The Sylvia Plath Forum

September-November 2002

Paul, very interesting question and suggestion. I feel that if one does not want to consider Plath as a confessional poet, they shouldn't and I do not think Plath wrote in the same way as Lowell, Sexton, Snodgrass, etc. Perhaps Sexton and Lowell wrote in a very similar way as I cannot get into their poetry the way I can Plath's. Plath's poetry, as Alvarez has very eloquently written on it, is far and away more accessible and urgent a writer. We are all reading Plath for various reasons and I think her "popularity" is in large part due to a what each of us brings to the table, so to speak. If it is a "fashionable view" in the UK right now to go along with the statements Alvarez has made, things could change. That is where theory fails utterly. It could quite possibly be a sympathetic agreement (like the reception of Birthday Letters in some places). If something is fashionable it will go out of date. Plath will not go out of style but the ways in which we thi! nk, read and analyze her works & life will undoubtedly shift.

Plath being "curiously detached" from her writing is a brilliant way to describe some of her greatest poems. She could mock herself, and mock others. She wouldn't have commited suicide though if she was truly detached from her works though. Curiously is a tricky word but I think it is very arguable that one could employ the word confessional to describe those "curiously detached" poems.

Peter K Steinberg
Boston, USA
Saturday, November 30, 2002

I'd like to make an observation about a sentence in Matt Bryden's posting on 15 Oct 02 and the response to it by Jim Long the following day:

Matt wondered if Sylvia Plath's (SP's) suicide and work leant publicity to the "more confessional poetry" of others, including Robert Lowell.

Jim came up with a statement that 'confessional poetry in academic circles includes the work of ... Plath, Sexton, Lowell and W D Snodgrass", and then went on to say that he, personally, would include a number of other poets.

I think that Jim's remarks wouldn't find much agreement with either UK academics, poets, or other 'interested parties'. The fashionable view on this side of the Atlantic is that expressed by Al Alvarez in his autobiography entitled "Where Did It All Go Right?" I'll paraphrase remarks he made on pp 196-7:

"What Lowell, Berryman and Plath wrote about was private and volatile. 'Confessional' poetry was a mindless, loose-lipped style which they didn't have time for. The poems SP wrote in her suicidal depression were sardonic, angry, unforgiving, tender yet disciplined, and are always curiously detached."

Regarding this last phrase: if they're 'curiously detached', they can't be 'confessional', can they? Or have I missed something, semantically speaking?

Alvarez knew SP as well as anyone other than her family and her husband. Is it not reasonable to remove the 'confessional' label from her work?

Paul Grainger
Lincoln, UK
Friday, November 29, 2002

Hello to those of you who know me better as Claire Mobbs, including Elaine. I used to post regularly, but......for once I want to ask some advice. Does anyone know anything about any connection between Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath, would you all count Bishop as confessional, as Marianne Moore, Lowell etc, I would love to hear some opinions on this.....(those of you who know me will appreciate that this is just an excuse to bring SP into, the work I am being OBLIGED to do on Elizabeth Bishop) Just one thing more....GWYNETH PALTROW!!!!!

Claire Cozler
Les Sables d'Olonne, France
Friday, November 29, 2002

Those of you interested in the influence of art on Plath's work may want to check out an exhibition opening this month at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne looks at de Chirico's lifelong fascination with the story of Ariadne -a princess whose golden thread led Theseus out of the labyrinth, she was eventually abandoned by him. Readers of Birthday Letters may have noted Hughes' use of the characters and imagery from this myth - especially the Minotaur - in some of his poems, and the theme perhaps needs closer scrutiny, as de Chirico was a major artistic influence on Plath. The show runs through Jan. 5, 2003 and there is a fully illustrated catalog that accompanies the exhibition, which comprises 50+ paintings, drawings and sculpture. This is the exhibition's only US venue; the show moves to London and will be at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from Jan. 22 - April 23, 2003. Kim
Detroit, USA
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I am trying to find out about Mr.W.Crockett: is he still alive etc?He was my English Teacher when I was at Wellesley High l945-1947.

June Hayward Hagen
Fitchburg, USA
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Bonjour tous et toutes, Tout d'abord excusez-moi de ne pas vous crire en anglais, je maitrise trop mal votre langue. Je suis la recherche de poemes de Sylvia Plath traduits en francais. J'anime un site de poesie pour enfants et adolescents. Dans la rubrique "ado de par le monde" j'aimerai prsenter au moins un pome de S Plath en version anglaise. Merci ceux qui peuvent m'aider. Vive la poesie.

Marie Brisson
Paris, France
Monday, November 25, 2002

I would just like to say that I'm a screenwriter (I have an agent in England), and director of short films, and I have read all of Sylvia Plath's poems from 1956 on. She is the greatest American born poet of the 20th century. Her poems are haunting.

I wish I could have met her, but I will always have her in my thoughts.

David Paul Schmickel
Burbank, California, USA
Sunday, November 24, 2002

To all the Sylvia Plath fans visiting the Internet, First of all I would like to give my compliments to the initiators of this forum, for it gives us Plath admirors a great oppurtunity to gain communal insight into the various aspects considering Sylvia Plath, her life, her work, her loves and her fears. Second of all, I am working on a paper about Sylvia Plath's presence on the Internet. The question that interests me most is what it is exactly about her life and her work that make people all over the world become so fascinated by her. Is it recognistion, is it admiration for a poet as sensitive as her, with the ability to write about those feelings we all share?

Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Plath is one of the greatest poets of all time and this site is a fitting tribute. Our favorites are Blackberrying and Cuts, and this site is helpful as well as interesting. Thank you for taking the time to create something so worthwhile

Zo And Sylvie
Birmingham, England
Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Rehan, Sylvia Plath's hairstyle in 1961-1962 didn't really have a name per se; she referred to it as a coronet (a braided crown) with a fringe. She also sometimes wore her long hair in what has been described as a "schoolmarmish bun."

Kate Moses
San Francisco, USA
Friday, November 15, 2002

To Rachel from Los Angeles. If you are studying The applicant you should listen to the song by the band "Blue Aeroplanes" on their album "Swagger". It will probably help you with the rhyme, and it is really worthwhile listening to the Blue Aeroplanes's interpretation of the poem.

Karlsruhe, Germany
Thursday, November 14, 2002

Does anybody know what this hairsyle is called that Sylvia often wore (see links below)? It is also on the cover of 'The poet speaks' & such. I need this information for a review I'm writing. Will keep you posted on't.

Rehan A Qayoom
London, England
Thursday, November 14, 2002

Can anyone direct me to studies of the influence of earlier poets on Plath--Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins? I see those two very vividly in her work.

Sabrina Abhyankar
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Sylvia Plath 70th Year Literary Symposium was full of some of the greatest Plath scholars. There were a few notables missing scholars but the Symposium was based more on what we have and less on what we have not. There was a good mix of professors, independents, graduate students and a few giggly undergrads.

The "Eye Rhymes" exhibition is tough to describe and much beyond my vocabulary. I would suggest dropping whatever you are doing now and flying to Indiana to see it. The few art works on the "Eye Rhymes" web site are decent, but to see the entire range of Plath's artwork, from the late 1930's through the 1960's, puts her determination to succeed as a writer into great perspective. Kathleen Connors, the organizer and mastermind of the exhibit and the symposium deserves major kudos for her hard work. Please send tax-deductible donations!

The featured speakers were a highlight. Susan van Dyne's Keynote session was very well attended and very decent. She spoke about the poetic rivalry between Plath and Hughes. It appears obvious that Plath won out in the end; after all this was a celebration of her life. Judith Kroll gave a fascinating lunch time talk about her history with Sylvia Plath and I certainly think that if it hasn't been published already, a memoir would do quite well to the growing market of Plath scholarship. Robin Peel, author of the recent book titled Writing Back: Sylvia Plath and Cold War Politics spoke about Plath's 1960 anti-military collage, which gets a huge amount of attention in his book and was on display at the exhibit. (By the way, I would advise readers to buy his book, as it's another example of how Plath is being looked at in important new ways. This is how Plath's negative image will be lifted, not because they are making a film about her life. The book is highly priced at $45 and also has one of the worst copy editing jobs in all history, but it is informative. At last count, I noted over 60 typographical errors and a few factual errors, but I suspect the next printing should correct these.) Tracy Brain, Lynda K Bundtzen, Kate Moses and a few other featured speakers gave motivational presentations that give we hopefuls faith! Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren delivered a controversial presentation about a biography they are writing on Assia Wevill (hiss hiss) that will bring a lot of new information to light. I hope we all have our boxing gloves ready for that!

The sessions were all very interesting in terms of the subjects people are writing on and the presentations given. Some were basic, some were interesting and some were quite academic and employed massive, impressive words and complex sentence structures. Although it is tough to tell what is a digression and what has been thought about and analyzed too much! I had heard the The Bell Jar sessions even broke down into a bunch of laughing non-sense. But I was at the "Sylvia Plath in Birthday Letters" where the general consensus by a southern belle writing a paper on Vietnam at the moment was that Plath rocks and Hughes does not. Most of the presenters were very well prepared and had excellent views on looking at Plath.

The Lilly Library's collection at Indiana is a must see for any Plath scholar. Having been to the archive at Smith College many times I was excited to been at IU. I had never been there before and didn't know where to start, really, as the collection is so huge. But, I was disappointed only because most of what I was interested in seeing was on display in one way or another at the "Eye Rhymes" exhibition. I guess I'll have to go back! Of course I would like to write more but at the moment I'm still a bit mentally fatigued from the intense experience.

Peter K Steinberg
Boston, USA
Sunday, November 10, 2002

Did anyone attend the Sylvia Plath Symposium last weekend in Bloomington, Indiana? Please tell us about it! When else would there be the opportunity to have so many Plath scholars (and aspiring scholars) assembled together non-virtually in one place? I was scheduled to attend and was very much looking forward to it, but unfortunately had to cancel. Someone who attended, please fill us in on the sessions, the art exhibition, the experience of attending a literary symposium on Plath.

Stacey Greenwell
Lexington, KY, USA
Friday, November 8, 2002

I was reading some messages relating to whether or not Plath should be recommended/integrated into parts of courses for teenagers with the fear of it promoting negative emotions. As a teen who has been through low times in my life I would just like to say that these fears are totally unfounded - people who fear the affects of Plath's work simply do not understand depression. A big part of depression is feeling that you are not alone, not mad and that somebody understands. Whenever I read 'The Bell Jar' I appreciate its literary content as well as the important emphasis on depression. For somebody who's ever been there reading Plath is almost a carthartic experience. I find her genius wonderful, and her tragic suicide has attached a stigma to her work which makes people fear it. Plath did not write 'the Bell Jar' thinking it would promote negativity but to encourage understanding.

People who feel that her work would encourage depressed people to reach new depths of negativity are saying the same about all aspects of the arts - music, art and literature where depression and emotional turmoil are prevalent themes. Although I can understand people and parents being dubious of Plath's work because of her suicide, to me it is obvious that her work is a vehicle to relate to rather than censor. Sufferers of depresseion often feel isolated and Plath's work certainly provided me, and others a voice of empathy in some hard times.

