Welcome to the Sylvia Plath Forum which began January 1998 following the surprise publication of Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. The forum is moderated and maintained by Elaine Connell.
Poem Analysis

  • The Bee Meeting
  • Cut
  • Mirror
  • The Moon and the Yew Tree
  • Mystic
  • The Thin People
  • Tulips
  • Poems inspired by Sylvia

    Contributions: December 2000-January 2001

    I have been reading these contributions with great pleasure and interest for a while now, and apologize for forcing myself in with the following boring problem.

    I happened to notice just a couple discrepancies between the text I have of SP's Bell Jar and stray quotations of the novel. My copy is Faber & Faber and it says it was reset in 1996. So may be the discrepancies are simply misprints. As I am translating the novel into Italian I am of course interested in making sure. Or maybe they are due to their being taken from the America edition as I understand TH had to make very minor changes for legal reason in order to publish the book in the US (I think I read this in Janet Malcolm). The best way to make sure would be to compare my text with the very first edition, Heinemann's (the Victoria Lucas one), and with F & F first edition of 1966 and with the American edition.

    Or perhaps, anyone of you who has a different edition from mine could look up and tell me!

    Here are the differences that I am aware of:

    Chapter 1, end of 3rd par. = NOSELESS balloon vs NOISELESS balloon.

    Chapter 1, about 19th par., in describing Doreen's dressing- gowns: the colour of SIN / SKIN

    Chapter 1, 3rd par. from bottom: I'd string ALONE / ALONG.

    Thank you very much, for any help you can give me and for this Forum too.


    Sarzana, Italy
    Wednesday, January 31, 2001

    Has anyone ever read "The Unbridged Journals of Sylvia Plath"? I find myself relating to her emotions and talents although I am younger, and in the more modern times. I do enjoy writing, it's a passion of mine.. poetry and prose, and at times, a journal. In her journals, I understand her confusion, emotions, fears, anxiety, the simplicity in things that make her smile, and how she pushes everyone away.. A friend of mine said I wrote like her.. I find myself more like Sylvia than any other poet, as of yet. I am at the ripe age of fourteen, and I understand such intricate emotions. Please visit my website to view my writings.

    Lonely Echo
    New Hampshire, USA
    Tuesday, January 30, 2001

    I confess to being puzzled why, as far as I know, no one has written a biography of Ted Hughes. Is it because, by virtue of the attention paid to Sylvia, that it's already considered "done" -- that's he's considered already explored? Is anyone aware of any plans for a biography of TH?

    Judy Matthews
    Okemos, USA
    Tuesday, January 30, 2001

    Does anyone know where one can find a copy of the Heinemann edition of "The Bell Jar", the one published under the name Victoria Lucas in 1963? Apparently all later editions published under Plath's own name after her death contain discrepancies introduced by Hughes or misprints. A translator who is putting it into Italian is looking for a copy of the "purest" edition.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Thursday, January 25, 2001

    This so-called question whether things exist prior to being perceived, whether a tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it makes a sound, is a senseless conundrum that is an issue only for people who spend too much time at Berkeley. In the real world, perceived or not, the tree falls and has fallen.

    Before there were eyes to see and ears to hear there was a world.

    It is. We are.

    To believe that one's own perceptions make the world is the same problem that plagued Plath; the inability to get outside the concatenation of mirrors that was her own mental processes to get in touch with otherness, the world out there, as it is, was and always will be "world without end".

    What a multiplication of cliches and sophisms! No wonder you have a headache.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Thursday, January 25, 2001

    This is a question for anyone who is able to relate to a lot of the sentiments in Plath's work-- more for the women than the men, but if you are male and want to answer, by all means feel free.

    If you answered "yes" to the above, do you ever worry about yourself? Mentally, I mean? I find myself identifying with a lot of the emotions that Plath discusses, and I understand so completely that it is somewhat terrifying. Does anyone else feel this way? I can't help but wonder if I am headed for some kind of mental episode...

    Anyway, thanks, and hope to hear from you all soon!

    NY, USA
    Wednesday, January 24, 2001

    Hello, I've just found this site in my search for the exact publication date of Ariel. I know that it was published in March 1965, but does anyone know the exact date? Thanks.

    Chesham, UK
    22nd January 2001

    Re these book controversies--

    Why not just file them in their own category--a great unwritten book, call it Shadows from a Marriage--or perhaps more appropriately, The Hawk and the Rain?--and let continue what has always been--and will always be--Plath partisans and Hughes hubrists arguing, endlessly, over which was Hawk, which, Rain--at which instant, in a chessgame of a marriage; white, black; squares of void, squares of light; reproduce ad infinitum.

    Of course, Rose's textual position was what you might call legally convenient--Hughes was officially silent about Plath during his long penumbra, but there was often a great rattling of wings from the dark, when writers got too close, usually followed by writs, and, most awesomely, letters to The Times--but Rose's carefully calibrated language had the added advantage of being--from certain, philophical (not philosophical) angles, true; c'est nes pas un pipe. (Derrida, Foucault, op.cit.) The division in the Western mind between describer and described is as old as Plato--if a wife falls in the forest and no one hears, does she make a sound? If she fells the forest to make books out of the trees, filled with her reports, is the noise amplified, or mental only? Are you really there, or are you just imagining it? What do we mean by "mental only"? Does the world exist at all without mental interpretation? Consciousness, for example? Or is it just a formless mass, mud waiting to be breathed alive? Malcolm made, makes, great sport of the somber truth that any reporter can turn anyone's words inside out, to make them say the opposite of what you mean; and any reporter is any gossip, any one; as the sophists did; as Socrates said upon hearing Plato's report of him, "What great lies the boy has me saying!"

