Sheep in Fog by Sylvia Plath: Summary and Analysis

The poem 'Sheep in Fog' by Sylvia Plath is a confessional poem about the depression, dissatisfaction, anxiety, and feeling of helplessness of a young lady. 'Sheep in fog' refers to a person who is lost in the mist of confusion, uncertainty and helplessness. The speaker of the poem sees the hills step off into whiteness.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

The greenery of the hill is covered by the mist of fog. People or stars regard her sadly. She disappoints them. The train leaves a line of breath, but it is so slow. The speaker comes to listen to the dolorous bells. She finds a horse as the color of rust. All mornings are turning dark for her. She visualizes a flower left out. Her bones hold stillness. The far fields melt her heart. The memory of the past threatens her to go to heaven. She has become both starless and fatherless. For her, she is black water.

Like human sheep is also a social animal that can't live in isolation and separation from the others. In such condition, the poem is describing the pathetic condition of the speaker who is in search of a father or guide to show the right track. The sheep is a metaphorical representation of a person who is fully in sadness, frustration, and uncertainty. The poetic persona visualizes "dark water", "slow train", "blackening morning", "horse the color of rust" and "a flower left out". All these visual images indicate that the speaker is becoming far from human society, companionship, social conditions, and expectations of the people. Every sentence of the poem gives an impression of thick and heavy atmosphere. Such atmosphere is the reflection of growing uncertainty, darkness, and individualism in the side of the poetic persona. That's why in the poem, there is search of proper guidance and instruction by the lost speaker.

The poem 'Sheep in Fog' is quite remarkable for its use of visual imagery and metaphorical languages, which have been placed with the language of personification. The visual images, put on each line, give the impression of uncertainty, dissatisfaction, helplessness, isolation and desire of companionship. The first image occurs in the title of the poem. In reality, the title 'Sheep in Fog' is a visual imagery. To be in fog literally means to be stuck in a misty blur of uncertainty. Here, the word 'fog' only acts as an enhancer in replicating the 'lost' effect. Similarly, 'the hills steps off into whiteness' is another image that provides the meaning of transformation of the person towards hopelessness and blurred identity. "Horse the colour of rust" gives a subtle indication that the horse is weary and old. 'People or stars' indicate the idea of disappointment in the poem. 'Dark water', 'blackening morning', 'dolorous bells', 'slow train', 'horse the color of rust, 'a flower left out, 'bones hold a stillness' and far fields" appear as the most striking images to express the feelings and emotions the speaker is holding.

The poem is remarkable for its use of color imagery. In the poem, the color changes from white to rust and then to black. The white color of the first line gives the impression that the grassy hills have been converted into whiteness. The color of rust is associated with the idea of decaying. And the black and dark colors symbolically stand for death. All the images are received from human society and nature. Such images have been ironically represented in the poem. "Dolorous bells" gives an idea of nearing doom. It is a sound imagery. The poem "Sheep in Fog" is quite remarkable for its use of visual images which have been placed with the language of personification. Various natural items have been attributed human qualities. In the poem, such language of personification is helpful to picture the condition of a person who is helpless, isolated, and lost somewhere in uncertainty and confusion.

In each stanza, we feel the language of personification. The images, including 'the hills', 'the train', 'horse the color of rust', 'a flower left out' 'my bones, 'far fields' and 'a dark water' have been personified. The first example of personification is -"The hills step off into whiteness". Here, 'the hill' has been assigned with the quality of a man walking gently. The next image - "stars regard me sadly" is also personified. Here, 'stars' are perceived from the perspective of holding human emotions. In the next line, "the train" has been personified with the quality of 'leaving a line of breath'. Similarly, other examples of language, of personifications can be seen in the poetic lines- "a flower left out", "my bones holds stillness" and "a dark water". All such personifications are the indirect implication of speaker's helplessness in the mist of fog. All the images represent the growing uncertainty in the life of the speaker.