Port Talbot, South Wales, UK
Monday, November 4, 2002

This is in response to Colm Heaney's posting. Colm, you have a right to your opinion, but to characterize people's reactions to Hughes destroying Plath's journal as merely ghoulish and purient self interest is not entirely on the mark. Certainly there are people who feel upset about the destroyed journal out of a gossipy curiousity to know 'what really happened.' But there are many more who simply feel valuable insights into her last work may have been deliberately lost (if one can deliberately lose something). Frankly, the idea of anyone's private journal being published after their death fills me with dread, although I very much doubt anyone would want to read mine! A more recent example is Kurt Cobain, whose journals were profiled in last week's Newsweek magazine.

A pertinent question might be why did Hughes publish Plath's journals at all, especially if he was so concerned about his privacy and that of his children and most importantly, that of his deceased wife. Those of you well conversant with the story know the reasons given or surmised, so I won't bore anyone with a detailed discussion. By partially publishing Plath's journals in the first place and honestly admitting that he destroyed and lost 2 journals, Hughes could hardly have been surprised when readers raised a 'hew and cry'about it. And it was Plath and Hughes' children, with the blessing of Hughes, who authorized the publication of Plath's 'unedited' Journals in 2000. You can't blame readers for reading the book.

As for depressed young women looking to Plath's poetry and writing - I wouldn't characterise depression or suicidal tendencies as 'pretensions', first of all. Secondly, while many young women - and young men - as well as adults - may turn to Plath's work because of the 'darkness' and 'despair' they find there, a good number of these readers go on to study poetry, take classes and otherwise begin to appreciate the subtle nuances and themes in Plath's work. Or they go on to create their own poetry, or paintings, etc. In other words, while many readers may be drawn to Plath initially for 'all the wrong reasons' - whatever those are - by reading and studying her work and the work of other, 'similar' writers, they may be able to go beyond their initial attraction and gain a real understanding and appreciation of Plath's work and the work of other writers.

Far better that depressed teens and adults read poetry than get high or drunk, in my opinion. And if you are depressed or in despair, and if a certain work by a certain artist helps you feel that you are not alone in feeling the way you do, than that is a good thing. As for young women's "ostensibly dissoloute (sic) sentiments should be fed upon by legions of such people" - I don't know if you mean Forum contributers are 'such people', feeding, vampire-like on the souls of despairing adolescents, but it seems an appropriate topic for Halloween! But to be serious, that is not what this Forum is about, and if you read through the archives from 1998 to the present, you might see that. While we seem to have gotten away from the poetry analysis in the last year or more, this Forum has provided a valuable resource for many, many people, in all sorts of way. If you don't like what you see here, Colm, I suggest you avoid the site altogether. By the way, my maternal grandfather was born in Transylvania in 1892, but I dare say I have not fed off anyone......yet:)

Detroit, USA
Thursday, October 31, 2002

Hi, I am writing a research paper on The Bell Jar, about how how the social pressure of women (of the 1950s) led to Esther's breakdown. Does anyone have a good quote (from anywhere) or title for the paper?

Chicago, USA
Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Sylvia Plath 10/27/32 - 2/11/63

The swans are gone. Still the river
Remembers how white they were.
It strives after them with its lights.
It finds their shapes in a cloud.
What is that bird that cries
With such sorrow in its voice?
I am young as ever,it says.

-Sylvia Plath, March 1962

Happy 70th Birthday
Of all the words of mice and men...

Sent anonymously to the forum

We do not own any part of the life of Sylvia Plath, we do not have any right to "share" her secrets. Ted Hughes is a different breded of poet, a genius like Plath, whose scope I believe strectched much farther than Sylvia's. Ted Hughes said that he burned Sylvia's journal's because "they were too painful" and he did NOT want his children seeing them. This is understandable. Any anger felt in reaction to this is mere petty frustration at not getting a front row seat in the kitchen she gassed herself in. It was their private life, I am sad that so much nonsense has been spread, that a great disrespect to both people has been commited. I knowthat young women, feeling depressed and estranged from this life, turn to Plath's poetry and horribly skew these meticulously crafted works to suit their own pretensions. It is wrong that their ostensibly dissoloute sentiments should be FED upon by legions of such people. Thank you for your time.

Colm Heany
Saturday, October 26, 2002

Ziva, I don't think that the It-doesn't-matter-suit is based on a concrete folk story. The book has been translated into German and has been illustrated by a well-known illustrator, it has been widely reviewed and no connection to a folk story has been mentioned, nor have I ever heard a story like that before. An interesting aside is that the name Max Nix sounds like "macht nichts" (it doesn't matter) if an English speaker pronounces the word. I believe that is why Sylvia chose this name. There are of course lots of fairy tales that involve magic items of clothing, like invisibility coats, 7 mile boots and the like. But Plath's story is a lot more modern than that. The suit is not magic, it is rather practical and I would say it is a mother's dream more than a little boy's dream... :-)

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Tuesday, October 22, 2002

To Erin, I believe that "Eva descending the Stairs" refers to Duchamp's painting "Nude descending the stairs", see this page for an image and some background info. So it is Eva as woman, not as a concrete person. The idea behind Duchamp's painting and the underlying photographic experiments is to depict time as a fourth dimension. This is a topic that Sylvia picks up in the poem.

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Sunday, October 20, 2002

In Yiddish (and in a Hebrew translation) there is a children poem very similar to "The it-does't-matter-suit". There is a good chance that both literary works were inspired by an unknown children's poem (or story) in German. Can anyone trace the hidden origin?

