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Starting the day in a good mood just means the crash will be worse at the end of it.
I’ve been planning to write this for months, and now, on the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite poets, I’m still not quite sure what I want to say.
I’ve already written a lot about Plath’s suicide. I wrote a poem about it, which I’ve posted before (it needs work), and I spent half a semester in 2011 writing about the theme of suicide in hers and Anne Sexton’s poetry. I recently read The Bell Jar, Plath’s only published novel, and was deeply affected by it. For a book about a young woman’s descent into insanity, it was frightening how much I related to the main character.
“The silence drew off, baring the pebbles and shells and all the tatty wreckage of my life.” - The Bell Jar
Mostly, I just feel sad. Many of the poets I admire died young and tragically — John Keats from tuberculosis at age 25 and Percy Shelley from drowning at 29. And Sylvia killed herself at age 30. They were all so talented and prolific in their short lives. It’s conceivable that Plath could have still been alive today if things had gone differently; she would have been 80.
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
- “Lady Lazarus”
Editor Frances McCullough in 1996 called Plath the “last of the major poets read widely.” Her death played a part in bringing her fame, but she was already recognized for her writing before she died. She would have been successful regardless. Think of how many more poems and novels we could have had from Plath if she had another 40 or 50 years to write! If it’s true that popular poetry died with Plath, what would that mean if she were still with us? How would the world of literature be different?
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you. - “Lesbos”
Plath and Suicide
I first encountered Plath’s work around 8th grade when I decided to get “serious” about my interest in poetry. Her poem “The Night Dances” appeared in a little paperback of famous poems that I carried around, alongside other greats such as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Keats and Shakespeare. I must admit that I wasn’t a fan of Plath when I first read her. It wasn’t until my first college-level poetry class when I read other poems — “Daddy,” “The Colossus,” “Lady Lazarus,” “Ariel,” — that my undying affinity for her developed. Her voice reading “Daddy” in a recording we listened to in that class still haunts me sometimes.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—
The tragedy of her life and death is the truly sad part, though. Even though she had moments of happiness and love and great success with her work, Sylvia Plath suffered. Her suicide wasn’t some romantic act. And though we’ve tried, we can’t blame it on her husband, Ted Hughes, who may or may not have been abusive. She was mentally ill — likely schizophrenic — from as young as age 20.
You were a victim. Should we blame him for that?
He, your fellow artist, acrid lover
Of you but not just you.
It’s not your fault, my dear, for I would have loved him too.
- My “Elegy for Sylvia Plath”
Madness and Poetry
It’s too tempting to speculate on the relationship between poetry and mental illness. Would she have been as creative and prolific if she had not been mad? I hope so, since I do not like to think that artists must suffer. But poets are still associated with dark thoughts and complex psyches and aching hearts. Perhaps it is the poetry that drives us mad, and not the madness that writes the poems, though I did argue otherwise in the paper I wrote on Plath and Sexton.
“Lady Lazarus” suggests that, even when the suicide attempt fails to actually bring about death, it produces the temporary effect of leaving the speaker anaesthetized. She describes her body as an object, not a living and feeling person: her foot is “a paperweight” (7), her face “featureless” (8), her skin a “lampshade” (5). She is an empty, emotionless thing, lacking identity and self-knowledge, and this does not seem to bother her; part of her goal was to rid her body and mind of being and feeling. - My capstone paper
I wish I could talk to Sylvia Plath. I wish she were alive to lecture me on poetry and writing and to hand me a thesaurus and tell me my vocabulary is too simple and predictable (I’m sure she would say this). I wish we had more volumes of her poetry and that I could sit down and read them and know that she lived a happy, full life. But she didn’t. She was cut off far too soon.
Now I see, I saw, sitting, the lonely
Girl who was going to die.
That blue suit,
A mad, execution uniform,
Survived your sentence. But then I sat, stilled,
Unable to fathom what stilled you
As I looked at you, as I am stilled
Permanently now, permanently
Bending so briefly at your open coffin.
- “The Blue Flannel Suit” by Ted Hughes
R.I.P. Sylvia. We still remember you. You truly were the last of the greats. And you are loved.
Not cool RyMurph. Not cool.
what will i live for now
ok that is an exaggeration but still
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:( :( :( :( :( :(
We could leave now and get to NOLA in time for both the Bacchus and Endymion parades, which start this time tomorrow….
I wish :( :( :(
The future is weird and scary. Why do we all have to grow up? Can’t I just start over and do college again? I don’t like this. We’re too young for this. But I guess we’re not.
Is it the lack of sunlight or the lack of human contact? Whatever the reason, I am lonely and sad in the library. Maybe it’s the fact that most of my friends are done with work and either have gone home or get to spend time with their significant others. And I am alone. I only have this one paper left to do, and it won’t even be hard, but I don’t want to do it. I just want to listen to Darren, and maybe cry.
Last night’s paper-writing was awesome and exhilarating (De Quincey and Keats are just such a rush). Now the thrill has worn off and I am just melancholy.