Category Archives: Sylvia Plath

Welcoming Winter with Poetry – albeit a little early.

Alright.  It’s October.  It’s snowing.  This is madness.  No matter how much I, and 98% of other New Englanders hate it, it’s happening.  So, let us pause our moaning and take a moment to “embrace” the early entrance of “winter” into our lives this year with some poetry by Sylvia Plath.  Yes, Sylvia Plath again.  She’s my favorite and that’s really the only reason that I ever need to assault you with her work.

Winter Trees

The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve.
On their blotter of fog the trees
Seem a botanical drawing.
Memories growing, ring on ring,
A series of weddings.

Knowing neither abortions nor bitchery,
Truer than women,
They seed so effortlessly!
Tasting the winds, that are footless,
Waist-deep in history.

Full of wings, otherworldliness.
In this, they are Ledas.
O mother of leaves and sweetness
Who are these pietas?
The shadows of ringdoves chanting, but chasing nothing.

A Winter Ship

At this wharf there are no grand landings to speak of.
Red and orange barges list and blister
Shackled to the dock, outmoded, gaudy,
And apparently indestructible.
The sea pulses under a skin of oil.

A gull holds his pose on a shanty ridgepole,
Riding the tide of the wind, steady
As wood and formal, in a jacket of ashes,
The whole flat harbor anchored in
The round of his yellow eye-button.

A blimp swims up like a day-moon or tin
Cigar over his rink of fishes.
The prospect is dull as an old etching.
They are unloading three barrels of little crabs.
The pier pilings seem about to collapse

And with them that rickety edifice
Of warehouses, derricks, smokestacks and bridges
In the distance. All around us the water slips
And gossips in its loose vernacular,
Ferrying the smells of cod and tar.

Farther out, the waves will be mouthing icecakes —
A poor month for park-sleepers and lovers.
Even our shadows are blue with cold.
We wanted to see the sun come up
And are met, instead, by this iceribbed ship,

Bearded and blown, an albatross of frost,
Relic of tough weather, every winch and stay
Encased in a glassy pellicle.
The sun will diminish it soon enough:
Each wave-tip glitters like a knife.

Wintering

This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife’s extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat’s eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant’s rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters–
Sir So-and-so’s gin.

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects–
Black asininity. Decay.
Possession.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees–the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I’ve taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Black
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women–
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

Sylvia Plath on Amazon.

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Ted Hughes: Last Letter

In October, 2010, I was ecstatic to hear that there was a new Ted Hughes poem released.  “Last Letter” explores Hughes’ emotions and experience of Plath’s suicide, which weren’t fully discussed in his collection of poems, Birthday Letters, which were completely about his marriage and relationship with Plath.

As a Plath enthusiast, and someone who truly enjoys Hughes’ work, I squeal whenever something new comes out.  I was lucky enough to discover “Last Letter” thanks to an article on the New Statesman site.

I hope that you enjoy this beautiful, yet haunting, poem.

Last Letter

What happened that night? Your final night.
Double, treble exposure
Over everything. Late afternoon, Friday,
My last sight of you alive.
Burning your letter to me, in the ashtray,
With that strange smile. Had I bungled your plan?
Had it surprised me sooner than you purposed?
Had I rushed it back to you too promptly?
One hour later— you would have been gone
Where I could not have traced you.
I would have turned from your locked red door
That nobody would open
Still holding your letter,
A thunderbolt that could not earth itself.
That would have been electric shock treatment
For me.
Repeated over and over, all weekend.
As often as I read it, or thought of it.
That would have remade my brains, and my life.
The treatment that you planned needed some time.
I cannot imagine
How I would have got through that weekend.
I cannot imagine. Had you plotted it all?

Your note reached me too soon—that same day,
Friday afternoon, posted in the morning.
The prevalent devils expedited it.
That was one more stroke of ill-luck
Drawn against you by the Post Office
And added to your load. I moved fast,
Through the snow-blue, February, London twilight.
Wept with relief when you opened the door.
A huddle of riddles in solution. Precocious tears
That failed to interpret to me, failed to divulge
Their real import. But what did you say
Over the smoking shards of that letter
So carefully annihilated, so calmly,
That let me release you, and leave you
To blow its ashes off your plan—off the ashtray
Against which you would lean for me to read
The Doctor’s phone number.
My escape
Had become such a hunted thing
Sleepless, hopeless, all its dreams exhausted,
Only wanting to be recaptured, only
Wanting to drop out of its vacuum.
Two days of dangling nothing. Two days gratis.
Two days in no calendar, but stolen
From no world. Beyond actuality, feeling, or name.

My love-life grabbed it.
My numbered love-life
With its mad needles,
Embroidering their rose, piercing and tugging
At their tapestry, their bloody tattoo
Somewhere behind my navel.
Treading that morass of emblazon
Two mad needles, crisscrossing their stitches,
Selecting among my nerves
For their colours, refashioning me
Inside my own skin, each refashioning the other
With their self-caricatures.

