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

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  • Mystic
  • The Thin People
  • Tulips
  • Poems inspired by Sylvia

    Contributions: February 2001

    I have yet to see a reference here to the book "Burnt Diaries" by Emma Tennant. It's published in the UK by Canongate Books, and is not yet in the US. I got my paperback copy from

    The book is part of Emma Tennant's ongoing autobiography, and this section details the years of her affair with Ted Hughes. This period is after Assia's death, and after TH had married Carol. There are many interesting and illuminating references to SP, as well as the character of TH.

    I recommend this book for all SP fans, and wonder if anybody else at the Forum has read it.

    Miriam Korshak
    Houston, Texas, USA
    Tuesday, February 27, 2001

    (We've added this book to our books page - EC)

    Allow me to suggest a possibility...When you read all the documents published so far, it is entirely possible to construct a scenario where Plath, conceiving herself a lifelong and hereditary witch, and in correspondence just before her death with a Jesuit priest, committed suicide as a twisted act of religious conversion; leaving, as it were, the house of both Mother and Husband, and opening her own personal door to Paradise; a most singular saint, but a saint nonetheless. Consider; In Hayman's "Death and Life of Sylvia Plath," we are told of a last letter to her mother--presumably the one for which she asked Thomas for stamps--read by Hughes; who told Plath's mother, I won't forward it, it would only hurt you. Which is all presently known of its contents. Proofs; the quotes Hughes passed along about Plath's conversation in the last weeks--"I have seen God, and he keeps picking me up," and "I am full of God." To someone in such a religious ecstasy--as Thomas !
    testified she was in the night of her death--she was shedding the coils of the devil, and flying to the arms of the great white father in heaven.

    It's not as farfetched as you may think, especially if you read all the things that are out there on Plath's last days. The Thomas memoir--well, let's just say it's impossible to say one has an "unbiased" testimony about Plath, as all the writers about her either testify that they are exceedingly biased this way or that, or have large and scholarly or personal axes to grind. Who can say? No one now living. Suffering is what saints are all about--see Shaw's closing lines to "Saint Joan." Anyway, as a reviewer for the London Review said a decade ago, it'll be a century before we really know the last of Sylvia Plath, if then.


    Kenneth Jones
    Berkeley, USA
    Sunday, February 25, 2001

    I don't know if we're ever going to have "Sylvia" sightings - Plath's force as an icon is that she is much more popular, well-known, posthumusly than she ever was alive, while with Elvis it was the opposite (when he died I was 10 & had no idea who he was.) While with "Lady Lazarus" she was looking at herself, I like to think she was also writing about the human will to survive in general - someone I know came across this poem during a difficult time in his life, and was cheered up by it!

    There is no end to trying to figure out Plath and Hughes from the surface of their lives - I don't know if it's possible to completely know them. How much can we make out of Hughes translating Alcestis, or The Oresteia, both of which have a direct application to Plath? With Birthday Letters he is talking openly, and the plays are more formal commentaries. In the next year or so two fictional accounts of her life (both no doubt featuring her last weeks) are coming out, but I am not going to buy them; I can't shake the feeling that there's something morbid about them, no matter how well written they are. Plath may have forseen her fame, but I doubt if she could have predicted her iconic status, from novels to gameshows!

    Lena Friesen

    Hello Melissa, nice to read your posts again.

    The"the big strip tease" that sold a million books, that made her poet husband a star.

    Plath may have had a premonition of herself as a commodity before her death, but I agree that Hughes certainly saw Plath as a commidity, a business venture, after her death. He probably made more money perpetrating the myth of Sylvia Plath (the commodity) by his tight lipped silence, allowing others to do the talking and make what they will of it, than he ever made through his own work.

    Dragging the carcass of the dead around by relatives and so-called friends is a thriving industry. Think Graceland and Althorp for two quick bizarre examples. There is time yet for Chalcot Square to be turned into a tourist attraction, or better still the Fitzroy Road house (If it wasn't for that bothersome blue W.B.Yeats plaque on the wall).

    Cressida Hope-Bunting
    Alabama, USA
    Saturday, February 24, 2001

    Like Melissa Dobson, and a few others like Peter Steinberg who still post, I am one of the original Sylvia Plath Forum members. After more than two years and hundreds of postings, we have a valuable archive of commentary on Sylvia's life and art (thanks, Elaine & Chris!), but also a lot of repetitious blather about her suicide and the Dear-Old-Ted factor. Melissa, as always, is right on target with her comments today about Sylvia's ironic prophecy of her becoming just a celeb-commodity for the titillation of the peanut-crunching crowd (th-that's us, folks!). Maybe next we'll have Elvis-style "sightings" of Sylvia at convenience stores. As more people "who really knew" Ted & Sylvia come out of the woodwork, the books keep on selling, yes, but the "interior" still eludes us.

    Jack Folsom
    Sharon, Vermont, USA
    Friday, February 23, 2001

    What an understatement, Plath's "like the cat I have nine times to die." She could not have envisioned the Forum's crackle and drag, but she foresaw the peanut crunchers, didn't she, "the big strip tease" that sold a million books, that made her poet husband a star -- she was right, after all, in all her Mademoiselle optimism, her New Yorker ambition, that what we'd be interested in was the shell -- no wonder it was her obsession, that shell, that shell that was her enabler and her hell. Could she have known that "Lady Lazarus" would be explicit, would write her life, in this age of personality, of celebrity? What was literature to her? Was it more than skin, than Hughes, than "Plath"? "I guess you could say I've a call" -- what was it, that calling? Isn't it ironic, that Plath knew, saw/foresaw herself as a commodity ("I am your opus,/I am your valuable.") Her words are an indictment.

