The Sylvia Plath Forum

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September-October 2001

Does Anyone have any thoughts or idea on Plath's "Witch Burning?" It is also called poem number 6 in poems for a birthday. I am doing a research paper comparing Witch Burning with Sexton's Her Kind. Any help or info. would be appreciated. thanks.

Columbus, Ohio , USA
Friday, October 26, 2001

I am 16 and in my first year of A-levels. The opportunity has come up to direct a play about Sylvia Plath. I'm not sure if anyone has heard about the play, it is simply called 'Sylvia Plath'. In a couple of weeks I have to give a presentation to the theatre board at my school about my ideas for the play and how I would direct it. If anyone has any ideas or comments, even if they have not read or heard of the play I would be very grateful! Thank you.

Kate Holmes
Leicester, UK
Thursday, October 25, 2001

I am studying this poem for an assignment I have to hand in tomorrow, it is already written and so now I would like to share a thoughtI had. The end 2 lines of the poem describe something rising toward her, "like a terrible fis"' could this be a reference to what happens when fish die, they rise to the surface? I don't really know myself, i'ts just a suggestion. Any comments gratefully received!

Coventry, UK
Wednesday, October 24, 2001

It's my opinion that most of Plath's "baby poems" are actually pretty positive, not riddled with guilt and despair. The ones that I think of as the baby poems are:

"You're" (which is about the child she is carrying before it is born);

"Morning Song";

"By Candlelight"; "The Night Dances"; "Nick and the Candlestick" and "Child"..

Of course "Three Women" is about babies also--and, in spite of the fact that one of the speakers has a stillborn child (or miscarries, depending on how you read it), and one of them gives up her baby, the third speaker goes home with a healthy boy child and the poem ends on a positive note ("the little grasses / crack through stone, and they are green with life").

In "You're", both the poem and the child begin with the word "Love", and the poem ends with child's "clear" voice, the vowels rising "like balloons", a playful, positive image. In fact, Plath repeatedly associates the child with "clearness"--"Child" begins "Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing". It is the child that is faultless, his eye/I a clear pool in contrast to the mother's "troublous wringing of hands".

In "The Night Dances" the child is a gift, his gestures "warm and human", "these planets, falling like blessings". Even in a poem like "Nick and the Candlestick" with its womb of darkness, its "black bats", its "vice of knives" and its "piranha religion", still the child is the focal point of great tenderness, "O love, how did you get here?" "The blood blooms clean / In you, ruby. / The pain / You wake to is not yours."

The child is "the one / Solid the spaces lean on...the baby in the barn.", invoking the innocence of the Christ figure. seems to me she saw the child as the source of possible salvation, of opening up that "dark ceiling without a star". In this sense, all the "baby poems" consitute one of the few positive forces active throughout the whole of her work.

Hope this helps some.

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I am working on an article regarding Plath and her use of classical Greek and Roman motifs (gods and goddesses, architectural and sculptural, philosophical, etc.). I would appreciate any leads or suggestions as I wade through masses of bibliographies.

Thank you.

Bill Gorski
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I am doing a report on "The Thin People" and I need some help interpreting it. If anyone could offer any help please email me. I am in High School.

New York, USA
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

(You could look at the Poems Analysis page. EC)

I am teaching Plath (Selected poems) to A2 students (aged 17 and 18) and am finding the poetry challenging enough myself! Has anyone got any ideas or hints on how to make it accessible? Also, is "Suicide off Egg Rock" really about masturbation and is "Medallion" about the phallus? Are her poems both narrative/autobiographical and allegorical?

Thanks for cool stufff on-line, but more variety of poems please!

Taunton, UK
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I have just read Sylvia Plath's "You're" and although I understand it is about pregnancy, there are a few lines which I don't understand. Help would be much appreciated.


Judith Molinary
Nottingham, UK
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Hi, I'm doing a presentation on Sylvia Plath's The Disquieting Muses, and I was wondering if anyone had any comments or suggestions on the poem. Thanks in advance.

Manlius, N.Y, USA
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Quiero hablar de plath..pero en espagnol no ingles..

Barcelona, Spain
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I am currently studying English A higher level, as part of the International Baccalaureate course. As a requirement for the poetry section, Plath is the chosen poet. I have done a critical appreciation on "Tulips" and would like to submit this so that I could possibly get feed back on "its worth". I am having difficulty with a comparison of "Poppies in October" and "Poppies in July" and cannot find much information on "You're".The problem is sometimes that there is too much information and not enough time to find the "right" or most useful stuff. In terms of critically appreciating Plath's poems, are there specific areas which need to be highlighted more than others, or is everything equally important?

Ladybrand, South Africa
Tuesday, October 23, 2001


My company, Jackson Quigg Associates, has been asked by Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire and Royd Regeneration, the agency in Mytholmroyd, Ted Hughes' birthplace near Halifax, to investigate the potential for setting up a Ted Hughes Centre there.

The project is at an early stage and I would welcome comments from anyone who might be interested in the establishment of such a centre.

For example, what would its purpose be? Could it link in to centres of study which have connections with his work, or indeed hold archives which could be loaned for special exhibitions? What about links with the Sylvia Plath Society and Bronte Society? Should it encourage school visits at all levels? Is Mytholmroyd a good place to have such a centre (bearing in mind its position in the Calder Valley!)? Would a cafe/restaurant be a good idea?

We would be grateful if people would consider this and give us their views. We are investigating the old Railway Station building in Mythomlroyd to see if it might be suitable, and will be reporting back soon on our initial research.