Ziva Shamir
Tel-aviv, Israel
Sunday, October 20, 2002

I am studying "The Applicant" and I have done quite a bit of research. I have also purchased the "Voice of the poet: Sylvia Plath" audio to have a voice recording of the poem. I am however having a bit of trouble with the rhyme and meter of the poem and finding out the tonal quality and structure of the poem. If anyone has any tips or ideas or just a point in the right direction I would apperciate it! Thanks.

Los Angeles, USA
Sunday, October 20, 2002

On the band ALPHA's CD(Come From Heaven) there is an intoduction to track #8 which is a clip of a reading by Sylvia Plath. The poem is "The Ghost's Leavetaking". Does anyone know of a site or place where I could get the complete reading?

Oliver Roberts
Charleston, S.C., USA
Friday, October 18, 2002

I have never posted on the forum, though I am m an avid reader. Can anybody answer who the Eva is referred that is referred to in Juvenilias Sonnet: to Eva and To Eva Descending the Stairs. Is she a historical figure, or an actual acquaintance? Thank you very much for reading my question.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Matt, the designation "confessional poetry", in academic circles, is a very narrow category of poets, often including only Plath, Sexton, Lowell, and W.D. Snodgrass (whose "heart's Needle" was published the same year as Lowell's "Life Studies" (1959), both of which influenced Plath greatly). I, personally, would include a number of others, whose work is generally voiced by a personal 'I' who is closely identified with the poet, like John Berryman, Theodore Roethke and even James Wright (although I think Wright would cringe at the association). But I know of no one who would assert that Lowell's work, or any of these poets' work, was "more confessional" than Plath's. And, while Plath's notoriety may have led some readers to Lowell's work who otherwise might have overlooked him, by the time of the publication of "Ariel" (1965), Lowell certainly had no need for the publicity attendant upon Plath's sudden fame.

As far as a "more accurate statement" is concerned, any number of statements could be made, depending on the point you want to make. But, perhaps the following statement from "The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics" sums up fairly well the relationship between these poets:

"Lowell's post-"Life Studies" poetry made an indelible mark on a number of writers, incl. Sylvia Plath...Anne Sexton...W.D. Snodgrass...and, to a lesser extent, John Berryman. Despite their emphasis on autobiographical materials...these poets reflect a much more carefully modulated response to their personal content...."Confessionalism", as M.L. Rosenthal pointed out...should be considered not as a prescriptive formula held by any one group but as a general permission felt by most poets of the period to treat personal experience, even in its most intimate and painful aspects."

Concerning your first statement, I am not sure it's true that "the closer a piece of work is to the date of an artist's suicide, the more it seems to be a "true statement". An "unguarded look into their mind" may be a truer characterization. For example, some of Berryman's late poems may certainly be said to be "unguarded" and even "shambolic", but I doubt if most people would take them at face value as "true statements". Some of Plath's last poems are very careful and coherent and organized statements, but I would hesitate to characterize them as "true". A poetic statement can be quite articulate and organized, and still be quite irrational.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Wednesday, October 16, 2002

I'm writing an article on how it is perceived that the closer a piece of work is to the date of an artist's suicide, the more it seems to be a 'true statement', an unguarded look into their mind, when in fact the behaviour of many people prior to suicide is often shambolic.

Being largely ignorant of american and confessional poetry I wondered whether the following was broadly true:

SP's suicide and work leant publicity to the more confessional poetry of Robert Lowell among others. If not, could anyone be so kind as to provide me with a more accurate statement.

Matt Bryden
York, England
Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Stephanie- Yes every depressed person has a different situation. Someone I know committed suicide over a year after not being accepted into their first choice college. They did it after a fight w/ a boyfriend. The main cause of the depression was not rejection. I was not attracted to Plath because of the suicide and never claimed that it is glamourous. Although I have been diagnosed with depression, I read a lot and knew that The Bell Jar was a classic. I picked it up and it looked interesting so I read it. I actually have read more of Plath's prose than her poetry. "The Initiation" for example is a good story not relating to depression or suicide. The main point of my last comment was to mention the video & audio tape from Amazon. I also was curious as to whether or not Plath had OCPD because I have seen mentions of her perfectionism.

Hudson, Massachusetts
Monday, October 14, 2002

Just a thought... Imagine a conversation between Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. What might they have to talk about?

Jhamie Latonero
Manila, Philippines
Friday, October 11, 2002

This is in reponse to Nick Law's posting. I am a fan of neither Hughes or Plath. For me, both were utterly self-indulgent poets in their own way. This is by the by, however.

Nick Law has written some ludicrous things. He says Hughes was hounding Plath for money. Perhaps Mr Law should use some of his and buy some biographies. He will find, if he does, that all of them whether pro-Plath or pro-Hughes agree on one thing which was that Hughes paid for the rental of the flat at Fitzroy Road in its entirety. To claim otherwise simply isn't true, as Hughes was the only one during this period who was earning any kind of proper living and which Mr Law would know if he had ever bothered to find out. Also, Mr Law should be aware that at this period the only woman he was involved with was Assia Wevill. Mr Law enters some bizarre rubbish along the lines that Hughes had to publish Ariel because Plath was so famous etc.

Law provides an example of the woeful inadequacies of American education. In fact, Plath - Mr Law's fellow countrywoman, not mine - was not famous at all when she died. The Colossus had merely received moderate reviews and her novel, The Bell Jar, was published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas. Plath's obituary was written by Alvarez who knew her but knew Hughes a lot better and who also felt rather guilty about knocking back her advances in Christmas of 62, which he details in his memoir 'Where Did It All Go Right?'

