The Sylvia Plath Forum

January-February 2002

As dramatic as is it sounds I have been in love with the life and the work of Sylvia Plath since I was 14, I remember every detail of the first time I read the Bell Jar, and it certainly inspired me to read as much by and about Plath as possible.

I am now 21 and am currently in my final year of an English Literature which thankfully involves writing a dissertation. And as you can imagine I have chosen to devote my dissertation to the conflict of literture within and surrounding the work of Sylvia Plath. I too, have read 'Silent Women' by Janet Malcolm but have to say that it is not merely concerned with the breakdown of Plath's marriage, in fact I would argue that it is more concerned with the conflict involved in the writing of an biographical text upon Sylvia Plath. There is a volume of work written about Plath and inded her relationship with Hughes and I would suggest that any true lover of Plath should read Tim Kendall's 'Sylvia Plath: A critical Study'.

I alos do not feel that it is fair to suggest that 'Daddy' is merely concerned with the betrayal of Plath by Hughes, although I appreciate that it is highly indicative of Plath's deep rooted hurt, I think that perhaps to truly understand it to the highest level one must be aware of it;'s literary angles and Plath's discussion of the role of literature in any relationship. After all why else wopuld there be so much of her father's native tongue included within the poem??

Having said that I can understand why it is that Julia felt that her own betrayal enabled her to read Plath's work so effectively, the true beauty of Plath's work is that she reaches her readers on so many different levels! She almost calls you to her pages and allows you to picture yourself on those pages.

Michelle Sowden
Bath, England
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

For your information:
Associated Writing Programs 2002 Annual Conference
March 69, 2002
Radisson Hotel New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana
More info
9:00 a.m.10:15 a.m.

On Becoming Magical: Vision and Revision in the Craft of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Janet Sylvester (moderator), Peter Cooley, Caroline King Hall, Alan Williamson.

Wish I could go. Is anyone planning to?

Melbourne, Australia
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

This is an interesting website..... I am trying to decide whether to teach Plath to some 12th grade students.... I think I will send them to this website....... Thanks everyone...

Kingston, Jamaica.
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Hello, I am doing a research paper on how life experience affets poets poetry. As an example I am using Sylvia Plath. An interview is a requirement to this paper. So if there is anyone who would be willing to help me and let me ask them some questions about Sylvia Plath I would be very gratefull. Also i would like to keep the questions over email if no one minds my email is Thanks again.

Cramichaels, USA
Tuesday, February 26, 2002

I first fell in love with Sylvia when I read The Bell Jar at age 16. Then I fell in love all over again as a University student reading the Ariel poems. The Professor decided that I should be the one who read Daddy to the class. Some time later, one of the males who was present at that reading said that it sent chills down his spine. That would be the desired effect.

I very much like the biography of Plath that was written by Janet Malcolm.It is titled The Silent Woman. There is much detail of the events in the ending of her Marriage. We cannot underestimate the effect of that heartbreak. It is at the root of the last poems.

God, in his infinite mercy, does fully understand the nature of the heartbreak which she felt and we can be certain that when she chose to end her life on this Earth she travelled to Heaven where she now lives in peace. My greatest wish is that her children and her other family members will live with the knowledge that her work made her the finest of all Modern Poets.

The truth is sometimes brutal, but it always sets us free. Our job then is to comfort those who must face the pains of living. Since I had the misfortunate experience that Sylvia knew, I can tell you in all honesty that there is no greater pain than that of having your Husband betray you. I learned from her experience to the extent that I decided to survive for myself and for her.

My survival was hard won, but won nonetheless. I now understand Daddy on the deepest level. I want to encourage all of you to look upon her life as a success and not as a failure. She left behind two children and a body of work which is unparalled in the history of Poetry. Her only failure was that she put her trust into a Marriage that died.

I encourage all to recognize that Poetry is an art form and to pay respect to Sylvia Plath the Artist during the month of her death. May God bless us all.