    Or, as Berkeley said, Esse es perkipe; to be is to be perceived; What is truth? --It is a decision; a multiplicity of decisions; in a world of mutiple cells, multiple instants; time bends like taffy under such a gaze...

    To return to Magritte again; "When an observer looks at the moon, it becomes *his* moon." Is it? Isn't it? Tilt that moonbeam between two mirrors into an infinity of reflections; chasing after truth is chasing ghosts of ourselves. Of course, a truth mutiplied by a multitude becaomes a great lie, which hides inside a greater truth. Which, in turn...

    Sorry if this sounds snappish, but I have a headache.

    By the way, has anyone ever made a bust of either Plath or Hughes, as a bald archetype? It could be a nice de Chirico painting, I think...

    Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend. Each generation gets the art it deserves; it makes it, in a collaboration with--whomever it wants to hear. To each their own.

    Kenneth Jones
    Berkeley, USA
    Sunday, January 21, 2001

    Muriel, I finally found The Applicant, it is in The Collected Works, the first time I llooked I couldnt find it, then I looked again yesterday and there it was. I wished I could have pulled my message back at that point. Thanks again for the help.

    Gary Allen
    Manchester, NH, USA
    Sunday, January 21, 2001

    I did not intend to 'correct' you, perhaps we're both right, and it doesn't matter anway, does it? Strange to read that 'The Applicant' is not in you Collected Poems, for it sure is in mine (The Faber & Faber edition, reprint 1989), it was written in 1962 and is included in "Ariel" (well, my copy, by Faber & Faber). Is there such a difference between US & UK editions?

    Gent, Belgium
    Sunday, January 21, 2001

    I have to say that i am disgusted the idea of ET's book being a fictional recreation of SP and TH. How unimaginative! I did read the bits of Burnt Diaries in the newspaper, but did not buy it as i thought she was just plugging TH into her life to sell her she seems to have added SP and Assia as well.

    She also seems to have written something called, "Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice". She has balls, I'll give her that, the thief. Can't think of our own ideas, eh Emma?

    San Jose, USA
    Saturday, January 20, 2001

    Muriel, Thanks for the correction, Iam a neophyte Plath lover and Iam not as intimately acquainted with her work as yet, but certainly will be over time. Where can you find The Applicant? I could not find it in The Collected Works. Gary

    Gary Allen
    Manchester, NH, USA
    Saturday, January 20, 2001

    Hi Jackie, Hi Gary, Funny, but I thought that you were refering not to Berck-Plage but to "The Applicant" (First, are you our sort of a person/Do you wear/A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch/A brace or a hook/Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch/ Stitches to show something is missing? ...).

    This poem was also put to music by a (now defunct) Bristol based 'rock' band called The Blue Aeroplanes (Plath in a rock song?? Yes, and what's more, it actually works ...!)

    Gent, Belgium
    Thursday, January 18, 2001

    Popular fictionalised accounts vs analytical biographies. A few thoughts.

    Plath and Hughes (according to her journals)once had a row about books, which has some - albeit oblique - relevance here. Plath claimed that it would be better to be imprisoned with no book at all, rather than waste time reading a bad, false one. Hughes - surprisingly - said that it would be better to read a bad book deeply and react to it, knowing from experience that it wasn't true.

    I take Hughes' side in this. Perhaps bad books - as Tennant's may well be, based on the evidence of Burnt Diaries - allow us to work harder. Rather than being duped or taken in by them, mightn't they provoke us into examining our own or others'- inevitably impure - fascination with Plath and Hughes?

    I'm also willing to attribute subtler motivations than purely monetary gain to writers such as Tennant.

    Of course, it is no coincidence that fictionalised accounts of artists' 'troubled' lives - Carrington, Tom and Viv, Bronte - get commissioned on the strength of their lurid aspects. However, while there are many second rate writers, I don't believe there are many truly 'hack' ones. I suspect that the impetus for writing about great writers is for the likes of Tennant et al two parts psychic, one part mercenary.

    Why do I say this? Back to the Hughes argument about reading a bad book against one's own true experience. From my experience of reading Plath and Virginia Woolf it is NOT their tragedies which compel - what I treasure is the way their works (and journals) capture daily life. The small moments most of us never value or order. The meat and potatos, the game of bowls after dinner.

    So I'll stick my neck out and say that what these second division of writers are trying to do with their 'imaginings' is bottle a quality of life and art that is beyond them - and us.

    (And if they turn a quick buck by recycling life, well, that was what Plath was hoping for with her 'potboiler' The Bell Jar, wasn't it?)

    Brighton, England
    Thursday, January 18, 2001

    I am doing a paper on Sylvia Plath's poem "The Rival", but I can't seem to find a whole lot of background information on it. If anyone has any kind of information or thoughts on this poem could they please email me? Thank You!!

    Thursday, January 18, 2001

    As for Peter's question of why no one has written books of this genre about Thomas and Sexton, I can hypothesize at least about the latter. Sexton had been diagnosed as mentally ill and had been in and out of mental hospitals most of her adult life; she was not abandoned by her husband, but forced him to leave over his protests; and after her death, the handling of the estate was considerably more open than Plath's (to the point that people have questioned whether or not Sexton's estate should be as open as it has been, such as when Middlebrook's biography of Sexton included transcriptions of Sexton's psychiatric sessions). Shrouds of secrecy and innuendo have always surrounded Plath in a way they never have surrounded Sexton.