On the contrary, Mr Law should be aware that Plath became famous because of Ariel being published in 1965, two years after her death. In fact, what Hughes had done was a noble thing and this is where the true poetic irony of events sets in...And as for putting on an act for err...'the poet laureate people' (whoever Mr Law thinks they may be - in England we call them the 'Arts Council of Great Britain')to appear to be a good father. What utter tosh. Hughes was always close to his two children and it seems to me that the fact that both are so close to him in spirit and in career today (Nick is a biologist and Frieda a poet and painter) speaks volumes.

London, GB
Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Christie's here in New York is auctioning a private collection of rare books (almost all with some form of dedication) on October 11th. Among the books is the copy of 'The Colossus and other poems' that Plath presented to Wilbury Crockett, her high school English teacher. Crockett was an influential teacher who had encouraged her to continue her studies in England. The dedication reads as follows: "For Mr. Crockett - In whose classroom and wisdom these poems have root. Sylvia London: October 27, 1960"

The book does not come cheap. At least, Christie's doesn't expect it to. It estimates the book will sell in the range of $30,000 to $40,000. As a bonus, the buyer will receive the Christmas card 'Sylvia' sent 'Mr. Crockett' shortly after she sent him the copy of her published poems. The card includes a long chatty message, written in her typical exuberant style. The card reveals her continuing warm feelings for her high school mentor, and makes reference to her being a guest for dinner with T.S. Eliot. In at least one biography, the card and message have been referred to, but I don't think it has ever been quoted in full. So here it is:

Dear Mr. Crockett, I was delighted to have your good letter and to know THE COLOSSUS is safe in your discriminating hands. Most especially Ted & I were joyous to hear of your award and year in New York! We have always longed for the 'excuse' or 'gift' of a year in that superb city and it is fine to hear how admirably you & family take to the rich life. We are extremely happy in our small northern niche in London where Regents' Park, Primrose Hill, & the Zoo are our backyard, so to speak, and long for a house in an adjoining street. We glut ourselves on the 'cheap' play tickets, foreign films, galleries and all the best fare, while living like anonymous creatures, Ted studiously avoiding the requests for public appearances that find their way to us. We had a wonderful dinner with T.S. Eliot (who is an editor at Ted's publishing house), his charming Yorkshire wife & Mr and Mrs. Spender at Eliot's home here. I was thrilled. Eliot has suggested revisions for Ted's children's book of light verse which Faber is publishing this spring and we treasure the ms. with notes on it. A warm welcome awaits you here any time you pass through London again! Fondest Christmas wishes for you, Mrs. C. and Debbie and Steve! Sylvia. P.S. Frieda Rebecca Hughes arrived on April first 1960. - at home delivered by a little Indian mid wife & is the sun of our life - we both dote on her!

Information on the rare book auction (including a picture of the book and the card) is currently available at the website. For those in the New York area, all the books to be auctioned are likely displayed for public viewing at the Christie's Rockefeller Center offices.

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Friday, October 4, 2002

I've only recently started reading Sylvia Plath as a recommendation from my A level English Literature teacher, and was surprised and impressed at what I was missing out on. I started reading "Ariel", which is an amazing if occasionally disturbing work, which I feel I can relate to, in a perverse way. My English Lit teacher told us, though, that Plath only ever wrote one happy poem, a fact which I somewhat doubt, judging by what I've read. Is this true? If so, which one's supposed to be happy? Thanks a lot.

Steven Fothergill
Bedford, England
Thursday, October 3, 2002

Araina, it's always gratifying to hear that young people are learning to appreciate Sylvia Plath's considerable artistry. But it does bother me some that you seem to be drawn so powerfully to the negative emotions that you appear to share. There has been a lot of discussion among Plath critics about whether it is advisable to assign her poems, and even the novel "The Bell Jar", for impressionable teens to read and study. And I have seen students who refused to write about her poems because the negative emotions aroused by the poems bothered them so. And if reading her work does increase your feelings of depression and hoelessness, then maybe it's not a good idea for you to read them. Try to remember that her creative gift was not what killed her, it was what kept her alive.

But, since no doubt you're likely to read the poems anyway, let me just say this about them: Plath's work is not all doom and gloom and hopelessness. In fact her own intention in many of the poems is just the opposite, and it's these positive aspects of her owrk that you should look for in your reading. There are many poems about her children that are full of love and tenderness. In them, she sees that the purity and innocence of children could represent her own salvation, and the purpose of many of the poems is to purge or cleanse herself of the negative feelings, to get back to that innocent state of newborn innocence.

I recommend that you read Lynda Bundtzen's book "The Other Ariel". It's all about the fact that Plath's original plan for the collection titled "Ariel" was a book that began with the word "love" and ended with the word "Spring", with images of hope and rebirth.
But her husband, who inherited the task of editing her work for publication, changed around the order of the poems, and dropped some and added others, which resulted in a collection that emphasizes the negative elements of her life and work and her death, rather than the positive collection that she created. Maybe he thought he was making it a stronger book, but it resulted in a lot of people getting a much more negative view of her work than it deserves.

Try reading the poems about her children, like "Nick and the Candlestick" and "Morning Song" and "Balloons" and "By Candlelight" and the marvelous verse play "Three Women" and "The Night Dance": "I shall not entirely / sit emptied of beauties, the gift / of your small breath, the drenched grass / smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Thursday, October 3, 2002

I've been depressed myself and have also had a suicide attempt in the past (long before reading Plath) and I see a great danger in the way Plath is often interpreted. Sylvia Plath was far more then just a suicidal artist who left amazing work behind. She was a daughter, mother, wife/lover and friend and I think this part of her is often lost in those who only see the sensational aspects of her life. The truth is, there is *nothing* sensational about suicide.