    Melissa Dobson
    Newport, RI, USA
    Friday, February 23, 2001

    Amy, yes, I certainly understand that Sylvia may well have taken her own life at some subsequent time, for some other reason. She seemed to feel compelled, when reality became too ugly for her, to purge herself of it, and be reborn "pure as a baby", in a kind of self-administered shock treatment. My statement was more in the way of a rhetorical response to Cressida, echoing her statment that it is "distinctly possible" that, were it not for Plath's suicide, Assia and Shura would still be alive. I find this placing of blame on anyone fairly distasteful, but it really offends me to suggest that Assia's death was Plath's fault. Rather, I think, the other way around. But, enough of this. I'd rather get back to talking about the work.

    I've just reread Joyce Carol Oates' essay on Plath "The Death Throes of Romanticism" in her book NEW HEAVEN, NEW EARTH:

    "The experience of reading her poems deeply is a frightening one...Yet I cannot emphasize strongly enough how valuable the experience of reading Plath can be, for it is a kind of elegant "dreaming-back," a cathartic experience that not only cleanses us of our personal and cultural desires for regression, but explains by way of its deadly accuracy what was wrong with such desires."

    Oates begins her essay by talking about Plath's role as a true tragic hero in the Greek sense:

    ...tragedy is cultural, enlarging the individual so that what he (she) has experienced is both what we have experienced and what we need not experience--because of his, or her, private agony.

    I know of no other more cogent summary of the shamanic journey that Plath undertook in her life and work, which is her legacy to us.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Friday, February 23, 2001

    Lucas Myers' new memoir "Crows Steered Bergs Appeared: A Memoir of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath" is published today out of Sewanee, Tennessee. Yee Haw. The book is very very good, interesting, entertaining and informative so far. He offers objective historical corrections, where necessary, in regards to Birthday Letters and it's chronology & existence. He confirms that many of the poems were written over the course of his 35 year silence.

    One very important feeling I am getting from the book so far is that Hughes person and character were magnificent. For many it'll be an answer, a way into forgiveness perhaps. But, overall, very few if any of the Forum members and scholars and fans and loathers worldwide knew Ted Hughes personally and have had opinions formed from books, reports, etc. But the Ted Hughes that Lucas Myers is telling us about in his book is something else, someone quite extraordinary, caring, talented, dedicated and someone that never stopped loving Sylvia Plath. (But I am not finished with it, so I better not go too far.)

    I would seriously recommend this book to everyone out there interested. First hand accounts about these two poets and people are invaluable.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton. Ma, USA
    Thursday, February 22, 2001

    Jim, I would urge caution in speculating about whether or not Plath would still be alive if it were not for Hughes and Wevill. It's possible, but Plath had made a very serious suicide attempt much earlier in her life that had nothing to do with Hughes. Had he not been seeing Wevill, maybe she would not have died at that point, but there's certainly no guarantee that whatever tormented her throughout her life wouldn't have reared its ugly head at some other time. Since she did die, we have no idea what would have been waiting for her in later years.

    Amy Rea
    Eden Prairie, USA
    Thursday, February 22, 2001

    Cressida, Were it not for the duplicitous relationship of Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill, it is distinctly possible that Sylvia Plath would still be alive.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Wednesday, February 21, 2001

    Nancy and Cressida, according to newspaper reports here after Hughes' funeral service he was cremated. He wanted his ashes to be scattered over a part of Dartmoor which is used for military training. I don't think he knew about this but he might have done. As far as I know, the Ministry of Defence refused permission and the family is still in negotiation with them about it.

    Hebden Bridge, UK
    February 19, 2001

    I am an English teacher in the north of England. I have been searching the web for some discussion of the poem The Colossus to use as material for one of my A level sessions, and have found nothing. Does anyone know of any good sites or have any ideas?

    Carlisle, UK
    Monday, February 19, 2001

    Thank you Nancy for that information. I knew he had not occupied the grave next to Sylvia's as someone told me that grave had been filled before he died. I wondered whether he had been cremated and the ashes placed in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. I asked a friend in England to find out for me, but as yet have received no reply.

    Cressida Hope-Bunting
    Alabama, USA
    Monday, February 19, 2001

    Cressida, I recall reading that Ted Hughes was laid to rest in the cemetery, adjacent to Court Green, and that the private memorial service was held at St. Peter's in North Tawton, Devon.

    Falls Church, Virginia, USA
    Sunday, February 18, 2001

    First Gary, You say you did not mention the fact that Sylvia went downstairs that morning to ask the old painter for some stamps and found out he woke well before nine. In the book Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm in which she recorded a first hand account from Trevor Thomas (the man who lived downstairs). It was 11.45pm on the eve of her death that Sylvia went downstairs to ask for stamps. (p.198)

    Thomas gives her the stamps, and she opens a small purse to reimburse him. I told her not to worry as I never took money for stamps, whereupon she said, "Oh! But I must pay you or I wont be right with my conscience before God will I?" (Strange thing to say since she did not believe in God and what she was about to do is a sin anyway). After reentering his flat, Thomas continues to see light under his front door and returns to find Plath still standing in the hallway with her head raised with a kind of seraphic expression on her face. Thomas offers to call her doctor she looks very ill to him but she says, "No, please dont do that.I'm just having a marvelous dream, a most wonderful vision." She doesnt accept Thomass offer to come into his flat or his suggestion that she go back upstairs. She continues standing in the hallway, and he finally tells her. Id have to go or I wouldnt be able to get up in time. As it proves, he does not get up until five oclock the next afternoon. Because of the gas leaking down into his flat, he entirely misses the commotion of the morning: the discovery of the body, the arrival of the police and ambulance, the crying children, the shocked relatives.

    Peter, I cannot recall having read that Hughes possibly hypnotized Plath into suicide, but I probably did. Hughes hypnotized her regularly, even during childbirth, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility especially since Plath herself told someone he had suggested to her that she commit suicide. I did read however, that they were planning to get back together, but who said that? Hughes?