    Kim, just an idea to your thoughtful questioning of the motives of Tennant and Moses. Tennant, IMHO, is out for the bucks. I will read her book, but I expect to be cringing my way through it. I think you hit the nail on the head with the problem of public understanding when they read her book. Moses I don't know much about, but since she has written nonfiction articles on Plath, I would hope she will have a more scholarly approach that might be more sensitive, maybe more literary in nature. Hard to say, obviously, until we see it, which won't be until February 2003 (and then in five countries simultaneously--apparently the publishers are expecting the book to sell well). In about a year, I'm going to interview Moses for a writing magazine, to discuss the process of writing fiction about real people. If we're all still here in a year, I'll tell you her thoughts on the subject!

    Amy Rea
    Eden Prairie, usa
    Thursday, January 18, 2001

    Kim! Wonderful to read your recent posting. Most interesting is when you wrote: "But certainly a number of readers will either take what she says as being the truth, or have trouble distinguishing 'fact' from 'fiction.'" I think this is a very very common 'thing' for Plath readers. In particular because of The Bell Jar and it's closeness to Plath's own life. I believe when I first read the book back in winter 1994 and coupled that with Rough Magic I was convinced that The Bell Jar was absolute truth. A very frequent mistake. Perhaps.

    There is a late 1980's article in UK tabloid The Mail that misinterprets Plath's poem "Daddy" and actually says in the article that it was written because Plath discovered her father really was a Nazi.

    Just as Plath said the two words "always" and "never" I feel that we, the readers, are constantly in a state of knowing too much or knowing not enough. That is precisely where these books will succeed. I believe Moses will be the more difficult. Thinking positively, with some examining of Letters Home (and those letters not published in that book), some interviews with those still living, newspaper articles, in particular on the weather in London that those final weeks and the three years to finish this project she could make a book that is very valuable, insightful and rewarding. The Tennant book is questionable. Her complete lack of tact with the Hughes section in Burnt Diaries (oh he Hughes could've gotten his fox-paws on that) being published so soon after his death warrants apprehension. Even if she were a brilliant writer, which she isn't, her name and Hughes/Plath association is simply foul.

    I am not sure that it's a sad commentary to read them. I will. Just don't buy them. Borrow them from the library, spend the day at Borders. Wait for the Cliffs Notes or Monarch Notes. Or the TV movie. One thing I certainly question is why books of this genre aren't published on Dylan Thomas or Anne Sexton. What does this mean for Plath readers years from now. Will they turn to the good critical biographies or the trashy, exploitive fictions that are an 'easier' read? Is Plath being reborn as a daytime soap opera character?

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton, MA, usa
    Wednesday, January 17, 2001

    Jackie, I think I have found the poem you were looking for. I was driving through the snow covered roads of New Hampshire, listening to Sylvia Plath reads Sylvia Plath and I heard the lines about tubular steel wheelchairs, aluminum crutches. The poem is Berck-Plage and is in the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Hope this is the one you were looking for.

    Gary Allen
    Manchester, NH, USA
    Wednesday, January 17, 2001

    Thanks Tanya - yes, Richard Larschan also told me that 'Sylvia and Ted' is a fictional re-creation of SP's and TH's relationship and not the U.S. version of 'Burnt Diaries.' As I mentioned to Richard, I'm a little squeamish when it comes to people writing fictionalized accounts of real people when there are family members and friends still living. It's one thing to write a fictionalized account of, say, Napoleon and Josephine, and quite another to fictionalize say, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton - which, of course, has been done at least twice! Also pertinent is the recent furor over the Ronald Regan bio, where the author has fictionally inserted himself into various times and places of Regan's life. I believe that was an authorized bio, interestingly enough. This seems like an interesting, perhaps sub-textual comment on the book's subject, RR...

    I'm certainly not for censorship, or "banning books", but I do think a little self-censorship might be in order. Tennant may have known Hughes, and quite intimately at that, but she wasn't there during his marriage to Plath or his relationship with Assia Wevill. Hence, the "creative/imaginative" label being slapped onto the book. It is apparently ok to make up conversations and events in actual people's lives if you *say* that you've made it all up. But certainly a number of readers will either take what she says as being the truth, or have trouble distinguishing 'fact' from 'fiction.' Readers will wonder 'what' and 'how much' Hughes' told her about his relationship with Plath (although in 'Burnt Diaries' she seems to indicate that he did not broach the subject with her. Or they will wonder what she heard from other, close sources (Al Alvarez, Fay Weldon, etc.) - and all this will blur the line between fact and fiction so that the reader makes false assumptions or is confu!
    sed. It's true, contrary to what Ted Hughes wrote, that each of us does *not* own the facts of his or her own life -I suppose it must be that way, yet what a pity.

    All of this begs the question: is there a difference between the interpretation of a work of art (a poem, for instance)and how it might relate to or reflect on the artist's life and this kind of fictionalized biography? For example, should Jacqueline Rose's book 'The Haunting of Sylvia Plath' have been censored? As J. Rose herself said, perhaps (almost certainly?) disingenuously, that at no time is she talking about SP and TH, but of textual entities X and Y. It would seem that she did so, so that she wouldn't be sued.

    Ultimately, I can't see that Tennant's or Moses' books will be any contribution to the lives or the work of Hughes or Plath; at best, they might be considered mildly entertaining; at worst, exploitive. I have to wonder what is the aim of each of these writers? Other than making money, which is, I suppose obvious. Hypocritically, I suppose I will read them - as will most of us. A sad commentary on myself, I suppose.