Please email

Thanks in advance to anyone who feels moved to contribute.

And thanks Elaine for your time today and this website address.

Piers Jackson

Jackson Quigg Associates

46b Bradford Road


West Yorkshire


Piers Jackson
Brighouse, UK
Monday 15th. October 2001

I am writing about Sylvia Plath's baby poems.Are they all full of pain , despair, helpplessness and guilt?? Do you know any optimistic ones? And where can I find any reviews and critics of them? Could you help me , please? Thank you very much :-)

Warszawa, Poland
Monday, October 15, 2001

OOPS!--Sorry, Alicia, I just took another look at "Red," and yes, "a little blue bird is mentioned" as part of Plath's painting. Bluebirds are conventionally associated with happiness, as in "the bluebird of happiness" and Plath mocks them in "The Disquieting Muses." Blue is also associated with paintings of the Madonna and Plath in "Red" has her pregnancy "folded" in "Kingfisher blue silks." Lynda K. Bundtzen
Williamstown, USA
Saturday, October 13, 2001

This is in regard to the question about THREE WOMEN: A POEM FOR THREE VOICES. In LETTERS HOME, Sylvia Plath writes to her mother on June 7, 1962, "I've had a long poem (about 378 lines!) for three voices accepted by the BBC Third Programme (three women in a maternity ward, inspired by a Bergman film). . ." (p. 456). The Bergman film is BRINK OF LIFE.

For Alicia on the poem, "Red": you might begin with the literal description of the bedroom he shared with Plath in Devon, which was decorated in red, and Plath's frequently mentioned preference for red clothing. I also think you might see Hughes as being severely critical of what he regards as the "Catastrophic, arterial, doomed" muse Plath chose for herself ("The blood-jet is poetry / There is not stopping it" in "Kindness"). Many of the poems in BIRTHDAY LETTERS describe Plath as devoted to a mourning that demands human sacrifice ("Aztec altar-temple" alludes to this theme), to a mourning that is vengeful and bloody (think of "Daddy" here).Hughes would prefer to see her muse as more Ariel-like--"Blue was wings" and "Blue was your kindly spirit--not a ghoul / But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful." Shakespeare's Ariel is worried about how far Prospero's vengeance will go and expresses his pity for the marooned party. And Prospero tells him not to worry, that "The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance." I think Hughes is telling Plath (who can't talk back), that she somehow lost her true muse and became possessed by a vengeful one. There is only one jewel in the poem, and there is no blue painting. If I were to bring in other poems here, I might also choose "Robbing Myself."

Lynda K. Bundtzen
Williamstown, USA
Saturday, October 13, 2001

Hi, Anja, here's "The Plaster" by W.S. Merwin:

How unlike you
To have left the best of your writings here
Behind the plaster where they were never to be found
These stanzas of long lines into which the Welsh words
Had been flung like planks from a rough sea
How will I

Ever know now how much was not like you
And what else was committed to paper here
On the dark burst sofa where you would later die
Its back has left a white mark on the white wall and above that
Five and a half indistinct squares of daylight
Like pages in water
Slide across the blind plaster

Into which you slipped the creased writings as into a mail slot
In a shroud

This is now the house of the rain that falls from death
The sky is moving its things in from under the trees
In silence
As it must have started to do even then
There is still a pile of dirty toys and rags
In the corner where they found the children
Rolled in sleep

Other writings
Must be dissolving in the roof
Twitching black edges in cracks of the wet fireplaces
Stuck to shelves in the filthy pantry
Never to be found
What is like you now

Who were haunted all your life by the best of you
Hiding in your death

I don't recall ever reading this poem before today, although I knew Merwin years ago when I was in graduate school and he was living in Hawaii much of the time.

Obviously there are some evocative allusions here, esp. the "toys and rags" where they found the children--the rags suggesting the rags she stuffed around the door of their room to keep the gas fumes out. But there are some puzzling things too; "the sofa where you would later die"--of course she didn't die on the sofa, at least no one has ever suggested that she was found alive and her body moved to a sofa where she died. And I can't think of a referent for the "stanzas of long lines" containing Welsh words. And the idea that the "best of your writings" were hidden "never to be found" doesn't sound like Sylvia--I don't think anyone has ever suggested that she "hid" any of her work before she died.

So, all in all, my impression is that the poem refers to someone else known to Merwin. Still, the poem is quite haunting. Thank you, E. Cook, for bringing it to our attention.

Jim Long
Honolulu, HI, USA
Saturday, October 13, 2001

As I was reading the excerpt from the Times of Elaine Feinstein's biography, I was arrested by the following: "[Sylvia] was far less sanguine than she appeared, however. She feared that the villagers regarded her with suspicion..." The latter sentence recalls, for me, a particular line from "Daddy" : "And the villagers never liked you."

"Daddy" fuses Sylvia's thoughts or raw emotions about her husband and her father, but it occurs to me that it also projects her own fears (her perception that the Devon villagers disliked her) onto the Daddy of the poem. I suppose this isn't a novel interpretation or observation, but it makes me wonder how much of herself she saw in this fictional Daddy.