Their obsessed in and out. Two women
Each with her needle.
That night
My dellarobbia Susan. I moved
With the circumspection
Of a flame in a fuse. My whole fury
Was an abandoned effort to blow up
The old globe where shadows bent over
My telltale track of ashes, I raced
From and from, face backwards, a film reversed,
Towards what? We went to Rugby St
Where you and I began.
Why did we go there? Of all places
Why did we go there? Perversity
In the artistry of our fate
Adjusted its refinements for you, for me
And for Susan. Solitaire
Played by the Minotaur of that maze
Even included Helen, in the ground-floor flat.
You had noted her—a girl for a story.
You never met her.Few ever met her,
Except across the ears and raving mask
Of her Alsatian. You had not even glimpsed her.
You had only recoiled
When her demented animal crashed its weight
Against her door, as we slipped through the hallway;
And heard it choking on infinite German hatred.

That Sunday night she eased her door open
Its few permitted inches.
Susan greeted the black eyes, the unhappy
Overweight, lovely face, that peeped out
Across the little chain. The door closed.
We heard her consoling her jailer
Inside its cell, its kennel, where, days later,
She gassed her ferocious kupo, and herself.

Susan and I spent that night
In our wedding bed. I had not seen it
Since we lay there on our wedding day.
I did not take her back to my own bed.
It had occurred to me, your weekend over,
You might appear—a surprise visitation.
Did you appear, to tap at my dark window?
So I stayed with Susan, hiding from you,
In our own wedding bed—the same from which
Within three years she would be taken to die
In that same hospital where, within twelve hours,
I would find you dead.

Monday morning
I drove her to work, in the City,
Then I parked my van North of Euston Road
And returned to where my telephone waited.

What happened that night, inside your hours,
Is as unknown as if it never happened.
What accumulation of your whole life,
Like effort unconscious, like birth
Pushing through the membrane of each slow second
Into the next, happened
Only as if it could not happen.
As if it was not happening. How often
Did the phone ring there in my empty room,
You hearing the ring in your receiver–
At both ends the fading memory
Of a ringing telephone, in a brain
As if already dead. I count
How often you walked to the phone-booth
At the bottom of St George’s terrace.
You are there whenever I look, just turning
Out of Fitzroy Road, crossing over
Between the heaped up banks of dirty sugar.
In your long black coat,
With your plait coiled up at the back of your hair
You walk unable to move, or wake, and are
Already nobody walking.
Walking by the railings under Primrose Hill
Towards the phone booth that can never be reached.
Before midnight. After midnight. Again.
Again. Again. And, near dawn, again.

At what position of the hands on my watch-face
Did your last attempt,
Already deeply past
My being able to hear it, shake the pillow
Of that empty bed? A last time
Lightly touch at my books, and my papers?
By the time I got there my phone was asleep.
The pillow innocent. My room slept,
Already filled with the snow lit morning light.
I lit my fire. I had got out my papers.
And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.’

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Filed under Favorites, Poetry, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes

A little Sylvia Plath for a stormy day

 

A few weeks into my blog and I haven’t posted a poem by Sylvia Plath yet?  This is tragic and must be remedied immediately.  So, for this day of extreme weather (thank you, Irene), please enjoy a few poems written by a woman who I love enough to get her signature tattooed on my back (see above).

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident.

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then –
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love.  At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow.  I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my sense, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.  With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts.  Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles.  The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

From:  The Collected Poems, 1992
Poem written – 1956

 

Fever 103

Pure?  What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate.  Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel.
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element.  They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin.  The sin.

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.

Three days.  Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God.  I am a lantern –

My head a mood
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you.  And my light.
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush .

I think I am going up,
I think I may rise –
The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I

Am a pure acetylene
Virgin
Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean.
Not you, nor him

Not him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats)-
To paradise.

From Ariel.
October 20, 1962

It is always the most satisfying, however, to actually hear a poet reading their own work. For only then, can one honestly appreciate the depth of emotion and overall meaning of the work:

 

 

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Quotable Monday

My first hope was that each Monday I would post an inspirational quote as a good jumpstart for the week.  But, let’s face it… I don’t read too many inspirational texts.  So, we’ll have to settle just for the quotes that stand out – whether they be uplifting, depressing, funny, or a little intense.

The quote that I am going to share today comes from Chapter 7 in my favorite novel, The Bell Jar, and is one of the first quotes that I underlined in my text.  I don’t know about you, but this quote more or less sums up an overwhelming feeling that I experience a couple of times each week and experienced on a daily basis at one point in my past.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Antila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above thee figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Photo Source:  Mike Bogle, May 2006.  Fig Tree in Centennial Park, Australia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fig_Tree.jpg

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Favorites: Sylvia Plath

Sivvy doing what she does best

I first discovered Sylvia Plath while I was suffering through my junior year of high school.  Up until this point in my life, I always loved my English Literature classes, savoring the 45 to 60 minute intervals each day (or 90 minutes every other day once I hit high school) when I could lose myself in the intricacies of plot, mood, grammar, spelling, and the list goes on…  As a kid who always loved writing and reading, citing as my two favorite activities since the age of six, how could I not?  Due to my passion, I always seemed to excel at the assignments, as well, which is always a plus as a kid in school.