Not all women who have been cheated on commit suicide (just like all men who have been cheated on dont commit suicide). Plath was the controller of her own destiny. She put her own head in the oven. It was a choice she made. Yes, Ted Hughes was wrong in cheating on SP...any man or woman is wrong to cheat. If you want out of a relationship there are more considerate ways of doing so (and more responsible ways). I don't think the Plath/Hughes issue is as black and white as some people make it out to be.

Every depressed person's situation is different. There are different triggers that set certain negative emotions off. Plath lived for almost a year after she and Hughes split up. The fact that he left her contributed to her depression but wasn't an immediate trigger to her eventual suicide (meaning there was a long delay between the event of Hughes leaving and her killing herself). Don't forget that Plath had a prior suicide attempt (or two if you count her driving off the road) and had struggled with emotional illness for quite sometime. Suicide isn't a blaming issue and it's never, ever one sided or black and white.

Ottawa, Canada
Thursday, October 3, 2002

I have done my beginning biographical investigation of Sylvia and so now I am tackling her

I just started to read Sylvia Plath's poetry about seven months ago. I brought her books because I'd heard so much about her, and how she was depressed and killed herself. I felt it only made sense to read her work because I too, am depressed, sucicidal, and into writing poetry. I saw many simularities between her writing and my own. Most bipolar sufferers have simular traits and interest. Such as obsession with death, misery, and other things. I almost felt as if I should had wroten some of her poems, or as if she were writing about me. Then, my obsession with her began. It certainly can't be called a good one, being that it motivates readers to be suicidal and to feel completely hopeless. I also read some of Anne Sexton's work. But Sylvia has a much deeper pain, and I feel every word of it. I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of her work than most. And within the lines and paragraphs is nothing less than complete brilliance and complex beauty.

I felt a great anger towards her husband once I found out what he had done to her. It was as if he had murdered her, by leaving her and cheating on her. Being depressed myself, I know how diffucult it can be on a mate, or loved one. But, it is just simply cruelty to leave them alone, and say you hate living with them. There is also no excuse or logical reason to cheat on them. I feel a masked jealousy also towards her, from what she accomplished in her life and death, the fame, glory, and lastly escape. I have been buying many different poet's work, searching for one like Syliva Plath, but I have been unsuccessful so far. I truly believe her poems are far more superior to the sing song verses of John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, and other past century poets. Of course, they started the rise of poetry in the world, but their writing is no where near as complex and astounding as Sylvia Plath's. That is just my opinion. I think English classes should be using Syliva's, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, and other modern poets work as material. Just because it is mordern, doesn't mean it isn's worthy of recognition. Especially a true talent, who's whole life and death was poetry.

New Castle, USA
Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Hi- My order from Amazon just arrived today. I bought the audio cassette of Sylvia Plath reading her own work as well as Visions and Voices- the video about her. I have watched about half of the video & I find it interesting.

I also have a quick comment on Ted Hughes b/c I have seen a lot of different opinions about how much he is to blame for SP's suicide. Suicide usually occurs after one or more trigger events (i.e. break-up, bad grades, etc.) So I see the divorce/separation as this.

Does anyone know exactly what SP was diagnosed with? Was it just depression or some other things too? Thanks

Hudson, Massachusetts
Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Daryn, I believe Plath and Hughes were married at the Church of St. George the Martyr, London. On page 237 of the American paperback edition of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, it says in the introduction the her "15 July, 1956" journal, "Sylvia Plath married Ted Hughes on 16 June 1956 in the Church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London." Hope that helps.

Amherst, USA
Friday, September 27, 2002

Is anybody going to the Poetry International 2002? Frieda Hughes will be reciting from her work on 2 November - I booked myself a ticket yesterday, they're selling out fast & the space is limited.

Rehan A Qayoom
London, England
Friday, September 27, 2002

Hi Rebecca, What a task! As for "the highest logo": In the last two lines on p.50, in the phrases "carbon-colored tide" and "stabbing periods of light," she's using typing references. On some old-style typesetting machines, a "logotype" or "logo" is a key that represents an often-used word or set of letters, such as "an" or "qu." Though "highest" and the roller-coaster reference don't make much sense as far as typesetting goes, the whole paragraph wasn't too consistent re metaphors anyway. Lord knows how that can be translated! "Being a hacker" is easier: "to hack around" is a colloquial Americanism meaning "to spend time idly", or, "to goof around"; the guy was "being a goofball", basically! "Printed islands of permanence": This could be a phrase quoted from some other work, but I have no idea what. Just as it is, she's referring to writing/the printed word being permanent, as opposed to the ephemeral nature of actual life. As for "duck belled white heads in my teacups"---not a clue. Though I wonder if "duck belled" was a misreading of "duck billed." She talks of just having seen a couple of Cocteau films, and I know "Orphee" especially had many elliptical comments throughout---perhaps this is a quote from one of these films, or from a Spender poem (since she also mentioned having seen him speak that afternoon)... Good Luck!

Stephanie J.
Austin, USA
Thursday, September 26, 2002

At the moment I am studying at London University. I have an assignment for my history class to discover the association between Sylvia Plath and St George the Martyr Church. I think Sylvia attended this church in 1961, for about a year. Please help. Thank you.

Daryn Foster
London, England
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Vivien, the title is from The Tempest, where, interestingly, it's the first line of "Ariel's Song": (Fernando is speaking)

Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the King my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air; thence I have followed it,
Or it hath drawn me rather. But 'tis gone.
No, it begins again.