Feinstein's biography continues to discuss Ted's affair with Assia, his denial, and Sylvia's suspicions. Now when I read the end of "Daddy," I can't help but read "They always knew it was you" as Sylvia saying directly, "I always knew it was you" or "I always knew it was true," in regard to Ted's infidelity. (Again, not a novel interpretation but one that seems to have more emphasis for me after reading Feinstein's excerpt.) The line "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through" reads to me as, of course, her denunciation of her marriage. Yet, that line could also be interpreted not so much as her resolve to put her marriage behind her and to move on, but in a darker sense, as if she's at her wit's end--"through" in the sense she can't go on. By no means am I making the argument that she's announcing her own suicide. Instead, I'm suggesting that the shades of meaning in "through" color a portrait of both resolve and despair.

Boston, USA
Saturday, October 13, 2001

This is in response to E. Cook's query about Ted's attitude toward infant Nicholas. I believe Paul Alexander may be paraphrasing a letter from Plath to Aurelia (Sept. 23, 1962) where she accuses Hughes of dropping Nicholas on the floor when she had milk fever. Also a letter from midwife Winifred Davies to Aurelia (Sept. 22, 1962), where she tells Aurelia that Hughes has taken a dislike to Nicholas and is jealous of him. It's not clear that Davies is speaking from firsthand observation or simply relaying what Plath has told her. These letters are part of the collection at the Lilly Library and have not been published. Either Aurelia chose to edit them from Letters Home, or Hughes did, since he had the final say about what went into Letters Home. The problem is that these accusations may well express the urgency of Plath's situation--they may be exaggerations calculated to arouse Aurelia's support and not entirely true.

Lynda K. Bundtzen
Williamstown, MA, USA
Saturday, October 13, 2001

Kayla, On page 10 of Margaret Dickie Uroff's Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (1979), she gives a quick comparison of Plath's Sow and Hughes's View of a Pig. I don't know about any others offhand. I'd suggest you look at the earlier criticism (try Linda Wagner's 'SP: The Critical Heritage' or Wagner's 'Critical Essays on SP'), as there's not as much to mine in this early work, compared with Plath's later poems.

Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Saturday, October 13, 2001

I know of two songs named after Sylvia Plath. The first one by Peter Laughner (Pere Ubu), 1976, is about her life:

"She said if I'm gonna be
classless and crash,
I'm gonna break up some glass,
Nobody broke anything sharper
than Sylvia Plath"

The other one is by Ryan Adams (Whiskeytown), 2001from his latest album "Gold". He dreams about hangingaround with a girl like Sylvia Plath:

"Shed ash on the carpet
and slip me a pill, and
get me pretty loaded on gin
Maybe she give me back,
how I wish I had a Sylvia Plath"

There is even another song called "Sylvia Plath" by a band called Death of Samantha, (1988). I haven't heard it.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Saturday, October 13, 2001

Hi, before I ask my question, I would like to state that I have searched the web for the past few days and depleted our local library of any resources. I have been assigned a Sylvia Plath poem in my AP English Literature Class to do an oral report and critical analysis on. One of the requirements is that I have a minimum of six critical analyses in print to include in my essay. The poem that I have been assigned is The Sow. It took me quite some time to find the poem itself on the internet, and I cannot find the slightest shred of any critical thought. Please help me and point me in the right direction (ASAP). This is the last place I could think of to turn to. Thank you in advance.

Kayla J.
Thursday, October 11, 2001

To E. Cook,

A number of your questions regarding Ted and Assia are answered in Elaine Feinstein's biography, excerpts of which appeared in The Sunday Times last weekend (see links page, dealing with exactly these questions - where did he live, how did it happen, what was that party etc.

Regarding the Collected Poems, it seems to contain everything written after they met in 1956 but a number of earlier poems are definitely not in there, the book contains 50 selected earlier poems termed "juvenilia" but a lot more exist and are available at the special book collection in Smith College, I believe. Regarding Ted and Nick - what does Paul Alexander know about what happened at Nicholas' birth? He wasn't there. Maybe he is retelling other people's stories but if he doesn't cite anybody I would say it is pure speculation.

Could you post Merwin's poem Plaster which you think is about Plath? I would be interested to read it.

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Thursday, October 11, 2001


I tried to respond personally, but for some reason couldn't get the e-mail connection to work. So... in my opinion, yes, the poem "Three Women" was written to be performed (the sub-title is "A radio play for 3 voices") by three separate people. Frankly, it's never occurred to me that the 3 voices might be interior, in one persons head. Their situations, one having a stillborn child, one giving up her child, and one taking home a healthy baby, and their responses are so different, that it doesn't seem likely. Of course, since Plath since had two children, the poem is in part autobiographical; and, since she spent time in a maternity ward, it's possible that she met other women who were in these other situations and took it from there as far as imagining what they may have been feeling.

I think of it as one of her very greatest poems, it has such a range and depth of feeling and tenderness, and mature life-affirming attitude and resolution.

I'd be glad to discuss it further with you. Drop me an email.

Jim Long
Honolulu, HI, USA
Thursday, October 11, 2001

I'm aware this is a Sylvia Plath forum but as both are equally connected,I would like to raise the subject of Ted Hughes. Firstly a simple question asking, are there any specific poems or quotations which refer specifically to Hughes???

In my current topic of study I'm analysing both Hughes' and Plath's different truths. What is the truth? Whose truth is believable? Is the poetry and writing of an obviously disturbed woman more credible than of a man, who although does not deny his love for the woman, insist on "burning" her side of the story. It's an interEsting dilemma which concentrates on 5 poems by Hughes, Fulbright Scholars, The Shot, Sam, The Minotaur and Red.

I was seeing if anyone familiar with both Hughes's and Plath's poetry would be able to expand on this interpretation of red?