    Jim, I know you were talking about their marital relationship, but Birthday Letters was written with hindsight. Ted Hughes saw himself as a victim long before her death, even at their first meeting. He felt he was being propelled along this path of doom by an unknown force even when the voice of reasoning spoke to him, after she had told him of her two suicide attempts, and told him stay clear.

    And I heard
    Without ceasing for a moment to kiss you
    As if a sober star had whispered it
    Above the rumbling, revolving city; stay clear.

    With regard to Assia Wevill and her child being victims. Without Sylvias death there is a distinct possibility that both she and the child would still have been alive. She took the child with her possibly because she saw the child as a product of her unworthy relationship, and if left to live on without her would never live up to Sylvias children.

    I read Birthday Letters only recently, and tend to blow around in the wind a little with my sympathies according to whose story I am listening to.

    Janet Malcolm again:- One of the unpleasant but necessary conditions imposed on anyone writing about Sylvia Plath is a hardening of the heart against Ted Hughes. In one way or another, for this reason or that, the writer must put aside pity and sympathy for Hughes, the feeling that the man is a victim and a martyr, and resist any impulse to withdraw from the field and not add further to Hughess torment.

    I am open to all you have to say Jim, keep posting.

    Cressida Hope-Bunting
    Alabama, USA
    Saturday, February 17, 2001

    When I say that Hughes thought of himself as victimized, I'm not talking about after her death. I'm talking about their marital relationship. Even though he was, in the beginning, as obsessed with her as she was with him (and he says so in the BIRTHDAY LETTERS and in the Paris Review interview), he claims elsewhere that he felt trapped into marrying her and felt trapped by her subsequent pregnancy. And he was the one who left her to fend for herself with the two children, abandoning both his emotional commitment to her and his domestic responsibilities, knowing full well how much the relationship meant to her and how emotionally vulnerable she was. But I certainly don't subscribe to the idea that he somehow "hypnotized" her into committing suicide. With her psychiatric history, that would hardly have been necessary.

    But I do think it's ludicrous to think of Assia Wevill as somehow a victim of Plath. If indeed she died of guilt over Sylvia's suicide, all that means is that she fell victim to the consequences of her own deliberate actions in co-opting the husband of a woman with two children. And the child Shura was a victim only of her mother, who certainly had other options than to kill the child. Even Sylvia wasn't that sick. And now I'll keep quiet for a while and let others have the floor.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Friday, February 16, 2001

    Trevor Thomas, in his unpublished and scarcely found memoir held at the Smith College Plath archives, also states that as he went to bed, that night shortly after midnight, that he did take his hearing aid out but could still her her pacing on the uncarpeted floors. That the gas knocked him out, should Plath haved lived, would have come as a surprise to her since he probably didn't know this gas was heavier than air. That is why her suicide is so curious as it seems the steps she took for saving the children, and quite possibly herself, were so meticulous.

    Where did you read, Cressida, about Hughes possibly hypnotizing Plath into suicide. I thought it was generally believed that they had discussed getting back together?

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton. Ma, USA
    Wednesday, February 14, 2001

    Ann Skea has added another chapter to her book on 'Birthday Letters'.

    She wont have time to add any more chapters for some months as she is about to become a grandmother. The book is a Cabbalistic interpretation of BL with much commenting on Sylvia's poetry. But Ann Skea's main interest has always been in TEd Hughes, who she was a personal friend of.

    Douglas Clark
    Bath, UK
    Wednesday, February 14, 2001

    Cressida, Hi! I did not mention some of the other misfires of that morning either, the fact that Sylvia went downstairs to ask the old painter in the floor below her for some stamps, and talked with him and found out he woke well before nine.

    In my note I was touching on some things that struck me and not trying to give a full accounting of what transpired, feeling that most on the forum are quite familiar with all the particulars. Being a father I could not imagine leaving my children within that apartment,they could have easily died also and the scars they carry now I cannot even pretend to comprehend. In the spirit of full disclosure I must say I am a Christian and look at Sylvia' journey into the occult as road that would have been better not taken.

    In my younger searching days I also dabbled in the occult and looked into many forms of spirtuality before I came to the point Iam now. Thats one of the reasons I think I relate so closely with her, I believe she was also searching, as we all are in our own ways.

    I am a new Plath reader and look forward to reading the forum as it has given me insight into Plath and also the passions of its contributors.

    New Hampshire, USA
    Wednesday, February 14, 2001

    I am writing with a rather strange request. My name is Aimee Armentrout and I am an American graduate student at the University of Virginia. For the past several years, I have been doing research on Sylvia Plath. In many ways, I am just getting started. But I am interested in studying abroad in England-- as I may be applying for a Fulbright. I was wondering if you knew of any colleges or universities in England that would be fitting for this type of study (I am generally interested in Modern Poetry). Sorry to bombard your email with such an unusual request, but I am not sure who to turn to with such a question. It seems to be that it would be ideal to study the latter half of Plath's life in England. But where do I start? If you have information, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks for your time

    Charlottesville, USA
    February 14, 2001

    Thank you, Peter, for pointing out that Plath's choice and sequence of poems to be published in her Ariel is subtly different from the version which Ted Hughes had prepared and which is the version we all know. This is something which all Plath lovers/addicts/scholars know or should know about, but which is often forgotten. And it is important because Plath embedded the more violent poetry in a positive framework, beginning the sequence with Morning Song and closing it with Wintering, beginning with the word love, ending with spring (for those who are interested in this issue, see Marjorie Perloffs article, The Two Ariels : the (Re)making of the Sylvia Plath Canon ).