Full fathom five thy father lies;
of his bones are coral made;
those are pearls that were his eyes:
nothing of him that doth fade
but doth suffer a sea-change
into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.

(Ariel) Hark! Now I hear them,--ding-dong, bell.
(Fer.) The ditty does remember my drowned father.

In the first lines of the poem she imagines her father's body surfacing, floating in on the tide. In my view, she associates this movement with the "old myth of origins" in which all life on earth first emerged from the sea.

This also suggests to me the idea that her relationship to his memory is so intense that he is really more alive than dead to her. This is also supported by the allusions to the "muddy rumours / of your burial" and the fact that Plath never saw her father dead.

"Inscrutable, / below shoulders not once / seen by any man who kept his head, / you defy questions;"

One of the synonyms of "inscrutable" that my dictionary gives is "unfathomable" and the example they use is "the unfathomable depths of the ocean". I think the speaker thinks of her father as a kind of unfathomable mystery that she is forbidden to look at too closely--"you defy questions". She describes him as a king, and seems to evoke a kind of taboo against looking directly at him. "Not once seen by any man who kept his head" might also suggest the penalty for looking directly at the king.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Monday, September 16, 2002

Hello everybody! I am currently toiling with the translation into Swedish of "The Journals" and there are hundreds of ambiguities and obscurities that give me real headaches. Is there anyone who could help a bit by explaining to me the following: p 51 top: "the highest logo", p 115 bottom: "being a hacker", p 130 bottom: "printed islands of permanence", p 216 middle: "duck belled white heads in my teacups" - well, I would be grateful for any suggestions or definite answers

Rebecca Alsberg
Stockholm, Sweden
Monday, September 16, 2002

I have done my beginning biographical investigation of Sylvia and so now I am tackling her poems - more intimately than I have done in the past. I wonder if we could have a discussion about Full Fathom Five, for several questions have arisen for me in my analysis. I understand the interralation between her father and the sea, which pops up so frequently in her poetry, but some specifics baffle me.

  1. What is the meaning of the title?
  2. What is the meaning of "the radial sheaves of your spread hair... survives the old myths of origins unimaginable" lines in stanzas 2-3?
  3. Significance of "any man who kept his head"-- I understand it as literal--those who kept their heads above water did not see the tangles underneath, but wonder about the choice of words?

New York City, USA
Saturday, September 14, 2002

I recently have been reading more about Sylvia Plath. She is the one person as a human being, poet and parent I can relate to. I recently for the first time saw the movie version of The Bell Jar. I can say that I was proud and disapointed in both senses. Bar none the book was far better than the movie. But the actress's portrayl of a mental breakdown which I myself am familar with was stunning. It was hauntingly beautiful in that it gave a voice to the words of a prophetess that was, is,and will always be Sylvia Plath.

There was some hidden illiusion in my opinion that Sylvia was bi-sexual. I've heard this rumor before over different internet discussion sites that her and Anne Sexton were in fact lovers. Whether it's true or not I don't know or care. But the essence of the book, the struggle of a artist stuck in a spiral of self-destruction, really hit the mark with me. I kind of also find a duel persona in Buddy Willard, one of Sylvia's boyfriend Richard Sasoon and one of Ted Hughes. I will not offer a comment about Ted Hughes as I'm personally not a fan of his. Would love to meet and discuss Plath with others here. I'm working on having her complete book collection so if there is any websites that would help please e-mail me. Until then thank you for the beautiful pictures and for keeping Sylvia's memory alive.

Donald Casto II
Lancaster, OH, USA
Thursday, September 12, 2002

For Faith in Denmark: If you go back to the previous stanza, you will see that she is not talking about her child, but about the balloons in the lines you quote. The balloons are "Globes of thin air" and they are "Delighting//The heart like wishes or free/ Peacocks blessing/Old ground with a feather/Beaten in starry metals." The male peacock's tail might be seen visually - with its 'eyes' at the end of each tail feather when the tail opens--as balloons on strings. She also insists the peacocks are "free" - perhaps because the balloons are airborne and we usually see peacocks in zoos and they are not free to fly about (?). The feathers, too, are so colorful and glittery that they look metallic and thin like beaten gold - hence, "Beaten in starry metals." There's probably more to say here about peacocks and their likeness to balloons, but I thought this might help you get somewhere in reading the poem.

Lynda Bundtzen
Williamstown, USA
Monday, September 9, 2002

What was Sylvia's musical preference? Does anyone know? I am very curious. Please let me know if anyone knows..

Monday, September 9, 2002

I just put up a weblog (blog) over at and am looking for submissions. Please e-mail me about any Plath articles or tidbits you find. If the item is recent, informative, interesting, and doesn't repeat anything already listed, I will likely link to it there and give you credit. So that I may credit you, please include your name, location, and a personal web page address if you have one.

Please check out the site to see the format. I thought it was a great time to start the weblog what with the movie coming out next year and all. Also, PlathOnline gets about 300 hits a day and I wanted to create a place for current news and found sites in case people don't wander over to this forum.

Let me know what you think of the redesign and weblog! I'll be updating the links section soon too

Emily Pollard
Portland, OR, USA
Friday, September 6, 2002

Just some thoughts about Ted Hughes. First of all Ted Hughes must be given credit for maintaining his identity as a poet the whole of his life. He never really stopped being a poet, and wrote poems and concerned himself with the craft of poetry up until his death. This is signifigant with respect to any assessment of his life, for he did prove himself an artist--his life bore that out. Because of this, he should be afforded the deference that artists are accorded with regard to their personal lives.