Red is Otto Plath "red is what you wrapped around you"

White is Sylvia "everything you painted you painted white,then splashed it with red,defeated it"-this seems to be consistent with the interpretation "bee maker"

Blue is Hughes "Blue was better for you"-"blue was your kindly spirit-not a ghoul" (in reference to Otto and his representation as 'The Minotaur')

And the two jewels hidden in the casket were the two children, hidden away from the red world their mother created.

This red that had enveloped the relationship is also reflected in 'the shot' where Hughes insinuates that Otto hid behind him, almost in a watchful manner, observing the destruction of Hughes due to Plath's hatred of him (Otto).

In Red Hughes talks about painting bluebirds. Is there any reference that Sylvia herself actually did paint blue birds or is it purely imaginative?

Any response at all would be great, feel free to email me for further discussion

Bathurst, Australia
Thursday, October 11, 2001

I was wondering if anyone could point in a direction of Sylvia's poetry which describes, if even briefly her relationship with Ted Hughes. I'm aware there is a lot written about her father, but I can't manage to find much about Ted.

Bathurst, Australia
Thursday, October 11, 2001

Hello. I have to present Sylvia Plath's criticisms in my class. If you have any information about the nature or details of critics' response to her writing, I would really appreciate it. Thank You.

LosAngeles, USA
Thursday, October 11, 2001

I hope somebody here can help me out. I'm looking for a poem by Sylvia Plath, which says basically says, in a rather blunt way, 'shit happens, it happens to everybody'. It's to illustrate an example, and I sort of need it tonight if possible. So if anybody could get back to me. Thanks!!

Glasgow, Scotland
Monday, October 8, 2001

I have been studying and reading books by and on S. Plath for some time now, and must admit that aside from admiring her poetry (especially those included in "Ariel") , I have come a bit obsessed with biographies written about her life. What impresses me--and, indeed, what has fueled this "obsession"-- is the fact that no two seem alike. On the contrary--each biography I have come across leaves me with more questions. My interest is, of course, personal--not academic. Here are a few:

I know that she and Ted were close, for a time, with Dido and W.S. Merwin; is his poem "The Plaster" (from "The Lice: Poems by W.S. Merwin, pub. 1963 by Atheneum) a written memorial for Sylvia? I imagine that, if it were, I might have come across reference to it in some of the work I have read, but it seems fitting to me. Any thoughts?

A. Alvarez had mentioned, in (I think) an article he wrote for the Times, that Hughes left some of Plath's late work out of even the Collected Poems; are there more Plathpoems that have not yet been published? I have read different break-downs of her work.

Is Aurelia still alive?

(No, she died in 1994. EC)

Did Ted really "dislike" Nicholas (silly question, I know--and really none of my business, but Paul Alexander makes point of recognzing Ted's strange behavior toward his newborn son on one hand, his spoiling of Frieda on the other)?

Her grave has a real tombstone, now, I imagine (not a makeshift wooden cross); Does it read Sylvia Plath-Hughes? (I think it should . . . .)

(Yes there is a tombstone which has the name Sylvia Plath-Hughes on it. EC)

Is Olwyn still alive?

(Yes. EC)

Were Ted and Assia living together when she killed herself and Shura? Did shereally die next to a trunk of Sylvia's papers (this rumor was cited, again, in Alexander's biography, but seems a myth).

Alexander also writes that Sylvia's neighbor, Prof. Thomas, heard Ted, Assia, the Merwin's, etc. having a party to "mourn" Sylvia's death; while this seems unlikely, I can't help but wonder, what were people's reaction to her death? Surely Anne Stevenson (author of "Bitter Fame") would imply that people (especially Olwyn and Dido) were relieved; Alexander, too, leads his reader's to believe that Ted had in fact tried to coerce Sylvia into killing herself. What do you think?

Of course I realize that all of these questions might well be answered if I just read "SP: Killing the Angel in the House"; I work for a used bookstore, and read what happens to come through the door . . . when I have money to spare I will surely order the Connell book!

Any insight into the question I have answered would be appreciated. Thanks!

E. Cook
Chicago, IL, USA
Monday, October 8, 2001

I have not yet seen the New Yorker article about "Catcher in the Rye", but it has been pointed out to me that the author, Louis Menand, is of the opinion that Holden is relating his story from a TB sanitarium; in other words, that he is physically, rather than mentally, ill. I just want to point out that this is by no means clear in the critical literature about "Catcher". Willilam Glasser, writing in the Michigan Quarterley Review in 1976, makes a case, based on Holden's account of his illness, that he is in a TB sanitarium. But numerous other writers emphasize the fact that, regardless of which kind of institution he is in, he is being treated by a psychoanalyst. Arthur Heiseman and James E. Miller, in an essay title "J.D. Salinger: Some Crazy Cliff" in Western Human-ities Review in 1956, repeatedly refers to "Holden alone in his room in the psychiatric ward". James Lundquist, in his book "J.D. Salinger", also makes the statement that "Holden did finally go home, that he got sick, and that he wound up out in CAlifornia in the psychiatric ward." So, while he may not be in a mental hospital, he is being treated by "this one psychoanalyst guy they have here", as Holden puts it. In my copy of Bloom's Notes (the upscale equivalent of Cliffs Notes) in the synopsis of the story the writer Tenley Williams, of New York University concludes that "We may read "The Catcher in the Rye" as a story of two days that led to a seventeen-year-old boy's nervous breakdown."