    Any thoughts?

    Detroit USA
    Wednesday, January 17, 2001

    Kim - Just to add to Peter's comments: The forthcoming Emma Tennant book is most definitely NOT the American imprint of Burnt Diaries. It is a fictional recreation of Ted and Sylvia's marriage. A more detailed description can be found here. As Peter says, good reads await!

    Brighton, England
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    Kim--your publishing research is just perfect! Thank you so much for keeping all of us up to date on these publications. The children's stories book seems most interesting! Most interesting indeed. Meanwhile. The Emma Tenant book is its own entity. Fear this book. Actually, I am beyond curious for this book, for The Other Sylvia Plath and also Kate Moses' fiction book. All in all it appears to be another popular year for Plath which will keep us all wonderfully busy.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton, MA, usa
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    Hello I am looking for a Sylvia Plath poem which I heard on the radio but didn't catch the name of. It refers to crutches, sticks and glass eyes. Can anyone tell me which poem this is? Many thanks

    Jackie Gay
    Birmingham, UK
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    Bob, This is the poem you were asking about:

    Hear the crickets chirping
    In the dewy grass.
    Bright little fireflies
    Twinkle as they pass.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton, Ma, USA
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    If anyone could help I'd greatly appreciate it!!! I'm currently studing Plath and I have to write an essay on the themes of motherhood in her collection of poetry in Ariel. However, I'm finding her work hard to grasp and I could do with any help to try and get me to pass my exams!! You all seem to see the inner depths of the poetry whilst I am still pondering on the basics! Feel free to email me with suggestions or to chat about her! Thanks a lot.

    York, Yorkshire, England
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    I would like to translate a few poems by Sylvia Plath into Romanian, to be published in one of Romanian poetry magazines, under a section that I would like to start, titled Twenty Century American Poets. What do I have to do to get permission to do that? Is anybody there who could help me? I would really appreciate any tip or hint on where should I address further my question. Thanks!

    Bergenfield, NJ USA
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    I've been reading Plath's "The Disquieting Muse" and wondered if anyone had any ideas on who exactly Plath's Muse was? What exactly is she saying here?

    Bakersfield USA
    Tuesday, January 16, 2001

    HI I hope you all can help quickly. I am writing a page on Sylvia Plath and for the life of my I can not find her first poem which was published in the Boston Sunday Herald. Can someone help me out ASAP?

    Bob Stauffer
    Lititz, USA
    Tuesday, January 9, 2001

    Hello all, Just a few notes on upcoming publications by and concerning Plath, all available on or

    UK only (?) - Collected Children's Stories by SP. 2 April, 2001. 3 stories - Bed Book, Doesn't Matter Suit and Mrs. Cherry's Kitchen.

    Jan. 2001 in U.S. (hard and soft cover) and 28 Feb., 2001 in hardcover in the UK - The Other Sylvia Plath by Tracey Brain. Moves away from biography to discuss such topics as Plath's interest in environmentalism, the relationship of her work and that of Bronte and Woolf, her artwork and scrapbooks, the marketing of her work and the various cover art used.

    Terror of Our Days: 4 American Poets Respond to the Holocaust by Harriet Parmet, March 2001 in US.

    The Story of Sylvia and Ted by Emma Tennant, available in the U.S. in May 2001. Does anyone know if this is the same book as Tennant's Burnt Diaries, published in the UK?

    Also there looks to be another reissue of Collected Poems in March 2001 in U.S.

    Detroit USA
    Tuesday, January 9, 2001

    A propos Sylvia Plath's letter home about what Ted said: without casting doubt on the truth of her understanding of that conversation, I must say that I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of putting too much credence on reported conversations, especially when the reporter was hurt or insulted by what was said.

    I also wonder about the context of such conversations. What was said before the comment? What led up to the level of anger implicit in the comments reported? Was it a response to a leading question?

    One can never know - and I feel that both parties are perhaps injured when one extracts a few comments from a letter, those comments having already been extracted from their original context, and use them to build a theory about the relations between the writer and the other person.

    Ann Hyland
    Wexford, Ireland
    Sunday, January 7, 2001

    In an October 16, 1962 letter to her mother, written at Court Green, Plath discussed her marital difficulties. In the course of this letter, Plath wrote, Ted & his woman (he will have the distinction of being her 4th husband, thank god I think she is barren) have already wistfully started wondering why I didn't commit suicide, since I did before! Ted has said how convenient it would be if I were dead, then he could sell the house & take the children whom he likes. It is me he does not like. This letter is available in the Plath Collection, Lilly Library, Bloomington,Indiana.

    Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
    Friday, January 5, 2001

    Jim Long, I'd like to thank you very much for your help! I'll go look for the poems I haven't read yet. I used to attend an American prep school here, in Brazil, and that was where I was introduced to Sylvia Plath's work and eventually identified with her. She's indeed one of my favorite poets, and now I've been trying to catch up with all I failed to read ( such as the "early poems " and latest biographies) after I finished high school and became a full-time researcher on Brazilian literature. I've found this Forum to be a perfect place for my return to Plath's world -- it's really active; the contributions are of excellent level and the participants, helpful. Thanks! :)

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Friday, January 5, 2001

    Jim, Your response to Dannie's question was informative, clear, and insightful. Bravo!

    Matt Paldy
    New York USA
    Friday, January 5, 2001

    Dannie, Your question is a difficult one that has been much discussed by students and scholars of Plath's work. Any attempt at an answer involves looking closely at her family relationships and the experiences that shaped her emotional life. Her reactions to these were often intense and tended to be exaggerated in her reactions to them. I strongly recommend, if you are very interested in Plath and her work, that you read one or more of the excellent biographies available. For example, Linda Wagner-Martin's SYLVIA PLATH: A BIOGRAPHY.

