Sylvia Plath Forum

Messages: October 2005-January 2006

Nicole, I'm not sure what Tarot deck Sylvia used, but I do believe one of the Tarot books she studied was The Painted Caravan, by Rakoczi. I found one on Ebay last year. It's a very interesting read. The Rider-Waite deck is considered a good starter deck, so perhaps Sylvia used that one.

Dayton, Ohio , USA
Monday, January 30, 2006

Hey Nicole - This is just an amateurish guess, but I would look at the catalogues (if they're online) at Smith college or the Emory Archive to see if there are any tarot cards included. Maybe a coordinator would be able to look that up for you and give you some kind of brand name or desciption.

On a side note I found a study on mimesis in Sylvia Plath's last works. It's not entirely enlightening but interesting to look at. The website is free

Also, for anyone interest in some Plath paraphenalia, if anyone is familiar with the band Alpha, there's a song they perform called "Back." The beginning of the song includes a sound clip of Plath reciting "The Ghost's Leavetaking." The melody that Plath's words are set to is, to say the least, very pretty.

Anyone know of any Plath exhibits or studies coming about? I couldn't imagine anything else being unearthed, but I'm interested if you are.

Littleton, CO , USA
Monday, January 30, 2006

Does anyone have any information on which Tarot deck it was that Sylvia Plath used? Were they hard to come across in the 50s and 60s? What initiated her interest in occultism? Grateful for all the information I can get. Thank you!

Stockholm , Sweden
Saturday, January 28, 2006

I've always appreciated the way Elaine has set up this egalitarian board, where anyone with a love of Sylvia Plath's poetry, or just a curiosity about her life, can reach out to others with like minds. Therefore, I have to disagree that it's not the place for students who are only discovering Sylvia Plath for the first time and want direction. If Elaine had intended to set it up in that fashion - where those new to Plath are herded into a separate corner - I believe she would have.

I would also be delighted to see the input of "serious scholars" but I enjoy even more hearing from people who were simply moved at the sheer beauty of Sylvia's poems. Poetry touches each of us in different ways. Can't we just welcome all visitors, even ones who disagree with us, as long as they follow certain generally accepted Web guidelines?

Seattle , USA
Friday, January 27, 2006

To whoever is out there who can help me. When I studied English at school, I remember reading "A Child at a Drinking Fountain" and thought that it was by Sylvia Plath. I don't consider myself to be an academic but loved her poetry and recently purchased a collection of SP's poetry. Though this book thrilled me I was disappointed to find that the drinking fountain poem was not included. Am I correct or did another poet write this excellent piece?

Aberdare, Wales
Friday, January 27, 2006

I just read the story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" and I am a little confused about the ending. Can someone help clarify?

Boonton, USA
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

With all due respect, I feel there is no real point in debate or comment concerning the 'what ifs' of the life of Sylvia Plath. For example, what if she had not been prone to depression? What if Hughes had not been of a type? What if he had been faithful? What if she had lived?!

If she had lived, we may not have been commenting online in this forum. She was a compelling master wordsmith. She did posess the ability to manipulate the English language with the power of a shaman. She was posessed of a kind of fearlessness regarding the laying open of her emotional aspect. She was absolutely a conduit in her place and time, a magician capable of great skills of communication. She did have 'the power of the first', fated to surge into the sky just like a colossus, to be visible for thousands of miles, even over continents, even over time. The tragedy of the ending of her life is a brutal thing, especially contrasted with her talent. I feel that many of us who know her story and her work wish we had been there in that flat on that night in winter, to say, "It's ok, things will be better, you've just lost perspective momentarily, you've just misplaced the scale of things temporarily, I'll make us some tea and we'll have a talk and the darkness will fade to light. We'll wait it out."

The sheer beauty and power of her words and the themes of her work are undeniable, of course. They exist. The poems exist. The thematic content and marvellous symbolism have been made available to us. She has left her lexicon for us. Two things are at work: the tragic end of a gifted life, which turns us all into voyeurs gazing with horror and fascination, and the more enduring thing, this beautiful poetry.

Calgary , Canada
Monday, January 23, 2006

I agree with you Anthony that Heptonstall does seem a strange place for Sylvia to be buried. As I said in my book Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House she had always presumed that she would be interred in the graveyard which adjoined Court Green, her home in Devon. As she died in London it would have been understandable if Hughes had had her buried there. Presumably expense may have prevented her family from taking her body home to the USA. To deepen the mystery she did not really like West Yorkshire. It was too bleak, dark, too far inland and cold for her. I have often wondered if Hughes did this to make her grave relatively inaccessible for future admirers of her work.

However, in Elaine Feinstein's biography of Hughes she states that for some time after Plath's death Hughes believed he might return to live permanently in the Calder Valley. Perhaps this was the reason for the apparently strange burial place.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge , UK
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Can anyone tell me why Sylvia was buried in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire? I know Ted Hughes was born not too far away in Mytholmroyd, but I would have thought this would have been the last place she would be buried.

Anthony Sugden
Bradford , UK
Sunday, January 22, 2006

I have noticed a slowdown in traffic lately on the Forum and am wondering if it's because respondents are reluctant to post or are just weary of the ups and downs of recent postings. Maybe it's time to re-consider just what the Forum is all about. I think it was originally intended as a common meeting place for those of us fascinated with Sylvia Plath and interested in sharing thoughts/ideas about her and her poems and her life as it relates to her poems. There has been much discussed in The Forum over the years about her and her poems, as well as much about her personal life.

