The Moon and the Yew Tree

The Moon and the Yew Tree Study Guide

The Moon and the Yew Tree” is a poem Sylvia Plath wrote in October 1961, shortly before her death, amid poverty and a deteriorating marriage. It was published in her second and posthumous book of poetry, Ariel, in 1965. The poem is in four stanzas, each seven lines long, narrated by an unnamed first-person speaker. Like many poems by Plath, it is a confessional lyric, with influences of gothic horror and references to Christian imagery.

The speaker finds herself out in the dark and dreary landscape of a church graveyard adjacent to her house. The full moon—white, round, and silent—reminds the speaker of various objects, human body parts, and emotions, and evokes feelings of disappointment, despair, and emotional detachment. The speaker also compares it to a mother, but not to an idealized mother with a warm and welcoming demeanor. This hostile moon-mother is unresponsive to the speaker’s need for maternal affection, and disregards the yew tree that points and aspires towards her.

Reading this poem, pay attention to the way Plath both utilizes and subverts traditional images of life and death, maternity and paternity, femininity and masculinity, holiness and blasphemy. Also notice the way Plath plays with formal boundaries by hinting at, but not quite adhering to, existing rhyme schemes and meters.