    Plath's father was a very bright man, an expert on bees, who badly mis-diagnosed his own illness. He thought he had lung cancer and was afraid to see a doctor, so he didn't. What he actually had was diabetes, and since it wasn't treated, and diabetics are very vulnerable to infections, when he injured his big toe and it got badly infected he had to have his leg amputated below the knee. Sylvia was eight years old at the time, and she helped take care of him at home while he was sick. Somewhere there is a picture of her in a little nurse's uniform helping to take care of him.

    Psychologists will tell you that little girls at that age invest a great deal of their emotional life in the relationship with their fathers. At that age they are probably closer to their father than to their mother, and closer than they probably ever will be again in their lives. So, when he died Sylvia was broken-hearted, as any of us would be. But it seems like after a while her grief turned into anger at him for abandoning her. And, since he refused to go to the doctor, maybe it seemed to her that he did it deliberately, leaving her at the mercy of her mother, who was very demanding.

    It seems that her anger at him , combined with some guilt on her part because she failed to save him, together with the fact that he was German, and the German persecution of the Jews, led her to imagine that she had been his victim. I know this may not make much sense to you, but, when a person is obsessed, actually haunted, by an emotional experience like this, their reaction may be out of all proportion to the actual experience and it is difficult to rationalize it in their mind. It is not easy to understand what brings these ideas together into one "complex", as the psychiatrists call it.

    The study of Plath and her work can tell us a lot about the experiences in the 20th century that have affected all of us. But her work is not all pain and anger. I hope you will read some of the beautiful lyrical poems she wrote, like these lines from "Three Women":

    The lines in "Daddy" about "chuffing me off" to Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz, etc. may very well be influenced by her experience after she tried to kill herself in 1953. She was sent to a mental hospital in Massachusetts, where she was given electro-shock treatments as a form of therapy. These treatments were traumatic and painful for her, and were probably also associated in her mind with the execution, by electrocution, of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a Jewish couple who were convicted as spies earlier in 1953.

    All of these events came together to magnify her own feelings of persecution/paranoia that were a result of her mental breakdown. Her ability to overcome these terrible experiences and to go on to create the wonderful body of work that she produced is what leads us to value her life and work so highly.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu HI, USA
    Wednesday, January 3, 2001

    Happy New Century to everybody. Just to note that Ann Skea has posted the latest chapter (and the preceding) on her website at Her main interest is in Ted Hughes' poetry and 'Birthday Letters' in particular, but she has things to say about Sylvia's poetry as well. The impression emerging from the book so far could be that Ted Hughes was a bit of a nutter. Douglas Clark
    Bath, England
    Wednesday, January 3, 2001

    Plath's "Collected Poems" contains 224 previously published poems, followed by 50 "early poems" plus a list of 171 "uncollected juvenilia" written before 1950 and not included among the 50 early poems, for a total of 445 poems. Jim Long
    Honolulu HI, USA
    Wednesday, January 3, 2001

    I am a Brazilian Sylvia Plath fan and also a postgraduate researcher on Brazilian literature.I would be very thankful if the administrator of this excellent Forum or anyone else could tell me how many poems, on the whole, she has written. I've heard they are 224 but also that they're 230. I guess I've read almost all of them by now, but don't have any idea how many they are. As a collector of her books, I'm also willing to exchange their brazilian editions ( or anything you might want in return ) with anyone who can send me an old printing( in Enlgish ) of Johnny Panic and he bible of dreams; I mean the same one we can see on this Forum, which cover shows Plath sitting on the beach with a red bathing suit or so. I've tried to find it in the United States but was not lucky enough.Thank you!!!:)

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Tuesday, January 2, 2001

    The January-February issue of Book magazine notes that Kate Moses, senior editor at, has signed a contract to finish a novel called Wintering. This novel is apparently going to be a fictionalized account of Plath's last few months of life. Moses is the author of the 2-part article about Plath and PMS that appeared on last May (she put a plug on this site for the article). Won't this be an interesting addition to the Plath archives!

    Amy Rea
    Eden Prairie, USA
    31 December 2000

    I'm sorry to disturb your discussion regarding Hughes' book. I read all of the December entries, and I also read the warning to students, and I understand that not all o fmy research shall be done by other people. I attend St. Francis high School, and recently discovered about Plath from a teacher for a reading i must participate in at a Speech tourament. I'm confused however, through all my research I feel as if I'm misunderstanding her poems, was she molested in some way by her father? if I'm wrong in this assumption, then how could Sylvia be angry at her father in the poem "Daddy?" I understand that her father is a proud German and i know of their family situation in WW2, but why did she write of Jewish things in lines 32-35 in Daddy.

    Please consider helping my misunderstanding, I've researched, I will not be graded for this, it is not for my tournament these questions are now tormenting my mind! I need answers! I've looked in books like The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, and The Norton Introduction to Literature. Please, email your response to me I'll check the board in a few days. Thank you, for your understanding.

    Dannie Bass
    Mililani, HI, USA
    31 December 2000

    I admit I've been pretty Plathed-out in recent months, but did anybody (in the US) hear the recent Sylvia Plath panel discussion on NPR radio (the web site access is The one-hour program featured Karen Kukil and the Plath scholar, Lynda Bundzen. The discussion, which included call-in speakers, trudged through the usual terrain but managed to take a few well-aimed swipes at Ted Hughes.