It has all been stimulating and thought-provoking. At times, Sylvia's life has dominated the discussion, to the exclusion of analysis of her poems, but that is to be expected since her personal life has become, as they say, common currency (e.g., the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow), while the poems have become the province of those of us who were first drawn to her life and loves and losses through the poems. I think that the Forum should present a balance: we should discuss her life in relation to her poems and how she made them out of the raw material of her life -- and did so in a way that no poet before her had done. Let's discuss her life, in other words, as it informs the poems and vice versa.

I invite all serious scholars to participate in this discussion, as I believe that Sylvia Plath was gifted beyond most other poets in her use of language but was troubled to the point of early suicide (age 30, right?) by events in her life and maybe by underlying psychological problems. So I ask this question of all current and future participants in the Forum: What was so special about this young woman who wrote such haunting poetry, and how did the relationships and events of her life contribute not just to that poetry but to her early death? She is a textbook example of the "romantic" poet who died young, but she was much more than just a "romantic": she was sharp-edged and observant right up to the end. If you doubt it, check out "Edge", one of her very last poems, composed days before her suicide: "The moon has nothing to be sad about,/Staring from her hood of bone./She is used to this sort of thing./Her blacks crackle and drag."

The classic Romantic poets never wrote lines like that. Who was this woman? That's what the Forum should be about.

P.S. The Forum shouldn't be a place for students new to Plath to write, asking for discussion topics. Maybe Elaine can set aside a "corner" - a link - for those students, called something like "New to Plath". The Forum is for believers who already know something of Plath's poetry and are trying to understand how she wrote it.

David Hall
Fort Collins, Colorado , USA
Thursday, January 19, 2006

I have just watched Sylvia for the first time. I am moved by the power of her work and the tragedy of her disposition. I feel that it is time for the phrases "I understand" and particularly, "I understand how you feel" to be banned from the English language. How can one person presume to understand the feelings of another? One may understand how someone is feeling if they were placed in a similar situation, although never truly understand the feeling of another.

The power of interpretation versus the the uniqueness of feelings. Feelings contribute to making us unique. Sylvia documented her feelings through the medium of poetry and the feelings we glean from reading them are unique.

M. Hallam
Staffordshire , UK
Sunday, January 14, 2006

I'm looking for some help - I'm completely new to Sylvia Plath and have to write a dissertation on some aspect of her work.

I have no idea even of a topic to focus on, but I notice from reading this forum that quite a lot of people here have done papers on her.

If any one has any ideas of poems to concentrate on or some kind of stimuli, it'd be really helpful because I really don't know where to start!

Before people tell me to read the comment at the top of the page about not doing student's work for them , I'm not looking for answers on a specific theme, I'm just looking for a theme to try and find my own answers.


Glasgow , Scotland
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Nouko: I've been three times last year because a friend of mine lives there nearby, and both homes (in Chalcot Square & in Fitzroy Rd) are private properties and not open for tours.

Firenze , Italy
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Hi Noukou, philosopher Jonathan Glover now lives in the Chalcot Square house...."It's had a few coats of paint, but basically it's as it was when they lived there." (from the Guardian article on Plath's Blue Plaque July 29, 2000). I believe the owner of 23 Fitzroy Road posted on this Forum a few years ago. The Fitzroy road property has been extensively renovated, I understand, but it is a private home. So, no, no private tours, although a few people have been "bold" enough to knock on doors of Plath's former homes and ask to come in. It's not something I would recommend doing, personally.

Detroit , USA
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Does anyone know if Plath's former homes, 3 Chalcot Square and 23 Fitzroy Road, in London are now private properties? Are they open for tours?

Twin Cities , USA
Monday, January 2, 2006

Hi, my name is Michelle. I am looking for anyone who would be interested in helping me on my project. I need to interview someone about Sylvia Plath, her novel, The Bell Jar, or about feminism in the 1940s-1960s. If anyone is interested or knows someone who could help me, please email me. Thankyou!

Monday, January 2, 2006

Sebastian and Jen, I don't think it's wrong or premature or a "party game" to think about where Sylvia Plath falls in the great scheme of poets. I think it's a legitimate intellectual/academic exercise to try to place her in what I've called before the Pantheon of Poets. How good was she? What is her lasting value? I'm in the camp who believes that she was one of the most gifted poets ever. I've never read anyone who used words to better effect. My only reservation, as I've said before (forgive me, faithful readers of the Forum), is that she died young and focused on "self." That may have limited her when it comes time for the critics and scholars to weigh in. But it may well be that she explored that "limited" subject to an extent that none before her had done, and that alone should guarantee her place in literature. Can anyone out there name another poet who has so eloquently and successfully dealt with issues of the self and father and death and personal anguish? I'm hard pressed to think of even one. In the end, it doesn't matter what we in the Forum have to say about Sylvia's "worth": she will continue to speak to generations about what it was like to be a smart but troubled young woman trying to grow up in the repressive "bell jar" of the 1950s. Long after we're all dead, her voice will still be resounding.

David Hall
Fort Collins, CO , USA
Monday, January 2, 2006

"Sebastian, the questions you pose are only answerable on a party-game level."

I don't know, maybe that was the point. I mean, there is no point to arguing what never would and never will happen. I do think that at the end of the game, though, we can go away with something. I think we'd have a greater appreciation for Sylvia Plath, her story, her struggle, her timeframe, and ultimately value, both hers and our, lives more.

Littleton, CO , USA
Friday, December 30, 2005

Hi. I am a student in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I am doing an Independent Study on Sylvia Plath. I am looking for a scholar, (I am required to have an "expert") who would be interested in sharing more information on Sylvia Plath that I might not be able to find on other sites.