Julie Stanford
Pensacola Florida, USA
Thursday, February 14, 2002

This webpage is a unique "venue" for communication with the lovers of Plath by exchanging opinions and views. I find it immensely helpful. I just want to share my personal satisfaction and fulfilment with those who enjoy her poetry since recently I have finished translating 35 Plath's major poems (including her play in verse Three Women)into Macedonian language. These are the first translations into Macedonian of these poems. This spring I will publish them in a book of translations of selected poetry by Plath. So far only a couple of her poems have been translated into my language.I I hold a BA in English Language and Literature and I am preoccupied with literary translation, particularly of poetry. One day I would like to translate The Bell Jar as well.

Skopje, Macedonia
Thursday, February 14, 2002

Peter Davison (yes, that Peter Davison) has an article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic (March 2002) called "Poetry Out Loud," about the state of modern poetry, how it's becoming more of a performance art, and so forth. He discusses the Favorite Poem Project of former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and quotes one of the participants, Seph Rodney, who discusses his first encounter with Plath's poetry, specifically "Nick and the Candlestick." (Davison describes the poem as an "incandescent.") Here's a little excerpt from the Rodney quote that I thought was interesting:

"I think my sense of poetry was that it was always this grandiose...high-falutin, not very real way of using language. I looked at this stuff and could not believe it...It was powerful, it was rough, it was bitter, it was caustic, it was at the same time urgent about a need for love...the stuff that she wrote really spoke to me, a man, a Jamaican immigrant. You could hardly get two people more distant in terms of social, economic, intellectual and religious realities. But she spoke to me....I love this poem because it is crazy, because it is headlong, it is brutal, and it does not proceed rationally...And the last line is like a gift from the gods."

Michael Gates
Jersey City, USA
Thursday, February 14, 2002

Hello: I have two questions.

1. Does anyone know SP's childhood parakeets' names? I know her cat's name but I don't know her birds'.

2. I am curious about reactions to Frieda Hughes' poem "The Readers." I think it is quite good in that it begs the question of individuals like ourselves. Are we, Readers, so used to reading about fictional characters and searching for motifs that we automatically have taken the life of a real person and analyzed it as if it were fiction? Is SP simply a good character, one we who we like or admire, one who causes us wonder? Do we seek to add order, themes to her life because of our own literary propensities?

Also, is this a positive or negative action on our parts? It could be positive if the Reader gains self-understanding or greater understanding of the human condition. Still, that gain would not nullify any harm caused by the same actions if the individuals who did not simply read about SP, but who knew SP as a mother, lover, wife, or friend have their privacy invaded or their experiences questioned for validity.

I appreciate Frieda Hughes' poem for the private memory that it references and for the reflection that it should cause all Readers who are inspired by non-fictional characters.

Indianapolis, USA
Thursday, February 14, 2002

Hi! This is my first time posting, and I just wanted to say that this website really is a gem - informative, and helpful. Well done!

Tomorrow (February 11th) is the anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death, I believe...she was truly brilliant, an artistic genius in my opinion, and even 39 years after her death, she is sorely missed. Her poetry and other writings live on, proving that they do stand the test of time admirably.

I hope more people feel the same as I do, and continue to enjoy her work for many years more.

Glasgow, Scotland
Sunday, February 10, 2002

Hello, I was just wondering if anyone knows where the name "The Bell Jar" derived from, and what significance it has to the story. I read it about 3 weeks ago, and I totally love it. every word is on the page for a reason.


Erskine Park, Australia
Sunday, February 10, 2002

I just wanted to explain that I never thought that Ruth Barnhouse was responsible for SP's suicide. For it would be a very serious accusation, and that is not my point to make any accusation. I just wanted to give my opinion on the therapy because I did not agree when I read that "she had saved her life" earlier on the forum.

Coulommiers, France
Sunday, February 10, 2002

In a previous posting I believe that Elaine has stated that in the 1960's gassing was a common method of suicide. Certain accounts have also led me to believe that it is a relatively painless and quiet way to do it. It is so hard to say why Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Some might say it was intentional, some might say it was a cry for help. The opinion one forms from reading the biographies on Plath and from the excellent perspectives on this Forum and elsewhere are debatable until the mad cows come home. But the mad cows have all been slaughtered.