And, while there is no suggestion in the book that Holden tries to commit suicide, he repeatedly expresses an inclination to kill himself: at one point he says he's glad someone has invented the atomic bomb, because, if they have World War III and drop the bomb, he would sit right on top of it "I swear to God I would"; at another point he says he would jump out of the goddam window, if he knew someone would cover him up as soon as he landed. While we may not take these statements seriously, a psychiatrist would definitely see them as symptomatic.

So...I stand by my statement that the situations of Holden and Esther are not really very different; they both recoil from the grossness and ugliness that they experience in the adult world, into the relative isolation and security of neurosis, and ultimately their separate versions of capitulation. But Esther's rebellion is the more violent, as if to say "Well, OK, if the world won't play the game my way, I'm just going to leave." She capitualtes reluctantly. Holden also capitulates, when he realizes that "If you want to stay alive" you have to accept a certain amount of "phoniness" (and a lot of other crap besides).

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


You asked:

"About "The Bell Jar" vs. "Catcher in the Rye": are they really so different as the New Yorker writer suggests? People seem to forget that Holden is writing his story from a mental hospital after his breakdown."

Actually, the writer discussed the similarities more than the differences. My brief quote may have made it seem otherwise--sorry.

As the writer points out, however, "[Holden] tells his story from a sanatorium (where he has gone because of a fear that he has t.b.), not a mental hospital."

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Michael Gates
Jersey City, USA

My name is karolina, I'm 18 years old and I come from Sweden. For the moment I'm doing a research project on mental illness, including deperssions and anorexia. I would like to come on contact with people that have or have been sick, like the girl in the Bell jar or similar. Please contact me! I would be so pleased of I could ask you some questions.

Linkping, Sweden
Wednesday, October 3, 2001

I have been studying the work of Sylvia Plath's "Three Women" in depth for quite some time. When I originally found the poem I was confused as to whether the voices were inside the same person or three separate people. I am sure that I read somewhere that this could have been autobiographical. My friend and I argue and discuss this at length many times, can anyone help? Thank you.A new fan but an avid one!

Manchester, UK
Wednesday, October 3, 2001

IT'S ON!!! SYLVIA PLATH DAY is alive and well! get there: October 27, 2001, Sylvia Plath's birthday!. An event!!! Plath's relentlessness in practicing her craft (a lesson to us all); her incredibly insightful voice, commenting on who we are, as expressed in her journals; of course her poetic genius; her unparallelled imagery in her writings; her will to excel and her setting of high standards and goals; her underrated humanitarianism (so relevant to the times); her never-ending creativity; the fact that she lived such an all-around life; and her steadfast honesty and directness, not being afraid to openly contemplate our deepest anxieties, complexities, joys, and fears (another lesson to us all)--these are just some of the qualities that make her life and legacy so worthy of celebration.

Where: Northampton High School (in a beautifully renovated facility, worthy of the occasion)

Time: 4p.m. to 11 p.m. approx.

Featuring: her biographers, linda wagner-martin and paul alexander; kathy spivacks, nationally known writer, protege of Robert Lowell, world-class literary lecturer, and who was around the Lowell, Plath, Sexton, poetry circle as a young girl; Stanley Plumly, nominated for a national book award for his poetry and teacher of Sylvia Plath's work; Lynda Bundtzen, prolific writer and author of "The Other Ariel", a book on Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath; Susan Snively, director of the writing program at Amherst College and a published poet of note; and there are others as well. we hope to persuade Karen Kukil, and such poets as Richard Wilbur to attend.

Also, the rock singer Tracy Bonham will attend, a recognized band called "The Plath", and we still hope to have Lou Reed, and/or Alanis Morisette, Michelle Branch, and possibly another act or two.

Remember, this is an official Sylvia Plath Day, as proclaimed by the mayor of Northampton, MA, and over 1,000 people signed a petition to have Sylvia Plath Day declared.

Must run to do publicity!

michael haley
sylvia plath day organizing committee
phone: (413) 536-6939
northampton, ma, USA
Wednesday, October 3, 2001

I'm writing a Phd titled 'Creation and Destruction in Young Women's Poetry' where I discuss Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton's juvenile poems in relation to poems I've collected from 164 WA female students within a Julia Kristevan framework. I received some emails from this forum several weeks ago- thankyou Jim as I followed up Frieda Hughes' poetry from that.

I'd like to keep in touch with people interested in how Plath and Sexton's poems can be seen in the light and darkness of todays'social context. The findings from my survey of young women's poems are important in that the poems are saying something that needs to be heard- desperate cries for love and affirmations that friendship is vital for many young women going through difficulties. Perhaps Sylvia and Anne didn't get the love and support they sought- or relied too much on romantic love? It is interesting that very few boys who submitted poems wrote of love or friendship. What does this mean for Western societies (WA, Australia). We do have the 2nd highest rate of male teenage suicide in the world. Girls attempt suicide more often, but have a much higher survival rate.

I have felt depressed (as many people have I suspect) since September 11 and I have not been able to focus on my work etc. Having always been positive, yet intensely concerned for the people and creatures of this world, I see why fantasy can become more meaningful than reality. It is lucky that we can communicate meaningfully and so beautifully as in the words of many writers and certainly in the raw words of the teenagers who voluntarily gave me their poems- it certainly motivates me to continue trying to make meaning of it all. I believe fantasy and reality need to compliment each other. I'd love to hear from anyone who is interested in Julia Kristeva's ideas about women, poetry, love and horror.