Albuquerque , USA
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sebastian, the questions you pose are only answerable on a party-game level. Try "Benjamin Franklin" or "Louis Armstrong" or any accomplished, famous creative person and ask the same...the thing is, everything that Plath was was a result of the time and place and people she knew: nature and nurture. At the most basic level, and if you really want an answer, I think studies have shown (scientific studies on twins raised apart, etc.) that one's genetic makeup as such is strong enough of an influence that she'd likely be a writer or an artist no matter what (whether a professional one - again, who knows?). All the rest is up for any fantasy one would care to imagine.

I will offer that she was unique in her voice as she developed it, which (I always repeat this, as do many others on this forum) is why she is remembered and celebrated today; if she'd died 10 or even 3 years earlier, no. She hadn't written her most singular work yet, although much good stuff. I'm a big drumbeater for always considering people within their context, their own time (the result of seeing far too many "revisionist" films and biographies that insist on foisting whatever the current mores are on people from decades or centuries ago - drives me mad). We sometimes forget how bizarre much of her greatest poetry was to her contemporaries, what strong stuff it was. If she hadn't done it, I don't think anyone would have come close to substituting for her. She's much imitated and absorbed, but she did it her way first.

Jen Lerew
Los Angeles, USA
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Say Sylvia Plath were born in the 70's and ripened today? While I'm sure this post has little literary theory value, where do you think Plath would fit in had she not set a standard in poetry? What standards would she have set today? Would her poetry be written the same way? Would it be of equal value? Would we still love it? Born into the roles that women have now, how would that affect a modern day version of The Bell Jar? Her marriage? Would she marry the same person? Would she still be alive? What do you think?

Littleton, CO , USA
Monday, December 19, 2005

Dear Paul Grubbs, there are any number of scholars who write on the Forum who can give you much better information and advice regarding The Bell Jar, but as someone who appreciates and sympathizes/empathizes with Sylvia Plath, I can just say a couple of things regarding that novel.

One, it's not a great novel but provides a wonderful insight into the mind of a young woman coming apart at the seams. Two, it is an excellent guide into the mind of Syvia Plath. I don't know where she came up with the name "Esther" but I am sure there are others on the Forum who do. What I would say about The Bell Jar is that it lays bare the preoccupations of a young woman who was struggling to figure out who she was and how she felt about men. The bell jar itself is a figurative device that approximates how young women felt at that time: stifled, caught in time, maybe even dead. But I defer to better scholars who post regularly to this website.

David Hall
Fort Collins, CO , USA
Tuesday, Decmber 13, 2005

Not to put aside the fact that the wife of Rosenberg was called Ethel,which sounds a bit similar to Esther, and the Rosenbergs were mentioned at the very beginning of The Bell Jar.

Firenze , Italy
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Every time one of my students elects to read The Bell Jar, I review my list of questions, which includes a search for new ones. As I included an abbreviated defintion of a bell jar ("A bell jar is an inverted glass jar, generally used to display an object of scientific curiosity, contain a certain kind of gas, or maintain a vacuum.") for the student, the "scientific" train of thought rumbled through my brain. (Yes, there is probably only one functional track.)

Does anyone know where I may find any discussion regarding Sylvia Plath's choice of the name "Esther" in relation to the chemical properties of an "ester" and/or an "ether"?

Paul Grubbs
Nine Mile Falls, Washington State, USA
Monday, December 12, 2005

I thank Judith Kroll for reminding us of Harold Bloom's comment on Sylvia Plath: "I do not share the current esteem for the work of the late Sylvia Plath who seems to me an absurdly bad and hysterical verse writer."

Harold Bloom has been, and evidently still is, one of the great sacred cows of American literary criticism, which in my view has long since degenerated into competitive exercises in self-promotion. Literary writers and their texts have suffered as a result.

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont , USA
Thursday, December 1, 2005

Hey Kate, I'm thinking that maybe what I've been writing about all along was pin pointed in your last post. A lot of what I was relaying was probably just a personal insecurity I have involving the inability to ever really construct I literary hierarchy, which I do believe, which I'm not sure I've said before, does exist in some form or another. I do think that a lot of writer's appear as a great writer on different levels but could only justify a general greatness vs. a not "greatness." I'm not sure if this is making sense but a lot of what I wrote about, which I know you already know and understand, was that it was important, above a hierarchy, to acknowledge a general greatness over how writers ranked.

What was so great about your last post, which was not blabbering at all, was what you built up to I think you are right that it's harder to argue which poems are best amongst the best poets such as Plath and Hughes. We hope that the greatest work will stand the test of time, and we use our critical capacities to try and predict which work that is, but I suppose when it comes down to it we just can't be sure! Still, I think the debate is valuable--though not, perhaps, conclusive, nor the most important question we could ask about the work by far.

When I read this it resonated within me that I can't put into words at the moment. It just seemed that it was the perfect response, the perfect counter, equalizer to what I had meant to say. The debate is totally valuable, and maybe the best part of the debate, the inconclusiveness is the best part. Like a mystery, and on a side note, Plath's last journals- the mystery itself seems to be far more valuable than a solution. What would we ever do with ourselves if we could ever actually put a concrete, universal hierarchy into place? Move onto our next favorite writer?

My life revolves around literature - I would be a professional reader if I could- and if I ever had to set Plath down in a total and absolute definition I would be at a loss. What if we do one day find Plath's journals, and, in an absolute off chance, everything about her, her life, Ted Hughes, becomes clear? I hope that one day I get to read the two last installments, but when that's over I don't know what I will do. May we always have this debate, this valuable debate (!!!!!!!!!)(Thank God For This Forum!), it makes Plath and all other writers all worth while. I'm really glad that you helped me to think about that, Kate.

And onto Harold Bloom, I just used him as an example, trying to fit Plath into what he theorized. I was aware of his opinion of Plath, but in the opinions of a person I do, in fact, value, I take everything with a grain of salt. Bloom seems to be kind of a chauvinist anyway, and claims he can read 500 pages of a book in an hour.