    Re : debate on Holbrook, image of Plath as dangerous poet etc. Elaine, I understand the concern teachers and lecturors must have when teaching Plath to young adults vey well. But I still feel that Holbrook is too extreme in his views and precludes other, more positive interpretations which might be valid. Is the image of Plath as a deranged, hysteric and dangerous suicide poet not just too evident, too easy, too tiresome? I myself have always been drawn to the mythological approach to women's literature, the foundations of which were laid by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic, according to which there is a distinctive female literary tradition, with recurring patterns of the dual/divided self (opposing the public and semi-fake angel in the house, and a more real but less charming private monster behind the angelic mask - see Plath's poem 'In Plaster') and cycles of enclosure and liberation, symbolical death and rebirth. In other words, a tradition or pattern which enabled women writers who felt trapped in real life (not just in the 18th & 19th centuries, but up to Woolf, to Plath etc.) to mythologise their personal history. Gilbert and Gubar have explained this mythological approach to Plath beautifully in their essay A Fine White Flying Myth : Confessions of a Plath Addict (published in Harold Blooms Modern Critical Views series). And yes, in the end Plath did commit suicide, but in my opinion that does not make her a suicide poet. It might just as well mean that her work, despite everything, was not able to save her.

    Gary, Judith Kroll argues in the same vein in the book you mentioned earlier and asked about, & which is, significantly titled, Chapters in a Mythology. As for Alvarez The Savage God, I was particularly struck by his description of those desolate, lonely & extremely cold winter months of 1962-63, and Plaths subtly different version in 'Snow Blitz, which is, let's face it, quite funny (except for that very last sentence which, in hindsight, is like a punch in the nose). Thanks for remembering the eleventh of February. I am not in any way a ceremonial or even religious person, but I remember every year.

    Gent, Belgium
    February 14, 2001

    Jim, Ted Hughes WAS a victim. The fall-out from Sylvia's shameful suicide stretched far and wide. Victims galore! Her children who cried pitifully for her. Her mother who sacrificed so much for her. Olive Higgins Prouty who had encouraged and sponsored her as well as paying for her expensive treatment. A. Alvarez who is/was eaten up with guilt for not having done more for her. Richard Murphy ditto. Olwyn who came in for some of the blame and was left with the children to raise. Assia Wevill who committed suicide too after she found living in Sylvia's shadow too hard to bear along with the guilt of taking her husband, and the baby she took with her.

    There is NOTHING romantic about suicide; I am a doctor I have seen it often. Sylvia Plath's suicide was no different. A sordid ugly affair. Her children are lucky to have escaped with their lives and they no doubt know it. She almost murdered the man downstairs. Whoever wrote that the man downstairs did not hear the doorbell because he was not wearing a hearing aid has not studied the facts of the case. He did not hear the doorbell because he was unconscious from the gas fumes seeping down into his flat from upstairs.

    As I have said before in this forum, I am not defending Ted Hughes (even though I may sound as though I am). Some people believe in God, Ted and Sylvia believed in the occult. Ted firmly believed that what happened was unavoidable, they were star-crossed, nobody can change what is written for them. The question remains; did Ted hypnotize her into committing suicide? It's hard to believe that he would want to rob their children of a mother, but some things are stranger than fiction, she was very receptive to his influence.

    In any event, until the children speak (and possibly even after that since every word and syllable will be scrutinized, commented on, and accepted by some and rejected by others,) the mystery is more compelling than the solution.

    Cressida Hope-Bunting
    Alabama, USA
    Wednesday, February 14, 2001


    Yes, the BIRTHDAY LETTERS are remarkable. To me they represent a radical departure from his usual convoluted and arcane imagery and diction. One wonders whether he could ever have adopted such a lucid style without Sylvia's example.

    No doubt this will scandalize those who think that Hughes was far superior to Plath as a poet. But the fact that he was Poet Laureate doesn't make him a great poet. There have been quite a few severely mediocre Poets Laureate.

    Yes, he was a survivor; but predators tend to be ruthless survivors; that's why they're at the top of the food chain.

    On first reading the LETTERS I was very moved, and who wouldn't be by lines such as this?:

    In my position, the right witchdoctor
    Might have caught you in flight with his bare hands,
    Tossed you, cooling, one hand to the other,
    Godless, happy, quieted.
    I managed
    A wisp of your hair, your ring, your watch, your nightgown.

    ("The Shot")

    I don't doubt his sincerity. I'm sure that it grieved his shamanic majesty deeply (a shaman is after all a kind of witchdoctor, a healer) that he couldn't have done more to help her.

    I very much admire "The Hawk in the Rain". Why I find it difficult to admire his later poetry so much is the studiously arcane and archaic diction, the twisted reaching after densely piled up description, so many hyphenated adjectives, that the diction ends up obscuring meaning rather than clarifying.

    In RIVER a few poems, like "Ophelia" that begins with the "pool" that evokes Sylvia's poem 'Edge" and "The Creation of fishes" begin to suggest some personal connections. He talks about fishes and animals a lot, but I ask myself where in all this are his children, his wife/wives, where are the human relationships?

    Perhaps, it's too much the influence of Eliot and his "cult of impersonality". But what we value in Plath's work is the desire to confront directly the dangerously intense emotional content; because she wanted to see it not through a glass darkly, but face to face, in words of one syllable, as it were. Not running off into the animal world to set traps and snares for the helpless.

    I understand that Hughes claimed that he experienced a great relief and freeing up of energy with the writing of the LETTERS. Since almost all the poems start from some image or symbol in Sylvia's work, he no doubt lived more closely than usual with her work while writing them. Perhaps this shamanic delving with her into her unconscious through her work should be credited for that catharsis -- a kind of forced psychoanalysis of his relationship to her.

