What Sylvia Plath Wanted

 

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And what do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life.

~Sylvia Plath, from her journal

Sylvia Plath died on this day, February 11th in 1963 at the age of 30.  For one loved by so many (even today) she seemed desperately alone.  In many ways, she felt closer to her books and writers of another age like Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence than the human beings around her.  Ironically, she is known as one of the originators of confessional poetry and her writings still resonate with many who feel trapped inside of their own minds.

Sylvia Plath wrote Lady Lazarus only a few months before her death, and in retrospect, we mourn the deaf ears and blind eyes the poem must have fallen on. Plath fused the experience of her earlier attempt at suicide with a criticism of the public’s sensationalistic, dehumanized interest in the disclosures after the Nazi holocaust.

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash--
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap, 
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

Rather than focus on the irredeemable past, our best service to Plath’s memory is to take the lessons presented and help those who are currently battling mental illness and depression. It’s easy to overlook people who suffer within their own minds. They are hiding from us on purpose.

God help us to be awake today and truly sensitive to those around us, to whom a word of kindness could mean quite literally, everything.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was  with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Dig Deeper


Sylvia Plath

American poet and novelist whose best-known works are preoccupied with alienation, death, and self-destruction.

Plath published her first poem at age eight. She entered and won many literary contests and while still in high school sold her first poem to The Christian Science Monitor and her first short story to Seventeen magazine. She entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1951 and was a cowinner of the Mademoiselle magazine fiction contest in 1952. Plath enjoyed remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, but she also suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization. She graduated from Smith with highest honours in 1955 and went on to Newnham College in Cambridge, England, on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1956 she married the English poet Ted Hughes. For the following two years she was an instructor in English at Smith College.

In 1960, shortly after Plath and her husband returned to England, her first collection of poems appeared as The Colossus. Her novel, The Bell Jar, was published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas.” Strongly autobiographical, the book describes the mental breakdown, attempted suicide, and eventual recovery of a young college girl and parallels Plath’s own breakdown and hospitalization in 1953. In 1962 Plath and Hughes separated.

During her last three years Plath abandoned the restraints and conventions that had bound much of her early work. She wrote with great speed, producing poems of stark self-revelation and confession. The anxiety, confusion, and doubt that haunted her were transmuted into verses of great power and pathos borne on flashes of incisive wit. Several poems, including the well-known “Daddy,” explore her conflicted relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died when she was age eight. In 1963, after this burst of productivity, Plath took her own life.

Ariel (1965), a collection of her later poems, helped spark the growth of a devoted and enthusiastic following of readers and scholars. The reissue of The Bell Jar under her own name in 1966 and the appearance of small collections of previously unpublished poems, including Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1971), were welcomed by critics and the public alike. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, a book of short stories and prose, was published in 1977. The Collected Poems, which includes many previously unpublished poems, appeared in 1981 and received the 1982 Pulitzer Prize, making Plath the first to receive the honour posthumously. Plath had kept a journal for much of her life, and in 2000 The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, covering the years from 1950 to 1962, was published. A biographical film of Plath starring Gwyneth Paltrow (Sylvia) appeared in 2003. In 2009 Plath’s radio play Three Women (1962) was staged professionally for the first time.

Many of Plath’s posthumous publications were compiled by Hughes, who became the executor of her estate. However, controversy surrounded his editing practices, especially when he revealed that he had destroyed the last journals written prior to her suicide.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).


			

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Rick is an ordained minister who is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on English Literature in the context of Classical Education. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is Deputy Director of PACES PAideia Classical School and leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.