Bloom wrote about in one his studies about some of the greatest characters in literature who were, in their genius, their potential, in their awareness of these attributes, deactivated by it, and that is what made their stories worth telling. While Plath, if she were a literary character, would not fit into this category, the only characters that Bloom gave, including Hamlet, that suffered this malady were male. I can think of at least one solid female in literature that was deactivated by the realization in her potential. Now I'm just off on a Bloom spree, but really, Bloom's strengths lies in men (and a few women); may we take anything ever said by anybody with a grain of salt. Bloom cannot be the authority on everything. If Plath is hysterical, than maybe we Plath admirers are hysterics who share the love of the art. 'Nuff said.

Littleton, CO , USA
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hello to all who have responded to my initial request that we consider Plath's place in the hierachy of poetry. What I had in mind is all the poets who were once considered the best, whose books actually sold (though probably not many) but who are now more or less forgotten. Think, for instance, of Edwin Arlington Robinson, whose "Richard Cory" became a Simon and Garfunkel song but whose other poems are lost to most of us who read poetry.

Or Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose lines I remember to this day:

"What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten . . . I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more."

And what about A.E. Housman?

"When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me."

If you don't know the next stanza, you really should.

My point is that so many poets, esteemed in their time, are nearly lost to us now, even those of us who revere poetry. But certain of their lines remain with us as we get older. When I was in Vietnam, not knowing if I would make it back home for my 22nd birthday, I asked for and got an anthology of poetry from back home that introduced me to the poems of Dylan Thomas. No, not the familiar: "Do not go gentle into that good night" but this from "Fern Hill":

"Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

I had no idea what he meant, but it hit me hard and stayed with me. Will any of Sylvia's lines stay with me and you like that? Think of T.S. Eliot, a difficult poet (so academic) but accessible in his great poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock:
"Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table."

When a poet is at his/her best, the words register immediately and then echo later - maybe forever. I can think of some of Sylvia's lines that strike me that way: "Daddy, you bastard, I'm through" - but I'm not sure enough have registered in the minds of most literate readers that her poetry will survive this intense re-examination we're all going through right now. I hope so, as I think she was immensely talented and very perceptive.

Still, I'm thinking: how many smart people know a single line of her poetry? Think of Frost: "Whose woods these are I think I know . . ." You know the rest by heart, right?

And what ever happened to Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poetry used to astonish us English majors? He was writing from a distinctly Christian perspective, to be sure, and was praising Jesus, but we'd never heard lines like this:

No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Hello? What's he up to? Memorable stuff indeed. As when Yeats wrote,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlemem to be born?

Can we count on Sylvia for quotable lines? You know as well as I do that it's the poet's ticket to immortality. Fair or not, that's the name of the game.

David Hall
Fort Collins, CO, USA
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sebastian, I wanted to say that I very much appreciated your considerate and thoughtful response to my post. I did not at all take it as sarcastic, nor did I think you blabbered. I am mulling over your insightful words and considering your thoughts on the hierarchy of poetry, particularly in regards to the idea of genius. I am not sure if I agree that genius is simply an infinite that only the truly great artists tap into. I think all artists tap into this, even the lesser ones, and also I do think that the craft is something that can be learned - much more so than we sometimes think. I think we've come to romanticize art-making somewhat and we forget what plain doggedness can bring about (I think Plath was a good example of this, if she hadn't worked so hard, she would never have gotten where she did.

Then again, her spark or talent was of course an essential part of it. This is another one of those questions that can't really be answered (whether talent or genius is simply a gift given to a select few or whether it can be learned), but in recent years I've come to the opinion that it can be learned, though not necessarily by everyone. I didn't used to think so, but now I do, through interactions with various artists and writers I know. There is a saying about Mozart and that is that there is only one Mozart. What that means is that most artists are not born geniuses, but rather made into them.

Now, I do think there are some artists who are simply geniuses, but I also think there are those who we might lump into that category, such as Plath, who we forget had to work for their craft. And it was through that hard work that they created their masterpieces (after creating a whole lot of non-masterpieces first). I think there are many writers and artists out there today who have the potentiality in them of creating something incredible, but do not believe it because they think talent is some mystical gift given to a few and that if they had it, they would know. But sometimes, you do not know until you work, and when you do work, after many years of doggedness and doubt, you create a beautiful, important thing and surprise yourself. Plath at times seemed to think she knew, at other times she saw herself as a much lesser poet than Hughes, a tinkerer. I don't think many artists really know, and some who think they do may simply have big egos and not really know anything.

I also don't believe that our experience as readers of poetry is completely personal and subjective, though of course that is a significant part of the poetic experience (and a valuable part). I do think there is an objective quality to beauty as well as poetry, and while I think we would both agree that we can't ever come to a hard and fast conclusion on which poems are best, I do think, at least to some extent that we both agree that some are in fact objectively better than others (the bad poems on the internet as compared to Plath's and Hughes's). I think you are right that it's harder to argue which poems are best amongst the best poets such as Plath and Hughes. We hope that the greatest work will stand the test of time, and we use our critical capacities to try and predict which work that is, but I suppose when it comes down to it we just can't be sure! Still, I think the debate is valuable--though not, perhaps, conclusive, nor the most important question we could ask about the work by far. Now I am blabbing.

In any case, I appreciated your thoughts on this topic and will certainly consider them further as I am thinking about this. None of my thoughts on this topic are hard and fast, I'm still open to new possibilities. I'd like to hear more of what you think about some of the ideas I just shared. I am already anticipating some of your responses.