    As a footnote, the thing that turns me off about the LETTERS, more than anything else is the extent to which he saw himself as her victim, as in the poem "Trophies" where she becomes the predator who has locked onto him and he is carried off. It's so easy to say, to play with the image of the famous teethmarks on his cheek; but she was the one who ended up dead.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Tuesday, February 13, 2001


    What a coincidence! When I read your posting this morning I had Kroll's book CHAPTERS IN A MYTHOLOGY sitting next to me on my desk, having picked it up yesterday after not looking at it for years. Someone recently asked the Forum about the poem "The Disquieting Muses" "who was Plath's muse?" and I wanted to reread the chapter on "The Central Symbol of the Moon" in which Kroll discusses the de Chirico painting "The Disquieting Muses" and the Graves book THE WHITE GODDESS. Kroll is an alumnus of Plath's alma mater Smith College. Her book is very scholarly and insightful. But, in the midst of all the talk of mythologies and goddesses and witches, etc. it becomes a little difficult to keep one's feet on the ground, as it were, to keep sight of the fact that this elaborate construction, this maze of symbols, this concatenation of mirrors is indeed a kind of defense mechanism, a kind of plaster cast encasing and protecting the hurt body, the wounded heart of a real person.

    It is a heart,
    This holocaust I walk in

    And that by means of, and in the midst of, this elaborate armor, this plaster cast, the body is trying to heal itself.

    The vase, reconstructed, houses
    The elusive rose.

    Ten fingers shape a bowl for shadows.
    My mendings itch. There is nothing to do.
    I shall be good as new.

    ("The Stones")


    Thanks for your comments. I certainly understand what you mean and your approach to confronting the issue openly with your classes. But it's a real dilemma. At the same time that you want to emphasize the cruelty and injustice of suicide for those who remain behind, that cruelty may be just the effect that a young person wants--to provide a real "punch in the nose" to whoeveer has wronged them, the family, the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, whomever. After all, someone who is so alienated as to seriously consider suicide, and so insensitive to the injury to one's self, is not likely to be sensitive to others who may be injured by it. I don't really know what the solution is. One doesn't want to ignore the issue, but one doesn't want emphasize it either.

    And impressionable adolescents aren't the only ones who are vulnerable. At the Univ. of Hawaii in the early '70s, a very bright grad student did a very scholarly thesis on Plath, and then killed herself. Naturally, her own emotional situation may have been such that she would have done the same thing even if she had never heard of Plath, but that's not what critics like Holbrook would conclude.

    In a way it's odd that I would be so drawn to Plath's poetry, since my own work tends more toward the lyric, the elegy, the poem as consolation. But I was so moved by the directness, the precision of her stark economy of statement, the emotionally packed images, the exquisite incantatory music of her language, that I believed implicitly in the value, the artful magic of her imagination. Such music "cannot but be holy". If only she had believed in it herself.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Tuesday, February 13, 2001

    It seems strange to me reading about how people (predominantly American) regard Ted Hughes as some minor adjutant to Sylvia Plath. In England he is widely regarded as one of the all-time great poets - his body of work is awesome in scope and vision, he sees with the eyes of the universe, a shamanic magician conjuring wordly. Try reading 'River' or 'Crow' or 'Remains of Elmet' or 'Moortown Diary'...all beyond poetry!

    Sylvia Plath was brilliant, but she had such a narrow perspective, she couldn't get beyond death, getting beyond death was something that Ted Hughes did.....he hatched a Crow, a black rainbow:

    "bent in emptiness
    over emptiness
    but flying......."

    Todmorden, UK
    February 12, 2001

    I've just started reading a book called The Savage God by A.Alvarez which I am sure many on the forum are familiar with. The prologue to the book is a section about Sylvia Plath whom the author knew.

    After reading this short 26 page piece I can see that Sylvia's death was a cry for help gone terribly awry. All the pieces that didn't come together, like the neighbor downstairs who did not wear his hearing aid, who normally would have heard the knocking of the Australian au pair, and the note Sylvia left to call the Doctor.

    On this anniversary of her death I wanted to share something that A.Alvarez writes at the end of this piece.

    "Even now I find it hard to believe. There was too much life in her long, flat, strongly boned body, and her longish face with its fine brown eyes, shrewd and full of feeling. She was practical candid, passionate and compassionate. I believe she was a genius. I sometimes catch myself childishly thinking I'll run into her walking on Primrose Hill or the Heath, and we'll pick up the conversation where we left off. But perhaps that is because her poems still speak so distinctly in her accents: quick, sardonic,unpredictable, effortlessly inventive, a bit angry, and always utterly her own."

    New Hampshire, USA
    Monday, February 12, 2001

    Angela, I remember when I was first reading Plaths poems and The Bell Jar. In college the first poem I read by Plath was Lady Lazarus. I was completely drawn into the poems power, and it gave me my own resurgence of life that brought me out of an unhappy time. My poetry professor at college, upon my enquiry to learn more about Plath, refused to talk about it, saying that he didnt much like her poetry. And that angered me because I really wanted to know more. So, I learned more on my own. When my creative writing professor embraced my desire to learn more I got rolling on a very study thats helped me to travel to Boston and London and Heptonstall, etc. I then read The Bell Jar and Rough Magic and then more poems. I am so thankful that I stuck with it as its made me a better man.

    That being said, there are many aspects of her poetry that I find it hard to relate to, but that doesnt stop me from intensely enjoying her works, and celebrating that they exist at all. The Journals in particular I have been able to relate to the most. When I first read them, abridged of course, in 1995 I remember being so angry that they were edited, or that some were missing destroyed. I was keeping a journal at that time, and I remember the feeling of being lost, like when Plath was in Paris looking for Sassoon. That kind of heartache I associated myself with too closely, and for a while I couldnt read Plath at all because I was afraid of where it would take me.

    I think that she has a strong affect & voice over most adolescents. We are living in a completely different world than she lived in, and women in particular have many things easier than they used to. Though, anyone dealing with the birth of a child or death or adoption would certainly still be able to relate now to Plaths Three Women. And so it goes from there. But I think a poem like The Applicant or The Moon and the Yew Tree are brilliant, and part of the reason is that they are so readable, and in the case of the former, completely understandable.

