"Fever 103°" was first published in Sylvia Plath's posthumous collection Ariel (1965), although she wrote the poem in 1962. The combination of hellish and heavenly imagery reflects her state of mental anguish (she suffered all her life from clinical depression) and in a broadcast on the BBC she stated: "This poem is about two kinds of fire—the fires of hell, which merely agonize, and the fires of heaven, which purify. During the poem, the first sort of fire suffers itself into the second." It is a highly dynamic work, dramatizing a journey from suffering to paradise.
Pure? What does ...
... sin, the sin.
The tinder cries. ...
... their own element.
They will not ...
... Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it ...
... sin. The sin.
Darling, all night ...
... make me retch.
I am too ...
... and infinitely expensive.
Does not my ...
... I love, I
Am a pure ...
... pink things mean!
Not you, nor ...
... To Paradise.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Sylvia Plath's Life and Work — A detailed yet accessible introduction to Plath's life and career.
Reconstructing Plath's Original Vision for Ariel — Plath's own daughter discusses the controversy over Ted Hughes's version of Ariel, and how Plath's own version was reconstructed.
Sylvia Plath reading "Fever 103°" — Listen to the author read the poem for the BBC.
Interview with Plath and Hughes — A rare recorded interview with the two poets.
Carol Ann Duffy on Sylvia Plath — The UK's former poet laureate describes her relationship with Plath's work.
1Pure? What does it mean?
2The tongues of hell
3Are dull, dull as the triple
4Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
5Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
6Of licking clean
7The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
8The tinder cries.
9The indelible smell
10Of a snuffed candle!
11Love, love, the low smokes roll
12From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright
13One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel,
14Such yellow sullen smokes
15Make their own element. They will not rise,
16But trundle round the globe
17Choking the aged and the meek,
19Hothouse baby in its crib,
20The ghastly orchid
21Hanging its hanging garden in the air,
23Radiation turned it white
24And killed it in an hour.
25Greasing the bodies of adulterers
26Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
27The sin. The sin.
28Darling, all night
29I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
30The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.
31Three days. Three nights.
32Lemon water, chicken
33Water, water make me retch.
34I am too pure for you or anyone.
36Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern——
37My head a moon
38Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
39Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.
40Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
41All by myself I am a huge camellia
42Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.
43I think I am going up,
44I think I may rise——
45The beads of hot metal fly, and I love, I
46Am a pure acetylene
48Attended by roses,
49By kisses, by cherubim,
50By whatever these pink things mean!
51Not you, nor him
52Nor him, nor him
53(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats)——