Kate Durbin
Orange , USA
Monday, November 28, 2005

Hello Sebastian. I just wanted to say that we don't have to invoke Harold Bloom's views about genius to put into context Plath's enormous achievement as a poet--especially since Bloom has been so harshly critical of Plath. He said in an interview, for example:

"I do not share the current esteem for the work of the late Sylvia Plath who seems to me an absurdly bad and hysterical verse writer."

Judith Kroll
Austin, TX , USA
Monday, November 28, 2005

I not sure if I have come to the right place, but I am writing a piece of coursework for A level English Literature. I chose to study Sylvia Plath and I'm trying to find critics' views of The Bell Jar, from when the book came out and I'm having no luck. Can anyone help me?

Berkhamsted , UK
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hi Jennifer. I do remember you, posting as Jennifer KC awhile back(??) You do make some points I want to comment upon first, your ideas about the contradictions in Plath's persona(s) are valid; but what I find interesting is that you seem to assume that those reading the poems that, ultimately, made Plath famous (or at least initially brought her to the attention of literary figures in a position to make her famous) were as intimately familiar with the details of her life as those of us who have avidly studied her are. This is definitely not out of place in the context of this discussion board; but what I was talking about, specifically, were the Ariel poems.

For a Plath scholar (and I'm not a scholar, only an admirer of her work) the two are indelible. But I, personally, do not recognize such a graphic distinction in her poetry. It is true that Alvarez was one of the primary people to rev Plath's takeoff; and it's true he did what he did largely because the shock of her death accustomed his eyes to the distinction of her genius in the dark, so there's that to consider. "The sheer banality of Plath's beginnings, all saddle shoes and report cards, is stunning," read one of her introductions in an edition of The Norton Anthology Of Poetry: "she is proof that talent is independent of environment."

A curious statement in many ways considering the ample help Plath had from professors, teachers, Olive Higgins Prouty, etc. but I think the jist of this comment had something to do (in an opposite sort of way) with the very thing you're pointing out: that the finality of Plath's achievement is so final and so unquestionable that her life barely seems to make sense in the context of it. In other words, I simply don't see the Journals, Letters Home, etc, in the poems of Ariel; or even The Colossus. Simultaneously, they are of course distillations of all that experience. Plath was the ultimate recycler and environmental processor of the "garbage" of her era, so to speak, but her poetry seems to me to be a finished masterpiece that is really separate from all that.

There is no question of the merit of it in the context of her life, it's more that her life is something else entirely. I think of the film Amadeus (which was in many ways Hollywood slop, admittedly), but there's that scene where we see Mozart childishly playing and (literally) farting through silk at the camera and one really realizes that his genius is almost incidental, something he sort of plays with idly while he goes about his business ("little more than a game like cleaning up a dollhouse kitchen," Nabokov said in another context.)

Of course Plath was dedicated and deadly serious, always, about her work, and there's not a comparison in that sense, but I doubt Lowell, for example, was entirely aware, in spite of his observations about what was hidden behind Plath's "unfathomable patience and boldness", of the more schoolgirlish and banal aspects of her life.

What I really want to say (and I know I'm being wordy, redundant, and blathering, when I should just cut to the chase) is that one generally has to become famous for their work before their reading public is concerned with the details and contradictions of their actual life. And I know this is debatable; it really is - many would claim that the only reason Plath did become famous was because of her life, or because of the tragic end of it. She's actually a really hard person to isolate in this sense.

I would like to think that her art would have become universally respected even if her self imposed fate hadn't become universally known, but I don't think there's really any way to know that at this point. It could be and people on this forum have said this before, that her life could basically be construed as a necessary addendum to her work. One might see it as a multimedia project, the first part in the words of Ariel, and the second part in a documentary film. Don't know if that makes sense. As I said, it's too late to know. Our culture has changed too much since her time.

Lisa Flowers
Norfolk, VA , USA
Monday, November 21, 2005

I know I glossed over a few things when I wrote of poetry and how any and all poets shouldn't be compared but valued as equal feats. True, most poetry out there is awful- we all bear witness to the lowered expectations of The New Yorker (not only in poetry, but in fiction), the endless list of poetry bloggers, the amateurs we have all known throughout high school and college who have taken the inspirational motivation to write as a sign of genius, etc., but really, when I speak of comparative genius, I think of the literary canon, those who have contributed to an immortal literature.

However, you define major literature is up to you, whether you know the true brilliance of an undiscovered writer and include him on your list of greats or revere those who will not be forgotten in the prereq. college courses, it's up to you, but in a general sense I stand by the claim that we can have our favorite writers, we can compare talents, genius, realize that some poets made a greater impact on society, some related greater truths etc., (that is how society always has and always will measure its great writers,) but, in applying this quote to the whole of writers in the most general way "lesser poets borrow, greater poets steal" [sic]; writers and poets can only work with so much what makes them great is their separation through their individual revolution of art- doing what most can't but what others honestly and truly can.

We can compare the greats over and over again- time holds Emily Dickinson on a pedestal; no one will out do her due to her circumstance and time frame (on a footnote, however, she is given due accolade considering she revolutionized an art form so radically early on)- but when it comes to the basic art I truly do believe that nothing can prefigure an artists wealth of talent (not including those aforementioned), greatness, goodness, etc., at base value.

I know I will not hit his words on the nose but Harold Bloom very delicately handles the subject of genius and what defines it in his study, genius. In writing about genius, I am using genius as the idea of being a genius and not being a genius, a person is either one or the other as a substitute for what makes a great writer great, makes makes a less revered writer not so great, and how really there is only one or the other. Bloom says something along the lines that genius can only be defined as an endless consciousness. A writing genius knows no bounds when it comes to writing- not only do they have an infinite ability, if not to understand, to appreciate art or what other writers do as revolutionary. A writing genius can see into the consciousness that includes all other writers, they preview new creative forms in ways that they must translate for the common masses while keeping their individual take on it. You are a genius or you are not a genius.