Kerry Mulholland
Yanchep, Western Australia
Wednesday, October 3, 2001

About "The Bell Jar" vs. "Catcher in the Rye": are they really so different as the New Yorker writer suggests? People seem to forget that Holden is writing his story from a mental hospital after his breakdown. Aside from Esther's suicide attempt, how much difference is there between being "sick" and being "insane"? Was Esther "insane" or was she just "sick"?

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Sunday, September 30, 2001

I'm a student and I have to find some information between the relation Plath-Lowell, as I have to compare their authobiografical novels.

Thak you for your help!!

Genoa, Italy
Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Michel, I did not mean to leave you so long unresponded-to. The events of Sept. 11 interrupted life so completely and for so long in this city. My doctor told me everyone's blood pressure has gone up about 10 points -- but anyway --

I am not sure what I feel about The Bell Jar, either. I agree with you that it isn't what we normally think of as a potboiler. It has decidedly uncommercial elements, like its vivid anatomical imagery -- completely unromantic. I always remember that image of the drunken Doreen's breasts swaying toward Esther like two brown melons (I'm paraphrasing -- and I know melons isn't very original, she may have come up with something better). The image had a kind of horror in it, like a Diane Arbus photo. Come to think of it, that is the atmosphere of the entire book: the horror to be found in the swooping, upswinging trip to New York to be one of a group of guest fashion editors. In a way the book says that if you're intelligent, if you're aware of the Rosenbergs, you can't help but be sickened by the falsity of the New York publishing world. But that theme, "everyone is such a goddamn phony" was a popular one at the time, as recent writers have noted. And Plath was capable of a much more subtle interpretation of people, though at times, even in her later writing, I suppose she did resort to caricature and generalization.

This is a longwinded way of saying I don't know what I think of the book. Sorry to have weighed in with little to say, but I do think the Diane Arbus comparison is apt (pat myself on the back).

Kristina Eldredge
Brooklyn USA
Sunday, September 30, 2001

Thanks for having created this forum where one can find out what people feel about Sylvia Plath, the betrayed woman. Sometimes by the hand of nature in form of her adored father's death and at other times by her husband, Ted Hughes, who deserted her when she needed him the most and that too for some other woman whom he never married. Perhaps his such adultery was only to take away an ever blooming flower from the literary garden. I personally feel, the life of Plath is somewhere or other seen in the contemporary woman's life, irrespective of developed, developing or under developed countries. It is another thing that today's modern and upper class woman deny it because of her shallow high social status while the male dependant, downtrodden of the middle class daren't speak of the fear of their male counterparts. After all, it needs a lot of courage to strip off one's heart and soul like Plath .

Shalini Verma
Birgunj, Nepal
Saturday, September 29, 2001

There's an interesting article in this week's New Yorker (October 1st edition) that compares Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" with Plath's "The Bell Jar." The author, Louis Menand, notes the many similarities in style, tone and point of view in the two novels (and in other examples of what he calls Catcher "rewrites"), but also the differences. A brief, sample quotation:

"In other ways, though, 'The Bell Jar' and 'The Catcher in the Rye' are very different books, and the difference can be summed up by saying that no reader has ever wanted to be Esther Greenwood....The brutality of the world makes Holden sick. It makes Esther insane."

Michael Gates
Jersey City, USA
Saturday, September 29, 2001

I have a paper about Sylvia Plath that I must analyze. I have searched and searched for websites that offer some info that I need. I was wondering if you guys could help me. Here is some info I need to know.

Discuss the genre, period, and cultural setting of the piece. Where can I find that out. Also, I have read all these comments about Mirror and I am totally confused by her "pink with speckles" point. What is the pink and speckled thing she is talking about. Thanks so much.

Gainesville, USA
Saturday, September 29, 2001

In reply to Michiel, of Melick in the Netherlands, I wonder if it is me he has in mind? (if I have the gender wrong, I apologise) I live for part of a year in Lincoln and the remainder at Oisterwijk in the Dutch province of North Brabant. At a cultural festival held in s'Hertogenbosch last July I was in conversation with a journalist who, if I remember correctly, works for the Brabants Dagblad. I told her that I was engaged on a novel that featured Sylvia Plath, and that it had the working title 'A Wretched Existence'. I also said that I was writing it in English and making my own simultaneous Dutch translation. Possibly this was reported in the aforementioned newspaper (and others syndicated with it?). If not, then there are THREE persons in Holland with a serious interest in Sylvia Plath!

Paul Grainger
Lincoln, UK
Thursday, September 20, 2001

I have just discovered this amazing site through Anja's wonderful Sylvia site. I am going to read every archived entry this weekend if I can! Thank you for your time and energy. Most of you are really over my head intellectualy, but the posts are generous with information and quotes...and most importantly, interesting.

I just wanted to comment about a post by Jim Long dated August 15, 2001.

He wrote about Plath's journals versus her prose pieces. I am reading the Unabridged Journals now and have read a few of her prose/novel pieces. Your issue with Plath's journal versus prose invoked comparisons between Plath and diarist and writer Anais Nin, for me because while Plath had her main success with her prose/novels and poetry, and was known for her journals posthumously, Nin was famous for her journals and not nearly as much for her novels and prose, most of which could not even get a publisher for decades.

I thought myself while reading Plath's Journal that she showed a true magical kind of flow in her diary writing, a personal, intimate, beautiful flow of words, thoughts amd images. I enjoyed it more than her poetry - (though I am not very good with most poetry - I like it simple and modern -Millay or Parker or Brooks) - and thought what a brilliant diarist she is. Sometimes it is quick, like a note or single thought. And sometimes she takes us on a journey into her world of experiences or dreams. I would value her work on her journals alone (and that is not to take anything from her other works, which are amazing.) I am a big Nin enthusiast, as Anja can attest to, and while I love her celebrated diaries, I have always felt her fiction has been undervalued and overlooked in favor of her confessions. In many ways her fiction is an extension of her journals and now reading Plath I see how intricately her journals (or life) was woven into her prose/novels.