My junior year, however, was very different.  First, I got Mono.  I have no idea how this ailment struck me, as I hadn’t been kissing too many boys, save for the Amusement Park Ride Operator from Canobie Lake Park.  Come to think of it, he was what one would call a “man-whore”, so maybe that explains it.  Either way, I was barely able to sit up off the living room couch for two weeks early on in the year.  Somehow, though, I managed to get myself caught up fairly quickly and not leave myself in the bad graces of any of my teachers.  A few months later, though, when my parents couldn’t cart me into Worcester (from Clinton) due to the death of a good friend’s son, something changed in my American Literature Class.

I was accused of skipping class and was barked at, quite forcefully, one afternoon after home room.  Pair this with my inability to properly write an Expository Essay (there was a VERY particular formula that we were demanded to follow) and the fact that, well, I couldn’t give a damn about The Great Gatsby or Huckleberry Finn.  And when it came to struggling through The Scarlet Letter, forget it.  I would have rather swallowed nails than sift through the never-ending descriptions of Hester Prynne’s trials and tribulations.  To this day I can’t really tell you how I actually passed that year, but it would definitely be classified as barely.

My interest was successfully captured, however, once we came to the Confessional Poets.  Of course, we only spent half of a class on them, but whenever we had the free reign of choice for paper topics, I leapt at the chance to dissect Lady Lazarus and Daddy.  When I first picked up what Sylvia Plath was throwing down, I was officially floored.  I couldn’t believe it.  Like so many other young women, I felt like she was speaking directly to me.  I felt like she had glimpsed into my heart, ripped out all of my deepest emotions, fears, and passions and exposed them through her poetry.

Upon learning of my newfound obsession, though, my mother was relatively dismayed.  In hindsight, I suppose that I would have been a little distraught if my teenage daughter, seemingly depressed and socially anxious, chose to dive into the music of Nine Inch Nails and poetry of Plath.  But while she feared that the macabre imagery, biographical details of suicide, and other general darkness was pushing my further into my self-imposed isolation and uncontrollable lamentations over the injustices of being a teenage girl, these poems were actually “saving” me from falling off the precipice into self-destruction.

For the first time ever, I felt like I had someone who knew where I was coming from and who wouldn’t judge me for how I felt, what I believed in, or the path that I would have enjoyed my life to go down.  Plath was my confidante, my voice, and an understanding “ear”.

 Immediately, and for the purpose of class, I ran out and purchased The Collected Poems and carried it with me everywhere.  Shortly    thereafter, I picked up Letters Home and The Unabridged Journals.  At some point, I found The Bell Jar and Johnny Panic and the  Bible of Dreams.  Later on, becoming more of a hardcore lover of her writing, I sought out her children’s books, cherishing and re-  reading them, imagining sharing them with my children someday.

Additionally, I sat through almost the entire Bell Jar movie (because, for some reason, the local mom & pop video store still carried    the VHS).  And if you’ve EVER even watched a few minutes of that film, you understand that it’s a big deal that I sat through thirty  minutes of that garbage, but I was consumed by a fever that called for Plath, Plath, and more Plath.  So, I indulged, eventually  branching out to reading Ted Hughes (her ex-husband), Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell (fellow Confessional poets that she took  classes with around Boston), and her daughter, Frieda.  I traveled to New York City for the sole purpose of visiting a Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath display – No Other Appetite – displaying an array of their personal effects and detailing the story of their tumultuous, yet passionate, courtship and disastrous marriage and parting.  Hell, I even got her signature tattooed on my back.  That’s dedication.  Or insanity.  You can make that call for yourself.

I want everyone to have their own Sylvia Plath – that one writer (or artist of any medium) that just makes complete and perfect sense to you.  The one person that completes the literary world for you; you couldn’t imagine existing, and reading, without having ever come across their work.  It’s magical.  It’s inspiring.  It’s both breathtaking and heartbreaking.  They hold the power of forcing you to experience the full breadth of human emotion…. solely with their words.

I’ll close this post with a poem.  It’s not a Sylvia Plath poem, but it’s by Ted Hughes and featured in his collection Birthday Letters, which was the first that he “spoke” about his relationship with Plath after her suicide.  It’s also the inspiration for the name of this blog and the Grolier Club exhibit in NYC that I visited a few years ago.  It is one of my all-time favorites – powerful, seductive, and frightening.


Lovesong
Ted Hughes

He loved her and she loved him.
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment’s brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin’s attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon’s gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other’s face

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