Like writers, ranked on several different levels, distancing the mediocre from the greater (still not including our less talented peers), you are either a great writer or a not great writer. Who is able to rightful judge what is already above our heads? Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were capable of something that is rarely seen and they crafted their writing in ways that could only ask to be singled out, compared, where readers will often pick out their favorites, many times being a reader's justification as to who is better.

This is a matter of taste: Taco Bell serves steak, KFC serves chicken, and just because half of the people I know eat KFC while I eat Taco Bell does not mean that either is better. Granted, we aren't talking about food, but Plath and Hughes understood something which must have been excruciating to tone and share. I don't think many understand that these two were dealing with something of such power and took the responsibility to take something so powerful and make it what they did. Both dealt with an infinite consciousness, drew from it in new forms, and while some favor one or the other, while some borrow and some steal, with every great revolutionary comes a power that we can compare but could never rightfully judge.

For Kate Durbin, I did very much enjoy your post (absolutely no sarcasm intended); however, I do disagree with you to a point. Sylvia Plath, practically an unknown at the time of her listing in her diary and letters, did very well indeed rank herself among the greater women poets that we know of. Who could tell her not to? She was an undiscovered genius, getting the tail end of everything Hughes did. One of Plath's consolations was only to speculate from the point of an unknown, if not take it to heart, where she stood in terms of greatness. Surely, the public had who they had considered great, Plath had the poets she preferred, but how she can she anticipate greatness if she can't see herself among great women? She has a trajectory that she wants/needs to follow, and how can she chart this without some kind of idea who she can consider herself apart of? I'm not saying that you, Kate, implied this, but Plath knew that her list of writers was not like the Olympics.

Greatness cannot be measured if we are not taking the time. Plath had her tastes, which she preferred, who was higher on the list, and she knew that the public had their list, whom the public preferred, who was higher on the list, but I think that Plath rated herself considering taste, not who was "best."

To quote you liberally, Kate, you wrote:

"The 'best' or the 'better' question may be complex and problematic, but it's still a question worth asking, if only to sharpen our critical capacities and to ask us what it is, exactly, we are looking for when we are experiencing a poem. This may change over time, but it's still a question worth asking [...]it would be insulting to Plath or Hughes or any of the greats to not compare their work to the vast body of poetry and declare theirs as superior. From there it only seems natural to compare each poet's work to the work of others who are closer to equal to them in status."

I do believe this to be entirely true, but not in the same context. Sharpening our critical capacities and to look at what we experience in a poem is probably one of the most important figurative thing a devoted reader can do, but in a hierarchy I do not see this as so. I know I use an awful lot of words over and over and over again, to the point of annoyance, but I see what we experience as a poem as totally and completely personal, a matter of taste, and does not fit into what makes a great better or worse on a whole, including their immortality. These moving moments we can share in poetry, but we cannot rank them as to who likes which great writer or poet better. Then it's just a popularity contest, and popularity never determined good or bad, genius or no genius.

Sorry for all the blabbering.

Kate, I too prefer Plath. I was never so moved or in tune to her rhythms than any other writer or poet. My life would be completely different if it were without Plath, from sloppy paintings in the tenth grade to trips to New York just to look at the things she wrote and held by hand. My life would be for the worse, and I would be thinking entirely differently, looking differently, and I largely have Plath to thank over body else. I am very glad that I share this common (what is more than a) interest with such a talented writer as yourself :-)

Littleton, CO , USA
Saturday, November 19, 2005

If I need to write a pastiche on the poem "Blackberrying", what style and writing technique should I focus on? Also, what does the many different color, body parts and repetition of words emphasize?

Gloria Li
Beijing , USA
Friday, November 18, 2005

Well said, Sebastian. The fact is that there are only a finite number of ideas in the universe, but an infinite number of ways to articulate them. What was it that Graves said about that....well, I can't remember, exactly. But it's defntely true that figurative DNA is passed down through the ages of poetry. (When one admires a human baby, one says: "he looks just lke his father!" not, "He IS his father.") I really do think DH Lawrence's muse was cheating on him with Hughes, though...some of the latter's pieces are really interchangeable from the former's (another "woman" to add to Hughes's oft-discussed list of infidelities.)

And Plath's "Poem For A Birthday," brilliant and original as it is in some parts, must ultimately,in my opinion, be regarded as a Rotheke rip off. So, just to clarify my original point, family resemblance is one thing and cloning is another.But I absolutely agree with you...there is no way to compare the worth of any truly good poet with another.We take what we need from their work when we need it.

One thing that struck me about Plath's work was how profoundly it shifted dimensions and took on added depths when I read it in the throes of genuine depression. It is brilliant anytime, and emotionally affecting anytime; but experiencing it while in the same frame of mind the poet was in when she composed it was a new experience for if the poems I thought I knew so well had turned out to be a very thriving and productive exterior city built over the network of a very thriving and productive underground city, which was actually the source of all their industrial power. By contrast, when one is exulted, one simply doesn't want Plath...they want Whitman, or maybe ee cummings. There may be a contrast there, but there's no comparison.

Lisa Flowers
Norfolk, VA , USA
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Back in 2004 I used to post quite a bit to this forum, then a seige of life changes (moving to a new home, an unexpected but welcomed pregnancy, etc.) arrested both my time and attention. Today I had a few moments to "jump online" and found my way back here. I hardly imagine any of you remember me, but I was relieved to see a few "old timers" when I started reading the posts.

