Confessional Poetry as Personal Vindication: by Sophie Mitchell Group B


This blog considers the ideas contained in the following essay (available via the link above)

Charles Molesworth, “With Your Own Face On”: The Origins and Consequences of Confessional Poetry, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol 2, (1976). pp. 163-178

“Confessional poetry offers a personal vindication barely more sustaining than the social structure it implicitly scorns.”

 Confessional poetry in the 20th century was seen as a style of poetry that is described as poetry “of the personal.” The content of confessional poems is autobiographical and usually explores subject matters that were considered taboo at the time such as mental illness, sexuality and suicide. Charles Molesworth observes several authors in order to distinguish the features that make up confessional poetry and how these poems are conveyed to society, particularly focusing on the work of Sylvia Plath. Molesworth suggests that confessional poetry can be seen as a division of Romanticism as it places the sensitivity of the poet at the centre of concern and mockingly upsets the nineteenth-century ideals of “conversion” and “self-improvement.” There is said to be one common denominator found in confessional poetry; a split between revealing intimate details in an unvarnished context and obscuring the occult curve of their own dissociated, self-concealing emotional lives. This split produces the particular ironic texture that is associated with confessional poetry.


One of the critical clichés that was associated with confessional poets was that the language itself provided their ‘salvation.’ This false representation, which was generally accepted, left room for poets to develop personal styles and remain recognizably confessional. Confessional poetry often ended by being simultaneously ‘god-haunted’ and ‘narcotized’, suggesting that narcosis and transcendence are mirror-images of each other. A somnambulistic strain drifts through the tones of a confessional poet and this is evident in the work of Sylvia Plath as her expression exhibits the voice of narcotic numbness mixed with slow-motion hallucination in poems such as “Tulips”, in which she demonstrates how the mind may generate hyperboles to torture itself. Those few poets who became known as “confessional” drew on a deep source of disaffection and also relied on a contradictory aesthetic with neither the energy to accept the terms of its descent nor the determination to reject them in favour of a newer, more truly public discourse.


1. Charles Molesworth, “With Your Own Face On”: The Origins and Consequences of Confessional Poetry, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol 2, (1976). pp. 163-178










One response to this post.

  1. This confessional poetry could be seen to be a lot like ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ in that it acts as a catharsis for the writer to cope with problems in their everyday life – frequently mental health problems.


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