    One of the call-in guests was the daughter of Ruth Beuscher, Plath's phychologist who died earlier this year. She called to complain about Hughes's criticism of her mother, including his plaintive cry that she advised Plath to keep him out of her bed during their estrangement. The panel seemed to think that wasn't such bad advise. A second caller was one of Plath's Smith College students. This former student said that the voice on the 1962 recordings of Plath reading her poetry was the same voice she used in the classroom during the 1957-58 school year. If this is true, Plath had picked up her Englishisms during her Cambridge years. (I personally hear more proper New England than BBC English in her speech.)

    A lot of the criticism aimed at Hughes was based on the poems that appeared in a limited-edition volume of poems called 'Howls and Whispers'. This volume was published after 'Birthday Letters' and contains poems that, for what ever reason, didn't make it into that collection. The panel seemed to believe that this publication was Hughes's final attempt to control the Plath legacy, and to depict himself as an unwitting victum of a 'female melodrama'. I can't argue with that, but is anybody familiar with these poems and what are they like? Apparently they are harsher and more critical of Plath than the poems in 'Birthday Letters'.

    Paul Snyder
    New York City, USA
    Saturday, December 30, 2000

    I'm curious to know about Sylvia's brother, Warren, and the route his adult life has taken. I know something about Sylvia's children and parents, but what about her brother? There doesn't seem to be much available information about him.

    Los Angeles, USA
    Wednesday, December 27, 2000

    Hello, where is everyone? Are we all on vacation for the holidays, or are we all busy reading the "Unabridged Journals"? Of course, I read the Journals years ago in their first published form, and remamber their girlish, gawky wordiness, and their desperate seeking for self-approval and the admiration of others, and the insecurity of her own self-knowledge, and her longing for male attention and male assertiveness and her frightened withdrawal from it when proffered. But reading them again I am even more impressed by the strongest passages, remembering that, for the first couple of hundred pages she is only 18 and 19 years old. She is literally like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead; when she's good, she's very, very good, but when she's bad she's...well, need I say more?

    What a curious cross between D. H. Lawrence and Seventeen magazine! Look at entry #126 on pg. 109, the analogy of the cinema and the church, and the scene that follows between the "Princeton boy" and the "Smith girl". Also, entry #45 on pg. 40 "another blind date" and again the recurring scene of the itensely desiring girl goading the hesitant male into being assertive and then withdrawing when he finally asserts himself. This scene occurs again and again.

    But apart from the subject matter, what really impresses is the power of her words when she really gets going. When she can get past her personal concerns anda ctually create a scene, or when she gets caught up in the music and rhythms of the language, she can out-Lawrence Lawrence.

    Rain and storms seem to stimulate her imagination intensely, "churning the sea to a flayed whiteness." The passage in entry #135 on pg. 125:

    Here, with the long, enjambed sentences flowing rapidly one after the other, followed by the two short, abrupt statements, she actually approaches, at this early stage, the form and rhythms of her best late poetry. (Note the triple pun on the word rain/reign/rein)

    And the the very next entry falls back into the trite cliches of Seventeen and Mlle magazine: "Oh, no," the girl said. She has never ridden in an M-G before. And red was her favorite color.

    God, it makes me want to scream at her. And then she'll suddenly come up with something like this (entry #142, pg. 137):

    When she was good, she was very, very good.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Wednesday, December 27, 2000

    The swans are gone, still the river
    remembers how white they were.

    --Three Women It's interesting that the issue of Sylvia's "accent" has raised so much interest. Each of you who has posted after me on the subject has reinforced a little theory in my head, which goes something like this: Most of us in communicating with strangers, and especially in such public communication as a radio interview or poetry reading, half-consciously project a less-than-natural voice. It's a voice, insofar as we can hear ourselves, that we want to be judged by -- a voice that represents a claim we want to make for some kind of status or other. In Sylvia's case, the status she was hoping to claim on those late recordings was that of the artsy intellectual Britified American expat, not to be written off by the natives as yet other Ameddican twit. What voice she used in live conversation with the natives was probably not much different, given that she was, at most times away from the privacy of her bathroom, an actress, playing the role we all know she wanted to play,! as, among other things, a worthy competitor to the person and accent of her husband, who, with his northern roots, couldn't have sounded totally Cantabrigian, now then, could he? Craggy, perhaps?

    Jack Folsom
    Sharon, Vermont, USA
    Friday, December 15, 2000

    I always presumed that Plath adopted a British accent after her marriage. It would be interesting to know (hear) how her speech changed from early to later life. There are two comparisons that spring to mind: the poet and critic Laura Riding, raised in Queens, New York, of immigrant Jewish parents, had acquired a British accent by the time she settled into midlife, in rural Florida, after a long and strange interlude with British poet Robert Graves (of The White Goddess fame) in Majorca, Spain, and the musician Jaqueline Du Pre, in the movie "Hilary and Jackie," is seen as adopting a worldly patois after marrying her Argentinian spouse: a rare, humorous scene in the movie has her brother asking, "Why are you talking so funny?" after she introduces her new beau to the family. Hilary, played by Emily Watson, answers innocently, "Am I?" Although amusing, there is something chilling about the transformation, as becomes clear when the viewer realizes just how unmoored i! s this personality -- which also seems the key to her genius. One could deduce that the accent is merely pretention, to a higher, or merely different, station or class, but perhaps it has more to do with the duende, a sort of "my name is legion" quality. An openness to voices, to personae; an ability to shift from the core personality, to "dislocate," in deference to the muse -- to depart from the language, or speech, of one's birth.