Alex Beam is usually right on the ball with his writings about Plath and the necessary circle that is always mentioned. That he is so far off the mark and even callous regarding Plath's first suicide attempt is shocking. One can expect as much from a resident of Newton, Mass. but as a respected writer and as a writer who has researched Sylvia Plath, Mr Beam should be very well aware of the financial difficulties the Plath's had until, basically, 1971 when The Bell Jar was published in America. Plath may have known about McLean as a teenager, it's pretty close to Wellesley, but it wouldn't have been her intention to get locked up in McLean when she took the sleeping pills that August day. It's evident she "meant to last it out."

Dr B may have done more harm than good. In 1953 it was important that Dr B was in Sylvia's life. What came next, during the "Interviews" of late 1958 and 1959 may have helped Plath probe herself and her past but I do not feel it is more important than her practise and dedication to the art of poetry and creative writing. Ted Hughes, as influence and pillar of support, was very obviously more important in Plath's development as a writer than those weeping sessions with shrink with her own problems.

Mr Beam, wherever you are, Sylvia Plath got the idea to write a novel about her time in a mental hospital around the time she was transcribing the medical records at the psychiatric ward of Massachusetts General Hospital. She also got the idea, like so many others, from reading The Catcher in the Rye. It is always remarkable how frequently great writers, and what they write, are taken out of context.

Peter K Steinberg
Boston Mass, USA
Saturday, February 9, 2002

I just wanted to comment on therapy and suicide. First off, in some cases, unfortunately, therapy is simply not successful and I feel it is rash to say that SP's therapist didn't help her enough or didn't give her the resources to help herself. Therapy is certainly not a one sided situation. I believe in order for it to be successful it has to be a 50/50 partnership. The only people who know what went on in those therapy sessions are SP and Ruth Barnhouse. The end result doesn't necessarily indicate that RB was any less of a therapist.If Sylvia had grown up in this day and age perhaps she would have survived or at lease, had a better chance of survival because of the many advancements in Pyschiatry (medication, therapy methods). Let's not forget that Sylvia had been dealing with these problems for many, many years not just while she was seeing RB so in that case I don't believe RB "released" Sylvia's "demons"..they were always there. I feel the only way a therapist could be held responsible for someone's suicide is if they had been grossly negligent in doing their job and it appears the RB wasn't. That is, of course, just my humble opinion! : )

Ottawa, Canada
Saturday, February 9, 2002

Maybe I am wrong but I really do not think that Ruth Barnhouse saved SP's life for eight years. I think she opened the door to Sylvia's demons (the loss of her father,the strange hate and love relationship to her mother). Those demons were to haunt her for the rest of her life and were recurent in her poetry. Mixed up with Ted Hughes's unfaithfulness, they became more and more unbearable.

Doctors showed SP what was wrong but did not give her the keys to cope with it and live with it. The therapy was not complete...maybe one reason for her suicide.

Coulommiers, France
Thursday, February 7, 2002

Berck Plage
4th February 2002

I walked to Le Torquet-Paris Plage from Berck-Plage on this day listening to the poem on a tape. SP used the death of a certain Percy Key as an opportunity to write this gigantic poem. The wind carried me north, it was fair and dry. Later, winter sun. The resort is set back from the coast and awkward to get to. Disappointment is the Word that springs to mind. Apart from the Plage, the town is dreary, compares poorly to Le Torquet-Paris Plage and is reminiscent of Jean Hellier drawing coats and meat in shop windows in an out of season Brittany town.

I start to further comprehend the mood and stages of the poem when the first shop after alighting from the bus from Rang-du-Fliers when I notice a false arm, a fifties wheelchair and crutches, in a shop vitrine.

There is a southwest road to the beach between the grand hospital and the dunes. This is the sea then starts here. A short walk and other props are revealed- bunkers, breakwaters and dunes. The dunes like a sea also. The wedding cake hotel, is, however at the north end not here, and there are enormous and intriguing gun emplacements beyond the heaped dunes. Iris is a hotel there. There is a cottage with the words Sylvia and Rome as cartouche. The gentle rise to the sea you could not see, held a promise. The people of the town are not aware of the connection to SP and may not care.Le Torguet is far nicer, though! Why was SP in Berck Plage?