I just had a quick comment about Lisa's thoughts a little further down the page: "Isolating Plath's place in the hierarchy of poetry is difficult, I think; not because there is any question of the majesty of her accomplishment, but because poetry is such an embedded family tree, and poets are so much the offspring of their figurative parents and ancestors... the features of HD, Rotheke, and Emily Dickinson play through the face of Plath's work, etc..though, like a human child, that is only an inherited part of it; it very much has its own identity."

I know the beginnings of this thread go way back, but it tickled something in my brain when I read it. Plath's work exhibited so many contradictions - her letters to her mother expressed a completely different persona than the character portrayed in her journal, for example. In a vastly intellectual field (and a field where intellect is as much a pretense as it is a reality), Plath was fascinated by and extremely well-versed in "pop culture". Were she alive today, she would probably have subscriptions to both InStyle and The New Yorker (perish the thought!) I don't know if I can say this with any degree of eloquence, but perhaps Plath's "place in the hierarchy of poetry" is difficult to pin down because she not only pulled from the classical, historical and intellectual but she embraced the tawdry and embarassingly unintellectual aspects of her own culture. She distanced herself from the feminist movement because, at some level, she bought into the domesticated perfection of the 1950s woman. She was fiercly intellectual on one hand, but on the other she just wanted to be a girl's girl. Her journal attests to the fact that she was as much concerned with the superficial - her hair, her clothes, her figure - as she was about the more intellectual aspects of life. This is the contradiction that I think makes her work both fascinating and difficult to "pin down".

Jennifer Kerr Creek
Seattle, USA
Thursday, November 17, 2005

I just have to say that I don't think Sylvia Plath would have thought it irrelevant to discuss who the best poets were or are. She did it in her diary and her letters to her mother all the time. She thought she was the best living woman poet, and rightly so. Of course there are matters of style and preference and declaring someone as the best poet is always somewhat indefinitive and capricious. But I fail to see how the influence of past poets on present poets demands that we do not judge the work of present poets on it's own merit. Just because they are influenced, does not mean they all fashion work of similar value, and that they all utilize that influence in successful ways within their work.

The 'best' or the 'better' question may be complex and problematic, but it's still a question worth asking, if only to sharpen our critical capacities and to ask us what it is, exactly, we are looking for when we are experiencing a poem. This may change over time, but it's still a question worth asking. There is a lot of awful poetry out there--most of it, in fact, is quite awful--and it would be insulting to Plath or Hughes or any of the greats to not compare their work to the vast body of poetry and declare theirs as superior. From there it only seems natural to compare each poet's work to the work of others who are closer to equal to them in status.

And for my money, I think Sylvia Plath had a far greater grasp of concept (this is a huge one, and why we all relate to her work so deeply and intensely), rhythm, language, and sheer inventiveness than Ted Hughes ever had. :-)

Kate Durbin
Orange , USA
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm visiting the Forum after a lengthy break and am delighted to find it filled with lots of thoughtful content and posters.

David - Re Plath's poetic mentioned that her poems encompass a narrow range of topics. While that may be the case, I believe she had an astonishing range of mood and tone...thus making each poem, though possibly touching on a repeated subject matter, unique. I can't think of another poet in her league who was/is able to display so many emotions with an equally strong voice. In other words, if I read a Dickinson poem, no matter the topic, I still hear one sotto voce Dickinson. Plath broadcasts over a multitude of channels.

Nancy Howell
Sacramento, CA , USA
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I just want to commend those who have commented on the poet's hierarchy. I don't think anyone could have hit the nail on the head harder. I don't really know why I'm writing, I don't think there's a person who doesn't understand Lisa's interpretation of the family tree, but I think poetry is all relative. I don't think it takes a greater or lesser genius to craft good poetry, just the ability to revolutionize the art.

Maybe I'm just exhausted, but blabbering on, any and every time I ever hear or read of confront the question, "Who's better: Plath or Hughes?" I like to pass the question with an "It wouldn't even matter." I couldn't even say one is better, they both took poetry to forms that only they, the individuals, could do, like all great poets do, they never duplicate or rival. Wordsworth and Coleridge? There's evidence suggesting that some of Coleridge's work, at its base, was plagiarised from Wordsworth. What makes Coleridge so notable though is that he was able to re-work Wordsworth in a way that was totally his own. No better, no worse.

Yes, some people believe that bits of "Daddy" were taken from a poem by Anne Sexton, something similar to father's, you'd have to check with Diane Middlebrook to find out, but they both come to a point where you're left with a shuddering, goose pimply, epiphany, like someone has just said something to you that you have always known to be true but was never told to you like that. Maybe everyone knows this, maybe no body cares, but when it comes down to it, to write is to write is to write is to write (if you're good, that is). This living, this living, this living / was never a project of mine.

Littleton, CO, USA
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thanks David for your message. Personally I rank Plath equal to, if not greater than Sappho in poetry, not only English poetry. She herself once compared herself to Sappho in her journals (don't have the book to hand for the reference at the moment). It's incredible (and I have no shadow of doubt Hughes was always intruiged by this too) how she fits into the mould of a Muse-Goddess in herself. Her later poetry (as well as that of Birthday Letters) rather convinces me she fancied herself as a Muse. We know she was heavily influenced by the Muse theory in poetry. Moreover if anyone here has ever read Hughes' tome of a book Shakespeare & The Goddess of Complete Being he bases Shakespearean theory in the light of his own life in many a passage in this book - Too blatantly obvious that he is basing it on his own life-experience.

Noukou Thao, I often visit Plath places myself - For inspiration, more than anything else. I would love to visit Plath haunts with you if you so like, some I haven't seen myself. I live in London so if you fancy you can drop me an email at the link given below this post.