    Melissa Dobson
    Newport, RI, USA
    Thursday, December 14, 2000

    This website is wonderful!!! I am 13 years old and doing a huge report on Sylvia Plath and this website has given me all of the information that i needed. I love sylvia plth. she is by far my favorite poet ever!!!

    Lindsay Hess
    Spokane, USA
    Thursday, December 14, 2000

    Diane Wakoski's poem "Water Element Song for Sylvia" is part 9 of her book "Greed parts 1-13". This is a pretty well-known sequence and should be available in any good bookstore or academic library.

    Also, I have a Xerox copy of the short story "Fugue of the Fig Tree" that Plath talks about in "The Bell Jar" and which has been asked about a couple of times lately. If anyone would like a copy, send me your snail-mail address and I'll send you a copy. But, please, if possible please check your local library first. It is in "Best American Short Stories of 1953".

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Sunday, December 10 2000

    In an October 9, 1962 letter to her mother, Plath wrote about her plan to get a divorce from Hughes, although she dreaded having to go to court. In part of this letter, Plath states, "his wanting to kill all I have lived for six years by saying he was just waiting for a chance to get out, that he was bored & stifled by me, a hag in a world of beautiful women just waiting for him, is only part of it." This letter is available in the Plath Collection, Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana.

    Lisa Harbo
    Fairbanks, HI, USA
    Sunday, December 10 2000

    I have been a fan of Plath's work since a friend sent me her old dog-eared copy of *Ariel* eight years ago. It is a delight to read the insights of other plath zealots. I was particularly interested in the different reactions to Plath's "reading" voice. I distinctly remember the jarring impression it made on me. I was at a Plath seminar at the University of RI when they played two BBC recordings. I can't recall what she read, only certain words and phrases; "oh ruby" being the one that comes to mind most often. Mostly I can't remember what poems were read because I was too busy being shocked, absolutely shocked, by her plummy vowels and prudish consonants. It reminded me of the way amateur (and bad hollywood) actors speak in period pieces. I can't imagine, or rather I can't bear to, that she talkied this way in her everyday life: "Oh Teddy, you bastard, I'm through!" I was hoping this was an affectation she took on only when reading the poems--and perhaps ! being in england, feeling somewhat the gauche american, etc, etc...any thoughts?

    J. Zeresky
    Providence, USA
    Thursday, December 14, 2000

    I am currently doing the speech teach at my high school for my senior year. The division that I am entered in is poetry. I found a cut and pasted version of the poem " The Water Element Song for Sylvia" by Diane Wakoski. This is the poem that I have chosen to present. I would like to present the full version. The problem though is that I am having a very difficult time finding a copy of it. It anyone could help me out, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you, Alicia

    Newcastle, USA
    Friday, December 8, 2000

    An interesting interview in Cortland Review by Cynthia Haven of Anne Stevenson ('Bitter Fame') which mentions Sylvia Plath:

    Here's a teaser: CH: Coarsely put, the English attitude seems to be that Plath needed to take responsibility for pulling herself together and be "a good wife."

    AS: Well, she was a good wife. Maybe too good. Oh, It's very complicated. I think I've told the story as well as I can in Bitter Fame. Put coarsely, Sylvia was completely unable to accept failure. If her marriage failed that was it, forever.

    Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
    Friday, December 8, 2000


    This quote is from Lynda K Bundtzen's Plaths Incarnations: Woman and the Creative Process, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983), p26, in a letter addressed to Aurelia: Box 6, MSS II; October 9, 1962

    The foulness I have lived, his wanting to kill all I have lived for six years by saying he was waiting for a chance to get out, that he was bored & stifled by me, a hag in a world of beautiful women just waiting for him.

    Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
    Thursday, December 7, 2000

    I’m so glad people are discussing the issue of Plath’s unexpected accent. Jack, it sounds like you’ve been dogged by Wapshots for years! You mentioned that the "Yankee" accent is becoming increasingly rare. I would venture to say it’s virtually extinct. I have always been fascinated by this accent. Your posting confirms my suspicion that it was a result of the passionate Anglophilia of the upper classes in 18th and 19th Century America (carrying over into the early 20th), which led to two mutations — the Northern Yankee accent (although I don’t think this was limited to New England — Old New York society, I think, also sounded veddy veddy Masterpiece Theatre) and the gentrified Southern accent I grew up listening to among my elderly great-uncles and aunts. Old movies, radio broadcasts and newsreels (think of the Roosevelts) testify to the prevalence of this Britty accent in American society until, what? fifty years ago? when the Youth Culture upset the apple cart. (A few living examples of this accent I can think of are conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. and the actresses Katherine Hepburn, Linda Hunt and Jane Alexander.)

    I was shocked when I first heard Plath’s voice. On one level, what is jarring about it is not so much the accent as its datedness (if that’s a word). Plath’s speech is a relic from a WASP-dominated culture that has completely vanished, while her words on the page seem so alive, so immediate, that they feel as if they were written yesterday. On a deeper level, the violence and anger of so much of her poetry is completely out of sync with the prim, supercilious persona she seems to project on those recordings. But is this not another example of the famous Plathian duality? Good girl/bad girl, manic/depressive, proper mother/bohemian artist, virgin/slut, crazy/sane . . . the aspects of her personality multiply like fun house mirrors, each reflecting back its opposite. In so many ways, Plath is far from the Silent Woman — she never ceases speaking, through her wealth of stories, novel, poems, letters, journals, recordings. And yet even as she becomes more vivid, she recedes from us, throwing up smokescreens, confusing us --- always an enigma.

