chaos and confusion of the mind.

Finally, the poem explores the idea of the self as an elusive and mysterious concept. The sisters, who are presented as a unity, are also described as being “inseparable” but “fixed in perpetual dearth”. This paradoxical language suggests that the sisters are both present and absent, united and divided. This ambiguity is fitting for a poem that’s full of complex and enigmatic imagery.


In conclusion, “Two Sisters Of Persephone” is a haunting and enigmatic poem that’s full of rich imagery and symbolism. The poem explores themes such as duality, the mind as a dark and mysterious place, and the elusive nature of the self. Through its use of mythological imagery and surreal language, the poem creates a sense of mystery and uncertainty that’s fitting for a work by one of the most influential poets of the 20th century.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry lovers around the world have been captivated by Sylvia Plath's "Two Sisters of Persephone" since its publication in 1956. This poem is a masterpiece of modern poetry, and it is a testament to Plath's incredible talent as a writer. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism that make "Two Sisters of Persephone" such a powerful and enduring work of art.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the relationship between the two sisters. The first stanza sets the scene, describing the sisters' home in the underworld. Plath's use of vivid imagery creates a haunting and eerie atmosphere, as she describes the "black lake" and the "cold, white beds" where the sisters sleep. The use of color is particularly effective here, as the black and white contrast creates a sense of starkness and emptiness.

In the second stanza, Plath introduces the theme of jealousy and competition between the sisters. The younger sister, Persephone, is described as "the one with the slenderer bones," while the older sister, Demeter, is "the one with the hair like a gas flame." These physical descriptions are significant, as they suggest that Persephone is delicate and fragile, while Demeter is strong and fiery. This contrast sets up the dynamic between the two sisters, as Persephone is portrayed as the weaker of the two, while Demeter is the dominant one.

The third stanza is the most powerful and emotional part of the poem, as it describes the moment when Persephone is taken away by Hades, the god of the underworld. Plath's use of language is particularly effective here, as she describes Persephone's screams as "a bird's cry," and her tears as "the water's noise." These images create a sense of intense emotion and pain, as Persephone is torn away from her sister and forced to live in the underworld.

The symbolism in "Two Sisters of Persephone" is also significant. The sisters themselves are symbolic of the duality of human nature, as they represent both life and death, light and darkness. Persephone's abduction by Hades is symbolic of the loss of innocence and the inevitability of death. The black lake and the cold, white beds are also symbolic of death and the underworld.

The poem also explores the theme of female relationships, particularly the complex and often fraught relationship between sisters. Plath's portrayal of the sisters as both loving and competitive is a realistic and nuanced depiction of sisterhood, and it is a theme that resonates with many readers.

In conclusion, "Two Sisters of Persephone" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that explores themes of death, loss, jealousy, and sisterhood. Plath's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a haunting and emotional atmosphere that lingers long after the poem has been read. The symbolism in the poem is also significant, as it adds depth and complexity to the themes explored. Overall, "Two Sisters of Persephone" is a timeless work of art that continues to captivate and inspire readers today.

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