“Lady Lazarus” is a poem by Sylvia Plath, written in 1962 shortly before her death in early 1963, and published posthumously by her husband, poet Ted Hughes, in 1965 in the collected volume Ariel. “Lady Lazarus” is a poem about suicide as a rebirth, and was in part inspired by Plath's own life and draws heavily on Plath's lifelong struggle with bipolar depression and suicidal feelings, and uses holocaust imagery to paint a bleak portrait of suicide and hopelessness.
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932 to a German immigrant college professor and his graduate student-turned-wife. The early years of Plath's life were comfortable, spending much of her time near the seaside. After losing her father in 1940, Plath and her mother found themselves in a more strained financial situation. This led to feelings of betrayal and resentment toward her father, and partially inspired arguably her most well known poem, “Daddy.” Plath was a brilliant writer from a young age and excelled in school, attending Smith College on scholarship. (Poets.org)
As Plath went through late adolescence her depression worsened. It is believed that Plath suffered from bipolar disorder as indicated by her published writing and her journal entries. In an entry dated June 20, 1958, Plath writes “It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it” (qtd. by Poets.org) Her depression eventually led to a suicide attempt at age 20, when Plath overdosed on sleeping pills that had been prescribed for her insomnia. Plath received electroconvulsive therapy as treatment for her breakdown, and for a short while it had seemed like she had made a recovery. This suicide attempt and treatment were part of the inspiration for Plath's only novel, the semi-autobiographical work The Bell Jar. (Poets.org)
After her recovery, Plath finished her degree at Smith, and moved to England to continue her studies at Cambridge University. There, she met fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she married in 1956, and had two children. Hughes and Plath's relationship was consistently rocky, with Hughes frequently engaging in extramarital affairs. These affairs were a major strain on Plath's already fragile mental state and eventually led to the dissolution of her marriage in 1962. After the failure of her marriage, Plath became increasingly unstable. This period of instability was also Plath's greatest and most productive creative period in which she wrote many poems. Most of the poems featured in Ariel were written in this short timeframe leading up to her death by suicide. Eventually, Plath succumbed to her mental illness, taking her own life in early 1963 at age 30 by inhaling the gas from her oven. (Steinberg)
In Plath's “Lady Lazarus,” suicide is depicted as a rebirth or resurrection. The speaker marvels at how despite her suicide attempts in the past, she is youthful and radiant;...