It is interesting to note that both writers were powerful diarists in their own ways and had their own unique ways of writing fiction, yet one was celebrated in her life for her fiction, and one, for her "reality". The two could have been celebrated for both, or perhaps, even vice versa. What an interesting twist that might have been!

Thamk you again, I hope I made a little sense, this forum is so impressive!

Norton, Massachusetts, USA
Thursday, September 20, 2001

Having just discovered this site, I would like to express my delight that such a forum exists. I am currently preparing for my BA dissertation on The Bell Jar, and I am therefore very grateful for the bibliography sections and also the (often heated) discussions on the forum, which have provided an educative and entertaining read. I have found elsewhere that there is a distinct shortage of critical material available, especially here in England, where she is not as widely appreciated.

This is probably old news for you all, but around six months ago there was an article in a British newspaper citing that Hughes had claimed to his mistress that he was the true author of The Bell Jar; a claim that has provoked anger and disbelief from Plath's fans. I intend to examine this claim in relation to the poetic works of the couple, applying detective work, as it were, in an attempt to ascertain the 'true' author of the novel. I look forward to posting my findings and theories, though it is probable that heated debate will follow...

London, UK

I am a student who is doing an independent study on Sylvia Plath. I have been looking around on your site and I have gotten some great new information that I didn't know before. The libraries in my area really don't have much for me to read up on her about, and I was wondering if Icould get some information/help from you guys?!?

I know you said before you make a comment on here to state my own opinion about the specific poem I am doing which is "Mushrooms" but to be honest I don't really want to put my opinion out so everyone can see it (no offence) but I am just new at this 'analyzing poetry stuff and I know for a fact I can't read as deep into poems as all of you can, and if I write what I thinkI'm sure I would sound pretty dumb!!

So, it would be greatly appreciated if someone could get back to me and help me if you're not too busy!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2001

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. Our thoughts and sympathy go to the victims and their loved ones. We support the efforts of the Red Cross.

Heard some rumours about a Dutch writer, writing a new novel on Sylvia Plath. Being a genuine SP-lover and admirer, I think I better share this information with you, people. I know, Sylvia is not very well-known out here, but there seems to be at least 2 persons reading her work nowadays. Me and ...

If I heard it correctly, the title will be (translated)Thus I made a fist out of my fingers. Mail me if you here more about this topic. I'm right on it myself, but hell, maybe you can tell me more.

Melick, Holland
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Jim & Kristina,

Yes, I wrote something about being more "direct" in prose than in poetry, but it's not that simple : I wrote then that a separating "line" between poetry and prose does not really exist, but that a critic, or a reader, or the poet himself can have under certain circumstances the feeling that there is indeed such a line, even if such a feeling is, from a more general and abstract point of view, "wrong".

I wrote too "You could say, S. Plath's poems are realtively direct and 'extreme' ",What I want to suggest is contradictory.There is a difference between Plath's last poems and the novel, but it's not a radical one.

On the other hand, the use of the third or of the first person and of the preterite (the "pass simple" in French - Barthes wrote some brillant lines about that) have become so banal that you must not 'believe' in them, it does not mean much. When I read The Bell Jar (again and again), I have the feeling the person writing that goes again through that experience he (she) is describing, that means, I really doubt if S. Plath "uses a narrator that is not identified with the author", as you wrote it - and sometimes she does not use the preterite, but the present : chapter 13 : "I am I am I am", chapter 20 : "I am I am I am", both times in connection with the proximity of death - so both times Plath uses the same "direct" way as in the last poems.

(Another, certainly more convincing example of this 'confusion des genres' is Ingeborg Bachmann's novel "Malina", which is, from the beginning to the end, written in the first person and in the present - except the last sentence -"Es war Mord" - "It was a murder").

Besides, the way The Bell Jar is written is not the way a novel is supposed to be written, for certain theoreticians (like Bakhtin) at least : in a novel you should hear (read) different voices, different languages of different (social) origins, precisely this dialectic of different voices who are NOT primarly the voice of the author constitutes a novel.

But The Bell Jar is certainly about a past experience, even if S. Plath goes again through it as she writes it, even if it's her voice we hear and not some other voices, whereas the poems are expressing a 'present' experience.

What I mean is : it's not a radical difference (in a rather similar way, if not on the same level, there is a unity between Rilke's only novel and his later poems). A person is neither what he (she) is living right now nor what he (she) was living in the past, but both, and, to answer now to Kristina, he (she) is besides constituted through the different personalities (or the different sides of his/her personality) she shows in this or that situation, with these or those other persons.

So I think there is in the case of S. Plath no radical difference between writing about her past (or writing her past) and writing about-, expressing her present situation and personality : in both cases it's a very subjective writing, a lyrical writing.Maybe, and that's another question, it failed in the case of the novel.

Kristina, I don't know how you feel about the novel, but I don't know how I feel myself : I feel imprisoned in a very narrow world, and I often think she is herself imprisoned in her "pose" (that was your expression), and, on the other hand, I am fascinated - then again, it's an ambiguous fascination, like the one you may feel in the presence of mentally ill people you happen to know, and so on.