    I feel that one of the number one reasons people react the way they to when they hear Plaths name mentioned (and that they automatically assume that you are, yourself, depressive, suicidal, etc) is because of the way Ariel was published. I am very eager to read The Other Ariel by Lynda Buntzden whenever it will be published. Plaths version, commencing with the word Love and ending on Spring and the cycle of Bee poems is a completely different meaning than the way they currently end, with those despondent, lost, and if you will faithless poems did more harm than good. I understand, I think, the reasons why Hughes re-arranged the order of the book. He wanted it published and if he says no one wanted it in Plaths version I have to accept that reason. And if light of all the other books and the suicide in general, its seemingly a perfectly arranged book. I would suggest to everyone to read the poems in the order she had the book. Click here to read it online. The order is also in the back of her Collected Poems. I think thats the one thing Ill never get over.

    Jim, thank you for quoting from Three Women on more than one occasion. I have the utmost amount of respect for you and the opinions that you present on the Forum & I only wish that you had been here longer because we all could have gained most valuable insight in Plaths creativity and life.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton. Ma, USA
    Saturday, February 10, 2001

    At last I have read Birthday Letters. Unlike the critic John Carey, who likens the language to molten lava. I felt it was more like icy fingers reaching out to clutch my heart. I was left with almost the exact same feeling I experienced when I finished reading "The Journals of Sylvia Plath" only this time for Ted Hughes. I felt very sorry for him. To quote our former President "I felt his pain".

    The writing is beautiful, very straight forward and easy to understand. Several critics have said it explains nothing. On the contrary, it actually explains everything. At the end of the book the story is told, the ghost is laid to rest. It explains why he has remained silent over the years, a hand greater than either his or Sylvia's, THE HAND OF FATE had written their story, they were all helplessly acting their parts. "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on". No turning back (I do not have it here for reference but I think the next lines are) "nor all thy piety nor wit can bring it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it." He was fated to live his life in her shadow from his early thirties, a condemned man, a brilliant man known as Sylvia Plath's husband. Does anyone even know where he is buried? England's ex poet laureate.

    Someone wrote once that a suicide kills two people. Sylvia Plath's suicide undoubtedly was aimed at Ted Hughes her unfaithful husband who had failed her because he was a human being and not the god she had imagined him to be. When he revealed his feet of clay it was over for her.

    Sylvia Plath bled her life's blood onto the pages of her journal. Ted Hughes bled the last of his life's blood onto the pages of "Birthday Letters". Not the gushing red arterial blood of Plath, but a slow oozing over the years. I think the references throughout the book to hearts, roses, poppies and the last poem "Red" make it clear that they were bonded together by this blood letting, and the specter of death loomed over them both from the start.

    My edition has a beautiful cover painting by Frieda Hughes of blood red poppies. What a tragic family! What a legacy of terrible sadness she left this family. She recreated for her children the pain her own father created for her. Both were selfish unnecessary deaths, one could, and one WOULD have received correct treatment if either of them had stopped to consider for a moment the effect of their actions (in the case of her father, his nonaction) on others.

    But without her father's death there would probably have been no story.
    I am eagerly awaiting her children's story, as I said before, they have a tale to tell too.

    Cressida Hope-Bunting
    Alabama, USA
    Saturday, February 10, 2001

    Jim, I agree that we should focus on Plath's creativity when we teach young people. But the issues Holbrook raises are important and need to be discussed.

    Most of us can remember the torment of the adolescent years and many of us can see the attraction of the "glamorous" young death. A real punch on the nose to that cruel world which has been so indifferent to our suffering. And Plath does seem to be engaged in enticing her readership into joining her in the place where we'll no longer have to suffer "the atrocity of sunsets." She develops such a strong, compelling imagery of death as art and beauty that it has been one of my private terrors that one day I might just lose a sensitive student to her fate.

    So, I always start off courses on Plath with Holbrook's warning and a discussion about suicide where as my contribution I try to get in its cruelty and futility. I talk about my own father's suicide and its effects on my family. But more importantly, I try to communicate that unless one has religious faith, Plath doesn't know how celebrated she now is. When she died she was a relatively obscure, ill, young writer who left her children with one of the worst injuries a parent can inflict on a child.

    So far no suicides in my classes. I do feel that it is an issue which teachers have a responsibility to confront. Several of my colleagues over the years have quite deliberately avoided teaching Plath because they find the suicide and the pull towards death too disturbing.

    Elaine Connell
    Hebden Bridge, UK
    Friday, February 9, 2001

    Angela, I want to address myself to your question more directly than I did before, when I was really addressing the "critics" approach to Plath. You'll notice that not many have tried to deal with your question. It's a tough one. Because many of us respond so intensely to her work and her dilemma, her lostness, even in the midst of such acute perception. When someone like Holbrook worries about teaching Plath's work to young people, he is pointing out a real problem. Some people, not just adolescents, who are grappling with the same emotional dilemmas, some easily overwhelmed or paralyzed by them, will find their dilemma magnified in her words, by her powerful expression of them.

    In graduate school I started to write my thesis on Plath, and wrote a 40-page first draft, then decided against, finding it too difficult to write for a committee of people, and did something else for my thesis, one of my advisors commented that "it touched too painfully on old emotional scars", which was a very insightful comment on her part. These issues are not confined one gender or the other; emotions are not gender-specific.

    So it becomes very important, in teaching or just reading Plath to focus on her creativity, the power and imaginativeness of her attempts to resolve these issues. There are beautiful, intimate moments in the poetry, where she makes contact with the world, with her child, with her own tenderness.

    Having fallen down the tunneling rabbit hole of her own subjectivity, the poems are, as a whole, her attempts to find her way back through the looking glass into a relationship with the real world.This is what the so-called critics fail to understand, or willfully refuse to look at. even critics have emotional responses that they may be reluctant to confront and give expression to. Call it a fear of falling. But it's necessary to risk falling if we ever expect to fly.

