"The Moon and the Yew Tree" was written by the American poet Sylvia Plath in October 1961. Like much of Plath's writing, this is a deeply ambiguous poem that has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Most clearly, it expresses a disillusionment with religion (and more specifically the Catholic church), a deep and overwhelming sense of despair, and an ambivalent attitude towards the traditional expectations of motherhood and femininity. Many readings of the poem also draw on Plath's own difficult relationship with her parents, treating the moon and the yew tree as direct symbols of Aurelia and Otto Plath. That said, the poem benefits from not being confined to a purely autobiographical interpretation.
This is the ...
... of their humility.
Fumy, spiritous mists ...
... to get to.
The moon is ...
... I live here.
Twice on Sunday, ...
... out their names.
The yew tree ...
... bats and owls.
How I would ...
... its mild eyes.
I have fallen ...
... stiff with holiness.
The moon sees ...
... — blackness and silence.
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.
The Poetry of Sylvia Plath — A short video introduction to Sylvia Plath's work by author John Green via CrashCourse.
Poetry and Feminism — A map of resources for tracing the evolution of feminism through poetry.
ASL Translation of "The Moon and the Yew Tree" — The poem translated into American Sign Language by Crom Saunders.
Beneath the Yew Tree's Shade — A little background on the significance of yew trees in the form of an excerpt from a book by Thomas Lacquer.
A Reading of the Poem — A reading of "The Moon and the Yew Tree" produced by the BBC, originally broadcast in September 1962 as part of their New Poetry series.
1This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
2The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
3The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God,
4Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
5Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place
6Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
7I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
8The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
9White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
10It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
11With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
12Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky ——
13Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
14At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
15The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
16The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
17The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
18Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
19How I would like to believe in tenderness ——
20The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
21Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
22I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
23Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
24Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
25Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
26Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
27The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
28And the message of the yew tree is blackness — blackness and silence.