    Stewart Clarke
    NYC, USA
    Wednesday, December 6, 2000

    Is there any truth to the statements that Sylvia made that her husband Ted had taunted her to kill herself and called her a "hag" in a world of beautiful women? I can't believe anyone could be so cruel to another person let alone a husband to a wife who had attempted suicide.

    Wednesday, December 6, 2000

    I have been looking for past comments on Plath's poem, "Wuthering Heights." I would like to add to the discussion and questions of a new poem.

    I agree, that with knowing her background, reading the poem is completely different! Her depression and suicide attempts add to the passion that flows in her words. The title is hard to miss. I related the speaker to Catherine or Heathcliff. The two main personifications are the wind - it is the fluctuatingness in Catherine's life, and the heather- the roots of the speaker embedded in the earth, tying her to the past. The etamology of heather is interesting: a small evergreen plant with shrubs, often red. Passion is ruled by destiny if one lets it. But, with too much atttention to the past, death is ensured. Any Comments?? or structure analazation??

    Parker, USA
    Wednesday, December 6, 2000

    Although I've always had, throughout a 28 year relationship with her poetry, enormous respect and sympathy for Plath and her work, and appreciate her emotional vulnerability. And most of us have at some point loved and lost. But I grew up in an area (Chicago) where I knew quite a few people who had friends, family or who were themselves in the death camps, and who saw multiple family members go to the ovens. It is difficult to see the two "situations" as comparable.

    But we should keep in mind that most of us are seeing the Holocaust situation as somewhat remote history. Plath, on the other hand, had a father who was distinctly German (or Prussian) and she was an impressionable 13 years old when the Allies entered the camps at the end of the war. The fact that her fathers ethnic relations were somehow implicated in this must have been extremely difficult for her to rationalize. It would not have been difficult for her to imagine herself also as his victim. Also, she repeatedly, as in "Daddy" says "I may well be a Jew" or "I may be a bit of a Jew". Has anyone investigated whether there may have been Jewish blood in her background? This would also have had an impact.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Wednesday, December 6, 2000

    Thanks to everyone who supplied info on Plath's thesis, esp. John Hopkins.

    Just a quick reference I thought you might find interesting, re: Plath's use of holocaust imagery and the controversy surrounding her use.

    This is from Roland Barthes' A Lovers Discourse',first published in 1977:

    "The amorous catastrophe may be close to what has been called, in the psychotic domain, an *extreme situation*, "a situation experienced by the subject as irremediably bound to destroy him"; the image is drawn from what occurred at Dachau. Is it not indecent to compare the situation of a love-sick subject to that of an inmate of Dachau? Can one of the most unimaginatble insults of History be compared with a trivial, childish, sophisticated, obscure incident occuring to a comfortable subject who is merely the victim of his own Image-repertoire? Yet these two situations have this in common: they are, literally, panic situations: situations without remainder, without return: I have projected myself into the other with such power that when I am without the other I cannot recover myself, regain myself: I am lost, forever."

    So what say you? True, false, 1/2 true, ridiculous, sublime?

    Detroit, USA
    Tuesday, December 5, 2000

    I have translated the latest collection of poems by late Ted hughes into Farsi.The Birthday letters.That is about the love and life of the couple.In Iran only a couple of poems of Sylvia Plath and Ted hughes are translated.Bell Jar was translated many years ago.The Iranian poets and literary society are very fond of Sylvia Plath.

    Asadollah Amraee
    Tehran, Iran
    Tuesday, December 5, 2000

    I've been keeping up with the forum for at least a year now, and I wanted to say how much I enjoy it. I don't often contribute, but I've noticed some questions about Plath's thesis. Have you tried to get it via interlibrary loan? I'm a librarian, so that's usually what I try first, at least until I can find a copy of what I'm looking for in a used bookstore.

    I did some checking around on the thesis, and at least fifteen libraries have a copy of it. Surely not all of these copies are in non-circulating collections. Check with your local library and see if they can get it for you. It may take a couple of weeks, but it's still worth a try.

    Stacey Greenwell
    Bowling Green, KY, USA
    Friday, December 1, 2000

    I just checked and find that there are several copies of Plath's thesis paper "Magic Mirror" for sale by various booksellers. The prices vary widely. There is one for $135. and another for $166. as well as a couple for considerably more. These are probably still out of most peoples range, but at least they're not all $500. These are from an edition of only 226 copies, so their value can only increase. It might even be a good investment. I assume, since it has been published, that it will eventually appear in a "Collected Works" but who knows whether or when.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Friday, December 1, 2000

    Other Message Pages

    October-November 2000

    September 2000
    August 2000
    June-July 2000
    April-May 2000
    March 2000
    Jan-February 2000
    Nov-Dec 1999
    October 1999
    August-September 1999
    June July 1999
    May 1999
    April 1999
    March 1999
    February 1999
    January 1999
    December 1998
    November 1998
    October 1998
    August-September 1998
    July 1998
    June 1998
    May-June 1998
    April 1998
    March-April 1998
    Late March 1998
    Early March 1998
    February 1998
    January-February 1998


    Send us your thoughts/ideas/comments

    This forum is administered by Elaine Connell, author of Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House - second edition with new preface just out, December 1998. Elaine lives in Hebden Bridge, near where Sylvia Plath is buried and where Ted Hughes was born. Web Design by Pennine Pens. This forum is moderated - contributions which are inappropriate, anonymous or likely to offend may be edited or omitted.