London, England
Thursday, February 7, 2002

I have posted the photos of Paris here, due to the large response. I hope to get more on my next trip.

San Jose, CA, USA
Thursday, February 7, 2002

I don't think Sylvia's method of suicide had any symbolic meaning, either. I think she thought of gas as simply a painless method. There is a passage in the Unabridged Journals describing how she and Ted, while living in Boston, found a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. They kept it for a while, but when it became obvious that the bird was sick and suffering, they gassed it, using gas from their stove. See pages 402-403. Elsewhere, she complains about the exhaust system in their car and wonders if it is slowly gassing them. There are also references to carbon monoxide in her poetry. So the idea had been somewhere in the back of her mind for some time, it seems.

Jersey City, USA
Wednesday, February 6, 2002

I, personally, don't believe Sylvia's method of suicide was meant to be symbolic in any way. Assia Weville, Ted's "other woman", was actually not a holocaust survivor. The Gutman's (Assia's maiden name) left Germany in the mid 1930's for Tel Aviv in order to escape the worsening persecution of the Jews. I think her chosen method of suicide is a small detail in a very large and incredibly complex picture. I'm sure we will never completely know or understand the exact reason SP commited suicide let alone know her reasoning for using gas to carry it out.There are so many theories floating around that it's difficult to know what is what!

Ottawa, Canada
Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Perhaps this issue has been raised before, if so forgive me for I am a novice with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I have noticed that the method in which Ms. Plath took her life, "Gassing" herself in an oven, does it not seem ironic? Was not Ted Hughes "Other woman" a holocaust survivor? Was there some attempt at manipulation here from Ms. Plath? I find this to be the ultimate irony in the tragic realtionship of all three individuals.

Chico, CA, USA
Tuesday, February 5, 2002

I agree with Mr. Long. SP's suicide attempt appears to have been deadly serious, and she seems to have been desperate. Also, she had no idea when she swallowed the pills that she'd end up somewhere like McLean, and wouldn't have if her patron hadn't stepped in and financed her stay there. Her first few days at Mass. General seem to have been a far cry from the de luxe treatment she got later.

Perhaps SP tried to make light of her attempt afterwards, trying to save face in the life she thought she'd thrown off. Also, Dr. B's remark is fairly recent, and made about a very famous patient of hers that ended up a suicide after all. Maybe it says as much about herself as about SP? And I've never read that she had any contact with Anne Sexton at all, so how would she know?

On another note: last summer I took SP's journals with me to Paris and walked her route from her hotel (gone now) to Sassoon's place (still there)...went to the Hotel des Deux Continents, etc. I photographed everything. If anyone's interested in the photos they can email me.

San Jose, CA, USA
Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Thanks to whoever set up the wbsite. have got an important test on Plath soon, which I've already failed once and this site has helped a lot.

Peebles, Scotland
Tuesday, February 5, 2002

I don't know about Anne Sexton, but it strikes me that swallowing 50 pills, hiding in a crawl space under the house for 3 days, puking all over yourself, scarring yourself permanently, both physically and emotionally, udergoing electroschock therapy and subsequent traumas...all this doeesn't sound to me like a "glamorous exercise". Why this resentment that Plath should choose to use this experience as material for her writing? It certainly didn't make her rich, and was probably written more as a necessary purgative, to objectify the experience, rather than to exploit it.

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Monday, February 4, 2002

I wanted to share a small morsel that showed up in the press this week, from a review of a new book about the McLean hospital in Mass. where SP, Anne Sexton etc. were treated. Here it is: "I interviewed a woman whom I quote both in the article and in the book, named Ruth Barnhouse, who was Sylvia Plath's psychiatrist and who saved Sylvia Plath's lifeat least for a period of eight years. For some reason, I didn't quote her saying this in the book, but she and others have said that there was a heavy air of self-dramatization about both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. She spoke sort of disparagingly about these well-to-do poets for whom it was a glamorous exercise to show up in the mental hospital. Plath even confided in her journal that she could make a lot of money by writing a novel about McLeanwhich she then went on to do."