About the "pot boiler"-aspect : It seems American writers (maybe American people in general) have not "our" European hypocrisy about money (for example in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and, more directly, in The Crack-Up, it's a central theme), but I don't quite believe the words about writing a "pot boiler", I mean, I don't think it was the only, or even the main aspect; maybe you know how necessary - and difficult it is to write about a traumatic experience, and, to say it again, I'm not sure Sylvia Plath succeeded (and I'm not sure that she did not succeed).

It is certainly interesting to compare Sylvia Plath's novel with The Catcher in the Rye, which I have just now read again.

About the feminist aspects : you are surely right, but maybe as a man I am not welcome in this field, but, sure, we can discuss about that too (for example : I don't like Esther's attitude towards her mother, and I find her way of getting rid of her virginity - not the fact that she wants to lose it ! - rather stupid and brutal - I mean, this sort of brutality, total absence of tenderness you normally expect from a man).

Michel Kappes
Brest, France
Friday, September 7, 2001

Before someone gets on my case about it--I realize that in my last post I said that "The Bell Jar" was written in the third person; of course this is wrong--it was a first-person narrative, but from the perspective of a persona that was ostensibly not Plath's. This doesn't really alter my opinion that this perspective was a form of indirection that Plath used to distance the character's history from her own.

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Friday, September 7, 2001

Michel, I don't agree, at least in the case of Plath, that the writer is being more "direct" in the prose than in the poetry. After all, "The Bell Jar" is written in the third person, using a narrator that is not identified with the author. Indeed, Plath chose to publish the book under a pseudonym in order to distance herself from the autobiographical material in the book.

The poetry, on the other hand, is emphatically in the first person. The speaker insists on her own perspective; even when speaking with the voice of others, as an elm tree, for example, or an expectant mother in hospital, the speaker speaks as an "I". "ich, ich, ich..." And she doesn't shy away from them by using any other name but her own. It's hard to imagine anyone speaking more directly to the reader than Plath does in the late poems. "It is a terrible/ thing to be so open; it's as if my heart/ put on a face and walked into the world".

Also, it seems to me that real passion generates power; it is sentimentality that generates "kitsch"

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Plath scholars will have the best comments, but to respond to your suggestion about The Bell Jar, Michel, that it was Plath's way of finding out about who she really was, I don't think the book functioned that way for her at all. She had planned for a long time to write a rather popular, even "potboiler" novel about her breakdown at age 20 and then her experience in the mental hospital. She had correctly identified that as a marketable idea, (which it still is). She adopts an abrasive, post-adolescent tone for the novel which strikes me as a pose, an exaggerating of one side of herself for the sake of a strong "voice." It's been compared to Catcher in the Rye and I think that is a clear influence. The novel doesn't show any of the exuberant, gushy Plath of Letters Home or the deeply thoughtful, passionate, disciplined (sometimes gushy) person who emerges in the Journals. It's a performance as a rather cold, self-absorbed young person who can't get much perspective on her experiences -- which was an aspect of Plath's personality, but she had moved far beyond it by the time she wrote The Bell Jar.

On second thought, there is a powerful current of anger in The Bell Jar concerning men and their sexual freedom compared to women's. There is outright hatred toward Buddy Willard because he's allowed to have sex while Esther is supposed to be "pure" if she's to be his wife. Some of Plath's anger at Hughes may have informed that aspect of the book, but if you read the Journals, you'll see that she was outraged by the sexual double standard even in her early teens. I've always been a bit surprised that she hasn't been hailed more as a 50's feminist, instead of someone who was cruelly trapped inside 50's norms. She's actually very prescient in her analyses of sexual politics.

Kristina Eldredge
Brooklyn USA
Wednesday, September 5, 2001,

To Jim Long,

Maybe the writing of the novel "The Bell Jar" had indeed something to do with Sylvia Plath's relation to Ted Hughes. Maybe Sylvia P. was willing to find and affirm her own position (in life and literature) and to gain some distance from Ted H. So she had to know and write who she really was, and a novel like "The Bell Jar" allows - or compels the writer to be more direct than by writing poetry.

OK, you could say, S. Plath's last poems are relatively direct and 'extreme', so we can see a link between writing these poems and writing "The Bell Jar", because in both cases we could speak of writing without a mask. But there remains a difference between writing poetry and writing prose (this sort of prose).

I was confronted with this phenomenon as I began to work on the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann. As she began to write prose, some critics did not recognise 'their' Bachmann any more, because she did was not a 'poet' any more, I mean, she had crossed the line which separates the world of 'pure beauty' from the more realistic world of prose. Of course, I don't mean that this line really exists, but sometimes critics or readers may think so, and the poet himself may feel he is imprisoned in this beautiful, pure world, where he can write anything without shocking anybody...

But I can't really write about S. Plath's poems, because my English is too bad and so I can't have this intimate relation to the texts that you can only have to texts written in your mother tongue (although I can speak German much better as English, since it's my job, I find it quite difficult to speak about German poetry, for the same reason).

My last mail was a sort of provocation. To put it more seriously : I' m very much interested in the problem of the relation between poetry and 'lyrical' prose, and also - and that has a lot to do with S. Plath's novel - with the raltion between autobiographical and lyrical writing,and I am very much interested with the phenomenon of the 'aura'of some writers. I habe nothing at all against being 'passionate', but I think you have to 'fight' against passion with your rational intelligence, otherwise passion produces 'kitsch'.

Michel Kappes
Brest, France
Tuesday, September 4, 2001

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