Old Ladies' Home

Plath, Sylvia

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Sep-15-1997


The poem's omniscient speaker describes the inhabitants of an "Old Ladies' Home" with bleak and dehumanizing detachment. In the first of the three seven-line stanzas, the fragile elderly women appear "like beetles" who "creep out" of the institution's buildings for the day. Their habits and relationships are observed in the second stanza: knitting, and children who are "distant and cold as photos," with "grandchildren nobody knows."

Presaging the arrival of death in the last stanza, the ladies wear black, "sharded" in it, but even the "best black fabric" is stained red and green by age. In the evening they are called in by the nurses, "ghosts" who "hustle them off the lawn" to their beds, which resemble coffins, and where Death waits.


The poem captures the dehumanization of the institutionalized aged. The speaker observes the "old ladies" with a horror which, while making obvious the sadness of their plight, is predominantly a fearful rejection of the old and everything they stand for. The "bonneted ladies grin" in their beds, as if already ghoulishly associated with the "bald-head buzzard" Death, who lurks in the halls of the home. The poem forms a chilling memento mori as well as a sad reminder of the too-frequent abandonment of the aging by the young.

Primary Source

The Collected Poems


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York




Ted Hughes