    Anyway, Plath had a strong belief in the power of words, and in her own power to wield those words so as to create magic, a kind of ritual healing. And what we respond to is not just the depth of her need, but the heights that she reached in her attempt to heal herself.

    "The little grasses crack through stone,
    and they are green with life.'
    (Three Women)

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Friday, February 9, 2001

    Has anyone ever read a book, Chapters in Mythology The Poetry of Sylvia Plath by Judith Kroll?

    I picked it up at a used book store in Boston. I wondered if anyone had any opinions on the book? Another book I have ordered is White Goddess by Graves. I understand this book was very influential with Sylvia. Any thoughts on these would be of interest. Thanks to Jim and Muriel for their comments on the "critic".

    New Hampshire, USA
    Friday, February 9, 2001

    This is in response to Angela's question, posted on January 24. I don't know if I can add anything more helpful than Jim Long's comments, posted yesterday on the same subject, but I will jump in because I think it is a brave question that fans of Plath sometimes want to avoid. I don't want to give the naysayers anymore ammo--Harold Bloom, Irving Howe, and the like, would gladly see us all confined to a special rubber room, I warrant, but here goes.

    This is such a touchy subject, because one's response to all art is subjective. All pretensions of critical objectivity aside,we select what we like, what we respond to, and junk the rest. Which is fine, because someone else will come along and pick through the rubbish and dust it off and cart it home. Art speaks to all of us in our own ways.

    As Woody Allen once said, the heart wants what it wants. Plath feels like a guilty pleasure to me precisely because I identify so strongly with what she writes. I feel embarassed by that subjectivity, especially when one mentions Plath and people start rolling their eyes. Or I feel skeptical, and protective, when experts diagnose with absolute authority her "mental disease." The Sylvia Plath I "know" was clinically depressed for a good part of her life, but I am not at all sure she was manic-depressive.

    In addition to one's own bias, factor in Plath's own very subjective world view. We are invited into her mind through her journals and poems in the most intimate of ways, yet we never get the full story. We know her just enough to want to know more, sending us after memoirs and the like; in those conflicting stories the mystery of who she was only deepens. Perhaps I identify so strongly with her, in part, because I am forced to invent for myself from fragments the truth of her life and death.

    All this to say that I personally do not worry about my sanity because I identify with Plath and her work. I rejoice that she gives voice so beautifully to a world I recognize firsthand. Anyone who has read her journals knows Plath struggled with her own thoughts on a daily basis. That they beat her in the end was a tragedy of circumstance, not fate. It is her battle against those inner, negative forces, her battle for objectivity in her own mind, that I ultimately find so compelling.

    Jen Zereski
    Providence, USA
    Wednesday, February 7, 2001

    I have a Faber paperback edition of "Ariel" that was bound wrong by the printer. It is missing the first 32 pages, including the title page, etc. (so I don't know the date of publication) and in their place are the last 32 pages again and blanks, bound in backwards and upside down! It's not just a matter of the book coming apart and being glued in wrong, the binding is tight. Has anyone else seen this anomaly, or could this be a unique copy?

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, USA
    Wednesday, February 7, 2001

    Here is the ordering Information.

    Proctor's Hall Press
    P.O. Box 856
    Sewanee, TN 37375

    To order the book, a check or money order needs be sent for $20 plus $3 shipping and handling ($10 outside US). The check should be made to Proctor's Hall Press.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton. Ma, USA
    Wednesday, February 7, 2001

    My name is Dani and I've recently chosen to do a research paper on Plath for my junior History class. The only problem is I need to come up with a thesis for this topic. If you can help me in any way I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you so much!

    Wednesday, February 7, 2001

    Hi response to Judy's question about a Hughes bio: isn't Dianne Middlebrook writing one, or submitting one, or something? I think there is another prominent biographer working on Hughes' bio, too...Anyone know when Middlebrook's will be out? She's written the controversial Sexton bio (used tapes of sessions btwn Sexton and her doctor, I think), and I read that she taught a Plath/Hughes seminar @ Stanford a while ago...

    Berkeley, CA, USA
    Tuesday, February 6, 2001

    Hello all: Thought you might be interested to learn about the upcoming publication (February 22, 2001) of a memoir by Lucas Myers, entitled "Crows Steered/Bergs Appeared: A Memoir of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath" (Proctor's hall Press).

    For any of you who do not recall or are unaware of Myers' place in the Plath/Hughes gallery of supporting characters, here's the publisher's blurb from the back of the book: "Ted Hughes and Lucas Myers met at Cambridge University in January 1955. They maintained a close friendship until Hughes's death on 28 October 1998. Myers lived at St. Botolph's Rectory in Cambridge and with Hughes and five others produced a literary magazine called the St. Botolph's Review. Hughes and Myers met Sylvia Plath at a party on 25 February 1956 to celebrate the appearance of the magazine. Myers was a friend of Sylvia Plath, Hughes's sister Olwyn and Assia Wevill. His memoir draws on his forty-year correspondence with Hughes and discusses Birthday Letters and Plath's Journals 19501962."

    I don't know about you guys, but I think the Ted Hughes biography/memoir floodgates are about to open with this one and there will be more to come. Hmmmmmm.

    Anne Ashby Gilbert
    New York City, USA
    Tuesday, February 6, 2001

    Darcey, I don't give much credence to so-called "critics" who have so little respect for an artist's vision that they can simply write off their serious work as "hysteria". Those who claim a work is meaningless simply because they don't understand it don't deserve our serious consideration as critics. It's absurd to expect poets to render a coherent, logical "statement" about the nature of their perspective.

    You're totally right that Plath's major effort was to get in touch with Things, the actual world, the other, whatever you want to call it. This struggle was the central concern and despair of much of her work.