Do we fault Wagner for his hideous complexities, or Shaw for being queer, or Hemingway for being an inebriate mysogynist? No, not when it comes to their work. However, with regard to Ted Hughes' relationship with Sylvia Plath, which involved a marriage, a separation, and the first stages of legal divorce, we shouldn't fault him for his contribution to her ruinous mental state during the last months of her life. Sure he treated her poorly, crudely, and sought adulterous affairs while leaving her to raise his children by herself while she was under evident stress and in a dangerous mental state.

I believe as well that he hounded her for money in the final months in order to maintain his bachelor lifestyle and properly court other women. But what does this matter in relation to his art, his poetry? Well, perhaps it is because he was an artist who concerned himself with poetry that he is held to a higher standard with relationship to Sylvia Plath. He had to be aware of her considerable talent, he must have seen her genius. If the critic, A. Alvarez saw it in Plath's later work while she was alive, are we really to believe that Ted Hughes, England's acclaimed poet, and future Poet Laureate, did not sense an emergent genius in the winter of 1962? Of course, he knew something was afoot. And it is not, hard to speculate that he felt these works justified his treatment of Sylvia.

It was to him perhaps his most elaborate and dangerous "lesson": to manipulate her to despair. Biographical accounts make clear that Hughes engaged in "lessons" with Plath, wherein he gave her assignments to write about, used hypnosis to conjure up word images, and various other occult systems to break her writer's blocks. Perhaps, he felt justified in his lewd excessess with other women, because his behavior was causing Sylvia, through her responsive mental state, to produce great poetry. His mental cruelty was agitating her to greatness. Of course, it was also putting her in danger of great harm. He didn't care, because--art compels a sacrifice--and he knew it was the poet's fate--immolation. It fit his sense of order. A world where death produces life, and a million little deaths are made everyday to fill supper pots--the greater good. Today, we curse him, because we see Plath for all she was, a genius, contending with an indifferent, callous world that let her collapse upon herself.

We would go to her then, not because of her genius, but because she was trying to create art, while producing art, felt unloved, disrespected, and lonely. We would go to her flat, brew her tea, and let her cry on our shoulder--tell her she was creating something strange but wonderful, that her husband was a fool, that was doing a great job raising her children, and tomorrow would be brighter. We would give her the love that everyone needs, but that she in particular needed so badly. It is frustrating to think that one kind word, one insightful comment, one hug, may have saved her, and allowed her genius to continue.

We feel this way not just because we are compassionate people, in posession of empathy and understanding, but because we value art and artists. No matter how feeble the product, we cherish the creative endeavor that produced it. We would have guarded Sylvia like a rare flower. Her husband didn't. He sacrificed her to her art, and this shows that compassion, empathy, and understanding are not necessary to all artists.

Cruelty can produce proliferies of its own. This all having been said. I do not fault Ted Hughes for his treatment of Plath during the latter days of her life. However, I am disturbed with his treatment of her after her death. Sure, got "Ariel" published--but she made a ready market for it through her death. What is unforgiving from an artistic standpoint is why was Ted Hughes so protective as to the real cause of Sylvia Plath's death--suicide.

This person who seemed the most affronted about the real cause of her death was Ted Hughes. Hughes was never evasive about the reality of death in his writings, why now? To protect her children? They were infants. And did they not deserve to know and understand the truth as they grew older. The truth. Isn't the truth the essence of poetry by the way? Why would a poet, like Hughes, a poet whose bulk of poems are concerned with the hard truths of life and death, reel from the truth when it came to the death of a poet and extranged wife, Sylvia Plath? Ted Hughes was aware as well that throughout literary history, self-inflicted death, was the choice of many writers and artists whose sensibilities were to keen for the harshness of the world.

Hughes had to have known as well from a practical standpoint, that a death by suicide would help present his wife's work to the world. He had no problem exploiting her at any other time, why then? It is somewhat strange that he was so adamant about hiding the truth, immediately after her death. He seems to have cared more about her in death than in life.

Maybe he should have been concerned about the children's welfare when they were shivering in their flat, crying for him, their mother crying all night, she sick and barely able to take care of them due her deep depression and physical illnesses. I don't say this as an indictment, just to point out what I see is a strange inconsistency in Ted Hughes "concern" for his family's welfare after his wife's death as opposed immediately prior to her death. He gives me the impression of someone scurrying around trying to spiff up the house before the Poet Laureate people come to call.

Anyway, ironically, Ted Hughe's cruelty toward Sylvia Plath during the end of her life, even if artistically motivated in a perverse way, backfired, for in her cauldron of discontent, she ripped him good. She used his art, her art, against him, and enshrined the most damning, the vilest and most preposterious insults against him into works of pristine art. Her work cannot be touched, by him, at least through the response of poetry. And we can only feel sorry for Ted Hughes, a serious and deserved poet, because his art at its finest and highest level, could never come close to matching those of Plath's final poems. Through the utter genius of Sylvia Plath's last work, she did what she wished for but could never achieve in her life, she left Ted Hughes impotent.

Nick Law
Indiana, USA
Thursday, September 5, 2002

What does Sylvia Plath mean in "Balloons" when she says "the heart light wishes or free/Peacocks blessing/Old ground with a feather/Beaten in starry metals"? I understand thatshe is talking about her child but what is she trying to say?

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Marcus, with regard to the quote you posted. A recurrent theme in Plath's writing was her frustration at having only one voice, one 'life' and, therefore, only one set of subjective experiences about which to write. Personally I would take your quote as an expression of such frustration, in much the same mould as these paragraphs from The Bell Jar:

I saw my life branching out before me like the giant fig tree...From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose...

Leeds, England
Sunday, September 1, 2002

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