I found it interesting... the link is here.

San Jose, CA, USA
Sunday, February 3, 2002

I am trying to track down a reference at the end of "Sow" to "that hog whose want/Made lean Lent/Of Kitchen slops and, stomaching no constraint./Proceeeded to swill/The seven troughed seas..."

I have looked in vain to find a legend or story about such a pig. Anyone know where it's from? Or perhaps it is an invetion of Plath's?

Bob Meade
New York, USA
Friday, February 1, 2002

I think that Sylvia is a really good role model because even though a lot of bad things happened in her life she still produced some wonderful poetry. RIP!

Alex Leech
Stamford, England
Friday, February 1, 2002

Does anyone know if the BBC is still making the "Sylvia and Ted" movie that was rumored before?. I think the decision to cast Cate Blanchett as Sylvia was excellent. She did a wonderful job when she portrayed Elizabeth 1 in "Elizabeth" so it will be interesting to see how she she does when and if she plays Sylvia. I wonder if this is going to be a "Major Motion Picture" or a tv. movie. On an unrelated note, I recently bought "A Closer Look At Ariel: A Sylvia Plath Memoir" by Nancy Hunter Steiner (its coming in the mail)and I was just curious to know how many people on the forum have this and what they thought of it?

(by the way, I was very relieved to find out that Meg Ryan would not attempt to play Sylvia.That would have been a disaster!)

Ottawa, Canada
Sunday, January 27, 2002

RE: the poem "Words"

First, I would hope that those who ask for help with a major poem like "Words", which in spite of its brevity is not an easy poem, would allow some time to get responses posted. Your question was posted on Jan. 21st; I read it on the 22nd; I am responding on the 23rd; whether or not the reply gets posted by the 24th, when you have to give your presentation is a matter of whether the moderator has time to post, and even then it leaves you no time to absorb what you learn and to incorporate it into your presentation.

Yes, in a sense, the poem can be construed to be about the power of words, tho in this case a destructive power. Images of echoes, resonations, reverberations, concatenations are numerous in Plath's poems--each word like a stone dropped in a pond, the meanings and symbolism of words travelling out from them like ripples.

In "Words" they drag her , like the horse in "Ariel" and wound her, bringing to the surface sap, like tears, or like the blood-jet of poetry, trying to re-establish her own image, the mirror, her own sense of self, over the rock, which here is the "white skull eaten by weedy greens", that represents her father's death; the white skull at the bottom of the pool is the "fixed star" that represents her fate. This has been the task of the poems, to heal the psychic wound caused by his death, and to reestablish her own image.

But, encountering them years later, in this case just days before her death, they appear "dry and riderless", sterile and powerless to do what she tries to make them do. So, in a larger sense the poem is about the impotence of words to resist one's fate, as embodied in the white skull at the bottom of the pool, where, in "All the Dead Dears", "the daft father went down/ orange duck-feet winnowing his hair".

This sense of fatalism, the inevitability of her death is, in my opinion, a legacy she inherited from Ted Hughes, in whose work this sense of fatalism, particularly in "Birthday Letters" is a major motif. In BL, in fact, he claims to be the source of the idea that it is the fixed stars that govern one's life.

I call this a major poem because it encapsulates in 20 lines the whole task that she set for herself and her work, and, in spite of the triumph of her poetic accomplishment, the ultimate failure of that task.

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Thursday, January 24, 2002

Hi there- I have been assigned to teach a poem to the class. After looking at various poems, i found that the poem "Words" had much depth and could easily teach the different metaphors, symbols, and the focus to the class. Now my dilemna is if I understand the poem as Sylvia Plath intended it to be understood. I believe the focus is that words can be vert powerful. So she compares it to axes- which can damage and harm greatly, just as words can. The sap seems like it could be the blood of nature, or the essential blood in order to live. "To re-establish the mirror..." , meaning that it takes time to get over the image/pain. "a white skull"- something to do with death, but it portrays it to be meaningful. "The indefatigable hooftaps"- meaning life goes on. And that overall, words are what drive us, they are more powerful then we think.