    Ted Hughes claimed (in the Preface to "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams") that her subjectivity, the world of her own consciousness, was her true subject, and that she only came into her own when she made her own consciousness the real subject of her work. But, she herself plainly was desperate to get beyond the self-centeredness of so much of her writing, to not only observe and describe but to make contact with the actual world. After all, intimacy, oneness with the other, is only possible when we reach out to the other and make contact. And this she was desperate to do, but she was virtually paralyzed when confronted with the stark otherness of things and people.

    I think that, to a great extent, it's this dilemma, this approach/avoidance syndrome toward contact and real intimacy, that we are recognizing and identify with so much in her work.

    "It is so beautiful to have no attachments!
    I am solitary as grass. What is it I miss?
    Shall I ever find it, whatever it is?"

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Tuesday, February 6, 2001

    You're right, the book you're referring to is "Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence" by David Holbrook (Athlone Press, 1976). The last but one chapter is called "Psychotic Poetry", chapter 2 deals with the cyclus "Poem for a birthday" and is called ""Poem for a False Birth". As a university student in Belgium I wrote a thesis on Plath, but at the time it was almost impossible for me to get through Holbrook's book. Somehow, I couldn't take someone seriously who, in the introductory chapter, claims that Plath's work "may be offering falsifications or forms of moral inversion which are absurd, or even deranged, and may even do harm to the sensitive and responsive young person" and goes on to claim that Plath should not be taught in secondary schools, since "what do we expect to gain when we offer adolescent students works for study which seriously falsify experience." ...

    Gent, Belgium
    Tuesday, February 6, 2001

    Thanks very much Peter for the link to bibliofind, which in less financially embarrassing times I intend to make full use of. Out of curiosity I looked up Victoria Lucas and unsuprisingly found nothing. However you can get a copy of The Colossus signed by Plath to Charles Monteith - yours for a mere 20,000 dollars!

    Cath Morgan
    Leeds, UK
    Tuesday, February 6, 2001

    Re. identification with Plath and/or her poetry: Anyone who's taken a look at Modern Critical Views edited by Harold Bloom will meet the folks who don't identify with Plath at all. Irving Howe calls her poetry "pathological" and "free-flowing hysteria."

    I believe there's a book of criticism (by Holbrook???) with a chapter devoted to Plath's "psychotic" poems. Howe believed that Plath's work was "hysteria" because he couldn't find a disciplined, "coherent statement as to the nature, let alone the value, of her vision." He obviously didn't see Plath's struggle to interact with and relate to things, to the "thinginess of things." Some of my favorite Plath things or beings are the sun, the horses, the stars, and the bees. They all are very alive, are at odds with the persona at times, and are used to relate or complicate experiences that aren't limited to "I"ness.

    Berkeley, CA, USA
    Monday, February 5, 2001

    I'm doing a research paper on Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" and how her life, in general, influenced her work. I find her to be one of the most intrigueing figures in poetry. Before I read her poems, I had not read much poetry, except in class, and I never quite felt that I connected truly with what the poet was expressing. Plath's raw emotion and candidness are strong attractions for readers to read her poetry. She is so inspiring. I also write poetry, and I can only hope to be able to communicate that kind of emotion some day.

    Monday, February 5, 2001

    Thanks, Peter and Muriel, for the responses about the 1st edition. I checked and there are several copies listed, ranging from $750 to $5000 (!) (makes $750 sound like a good buy) depending on bookseller and condition.

    Muriel: The discrepancies were mentioned to me by Adriana Bottini(see her comments dated Jan. 31st below) who's doing the Italian translation.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Monday, February 5, 2001

    Echo, Yes, quite a few of the people on the Forum have read 'The Unabridged Journals". They came out in England some time ago and in the US last fall.

    I posted some comments on them on Dec. 27, 2000. As you can see by my comments of Jan. 25, 2001, I feel it's important to get outside the echo chamber of your own mental processes, your own emotion, which can drag you down, and look hard and deeply at THINGS, rather than feelings. You will still see your emotions looking back at you out of these things, but the connection will keep you grounded more securely to world you must live in.

    You'll begin to see how you are related to these things, how they reflect and share your feelings, and this is a powerful and healing consolation.

    The poet Wm. Carlos Williams said "No ideas but in things". You may notice that, as Plath matured she wrote (at least in her poetry) less in the first person, less "I, I, I" and more in terms of describing her feelings as they were reflected in things, trying to stand outside herself, in order to see herself more clearly.

    "I am no more your mother than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect her own slow effacement at the wind's hand.' (Morning Song)

    You're very young to have such heavy thoughts, But I can understand how the world and our experience of it assaults and hurts anyone who is very sensitive to it. I started writing poetry at the age of 15 or so. When I discovered Plath, she taught me that it's possible to write about one's own feelings, without just writing diary entries. The difference between her early self-pitying journals and her strong late poetry is very striking.

    Please e-mail me directly if you want to discuss any of this further.

    Jim Long
    Honolulu, HI, USA
    Friday, February 2, 2001

    Hi Jim, About the Victoria Lucas edition of The Bell Jar. I think it's incredibly hard to find (if not almost impossible) as there weren't that many copies printed. I remember seeing an ad once in a Book Collectors' magazine, offering up for sale, not the book itself but only the dust wrapper, highest bidder collects. I've never read or heard that there are discrepancies between that elusive first edition and the following Plath editions. Where did you pick that up? My "Guide to 1st Edition Prices" estimates its worth at 1,000 minimum.

    Gent, Belgium
    Thursday, February 1, 2001

    Jim, copies of Victoria Lucas' The Bell Jar are extremely rare. Especially when you consider things like dust jacket and condition, the spine of the book, etc. Contemporary Literature, something similar to Book-of-the-Month came out with an edition by Victoria Lucas in late 1963 or early 1964.

    Click here to see that and Click here to see the original. Sometimes has editions in its database, but they are just very rare and very expensive.

    Faber released the first Bell Jar with Plath as the author in 1967. That edition was only 3000.

    Peter K Steinberg
    Brighton, Ma, USA
    Thursday, February 1, 2001

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