I notice that in the 1st and 4th stanza it talks about horses, and hooftaps. is this a metaphor or symbol in the poem, and what does it mean? What does the white skull and weedy greens represent. And do the last 2 lines of the fourth stanza convey the power of words?

Any other help to further understand this poem would be greatly appreciated. My presentation is on the 24th, so if you have time to respond before then, that would be superb. Thank you so much for your time.

Sylvia Plath is a phenomenal poet, I'm taking poetry for a semester this yr (my senior year) and i could relate to Plath's poetry and comprehend them better than any other poet. thanks again.

Seattle, USA
Monday, January 21, 2002

RE: "Two Views of a Cadaver Room", she seems to be refering to the painting called "The Triumph of Death", the only one that depicts all the elements in the poem: the three figures in the lower right hand corner being the man playing the mandolin (?) looking up at the music held in the woman's hand, with the fiddle-playing skeleton looking over her shoulder. It may be difficult to tell, unless you have an excellent color reproduction that her 'cloak' or skirt is blue. It certainly is a "panorama of smoke and slaughter".

If you don't have access to a copy, here is a good reproduction

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

In the second part of Two Views of a Cadaver Room Plath's poem reads;

Have a book of Brueghel paintings (not complete)and find no painting matching this description. One painting called The Blue Cloak has a husband being cloaked in blue by his wife but the meaning of this and the painting as a whole is exactly opposite of how Plath describes. (If this is the painting in question.)Blue symbolized "deceit or lying in 16th century Flanders", and cloaking here means "hiding her infidelities from her cuckold husband." (text quote) And the surrounding village though chaotic looking, is not violent. Active weird, yes, Brueghel packing the scene with folklore symbolism. For example "an ear blower (a gossip), He who spills his gruel can't get it all up (no use crying over spilt milk"... Anyone know of another painting that matches?

Terry Roby
West Bloomfield, Michigan, USA
Sunday, January 13, 2002

If anyone has any information on where I could find a book that deals with analyzing Sylvia Plath's short stories, especially "Mothers", please e-mail me. It would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Bielefeld, Germany
Thursday, January 10, 2002

Hello Elaine and all, and Happy New Year

Elaine, I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say "thank you" for creating and maintaining this invaluable site. The SP Forum has not only been important in terms of discussion, illumination and dissemination of information, it's been a wonderful way to meet new people and make new friends. This site and the work you've done has definitely impacted my life and all for the better - so thanks again. I'm so looking forward to contributing this year and reading and becoming involved in everyone else's contributions and insights.

Detroit, USA
Wednesday, January 9, 2002

For those in the Northeast US, February 16th is the date of the 2002 "Sylvia Plath Bake-off". Starting off as a bit of black humor over a decade ago, it has become perhaps the world's only combination open mic/baked goods competition. Attendance at the annual event is regularly 50+ and attracts the best of the poetry community in New York's Hudson Valley. The event continues despite some noise from the Pillsbury people re: their copywright on the phrase, "Bake-Off"! The Sylvia Plath Bake-off has become a forum for those who admire the works of Plath, Hughes, et al, as well as those suffering from mid-winter cabin fever. For more info, please e-mail me at the above address.

C. Rice
Kingston, NY, USA
Wednesday, January 9, 2002

A Happy New Year to all Forum contributors and readers. And welcome to the start of the site's fifth year in existence. Interest in Plath seems to be increasing all over the world where she is now a much studied poet at all levels of education. How different from my own student days in the 1970's when along with other women I had to agitate for her inclusion on the modern poets' syllabus.

Last year saw the publication of several new books on both Plath and Hughes which I am sure many of us have either read or would be interested in reading. We are eager to receive any reviews of these works on Plath and Hughes (where relevant) by our contributors or links to reviews which people have found valuable and/or interesting.

We are constantly seeking to improve the site and would welcome any suggestions for its development.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Tuesday, January 8, 2002

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