Rehan Qayoom
London , UK
Monday, November 14, 2005

I want to respond to Amanda re the possible influence of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man on the Bell Jar. There is no definitive way to know everything she read, so perhaps she did read Ellison, but in her letters Plath states that she has been using Salinger's Catcher in the Rye as her model for Bell Jar. Once you know that, you can see the obvious parallels in the two novels' cocky/defensive tone and in the motif of treatment for depression.Catcher in the Rye (1950) was an immediate success which propelled Salinger into writerly stardom. Plath takes note of that and muses over the nice royalties.

In comparison, Ellison's book got much less fanfare when first published. In some ways, it was ahead of its time as far as what the reading public wanted to acknowledge in 1950s America. Invisible Man got a lot more attention as the years passed and the Civil Rights movement took off. All 3 of the above books are still part of the core reading list for high school English, I'm happy to say.

Karen Erickson
San Francisco, USA
Saturday, November 12, 2005

This is in reply to Amanda Norell Bader's comment: I don't know anything about anything about the other author you speak of but when I read The Bell Jar I found it similar to The Catcher in the Rye which was written in the '40's (USA). It seemed to me that The Bell Jar was just a female version of The Catcher in the Rye and for that reason, I didn't enjoy The Bell Jar as much as I probably would have. The books were really different in a lot of respects but (to me anyway) the protagonists seemed strikingly similar in their personalities. Somehow your suggestion that her book was similar to another one also written before it did not come as much of a surprise. Simply coincidence? I don't know, but it struck me as odd...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It's great to have Helen Young on the scene again. She was one of the liveliest Plath Forum posters a few years back. As for her amusing description of me as "still the universal authority on all Plathian," I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with old Skeet Macdonald, a Maine lobsterman:

"Skeet," I said. "How long you been hauling lobsters?"

"Well, now," he says. "Nigh on abaowt fifty year."

"Wow! You must really know where to find 'em--eh?"

"Nah," says Skeet with a wink. "Don't know a goddam thing abaowt it!"

In a way Skeet was telling the truth, which is this: the older you get, the less you know, because you know so much more clearly what you don't know. Jack Folsom on Plath?

"Don't know a goddam thing abaowt it!"

Jack Folsom
Sharon, Vermont , USA
Friday, November 11, 20045

Interesting subject, David. Isolating Plath's place in the hierarchy of poetry is difficult, I think; not because there is any question of the majesty of her accomplishment, but because poetry is such an embedded family tree, and poets are so much the offspring of their figurative parents and ancestors. Hughes is an astonishing replica of DH Lawrence, the features of HD, Rotheke, and Emily Dickinson play through the face of Plath's work, etc..though, like a human child, that is only an inherited part of it; it very much has its own identity. Weirdly, I think I'd be better able to compile a list of my favorite poems rather than one of my favorite poets..there really is often a discrepancy between an artist's general body of work and their isolated gems.One of the greatest studies ever written on this subject (among others) incidentally,is Randall Jarrell's No Other Book, an absolutely wonderful collection of critical essays. Unfortunately, he doesn't cover Plath at all..and not only because he died before she really became seems he and Lowell disagreed about her genius..but I digress..I'm at work..etc.

Lisa Flowers
Norfolk, USA
Friday, November 11, 2005

I have noted requests for information from many re Sylvia Plath and whilst revisiting after a few years and unless I am mistaken, Jack Folsom is still the universal authority on all Plathian and can be found by simply typing his name on the internet. Great and nice man is Jack!!

Helen Young
Woongarrah, Australia
Thursday, November 10, 2005

May I suggest that we all take a break from discussion of recent writings about Sylvia and do a gut-check? Where would you rank her among English-speaking poets? This would include Americans such as Eliot and Pound and Dickinson and Whitman and Stevens, and British poets such as Yeats and Tennyson and Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas, not to mention all the Romantics, where she might have found her soul-mates: Keats and Shelley and Byron, et al. Personally, I rank her high as far as pure ability - she's as good with words as any poet I've read - but I wonder if her limited range of topics and laser-focus on self might hurt her reputation with later critics. I have in mind my own list - my Top Ten - but I'm curious to know where others would place her in the pantheon of Great Poets of the English Language. An interesting endeavor, that's all. No prizes given for the right answer. Just curious. And hey, if her place in poetry is to be decided/determined, as it will be, shouldn't the discussion start here?

David Hall
Fort Collins, Colorado , USA
Thursday, November 10, 2005

Seeking Plath traveling partner on pilgrimage to Plath's England. Or at the very least, traveling advice.

Hi Plath readers out there. I decided that I must make my trip to visit the English haunts of Sylvia Plath in late 2006 or early 2007. I am writing a grant proposal to fund this trip, and was wondering if there might be Plath fans who would like to meet up in England? If I do not get the grant, I will fund it myself, but the trip is research, to inform my little collection of Plath-influenced poems. The poems do not directly reference Plath, but reading them you will see the Plath influence. I try not to simplify the influence, or make them cute or obvious. But about the trip:

I e-mailed Peter Steinberg years back, who gave me very specific walking directions to Plath's burial site. Other locales I will visit of course will be her rural home, the London home, and Cambridge, where she was a student.

Any Plath "how to get there" or "must visit" advice you have, please dispense.

I did catch the Grolier Club Plath-Hughes exhibit in New York. It might still be open. It was really worth the trip to NY. It blew me away to see her typewriter. I was not as impressed by her artwork, but there was a love letter she wrote - or was it just thoughts about love, her love about Ted Hughes -that I found to be very different and raw, extremely raw in that feminine way-that cut to the core of Plath's emotional writing. I can't believe this letter or prose of her's was never published! I cannot remember if it was a letter she wrote to Ted, or just some notes she jotted down about her feelings toward him. This writing of hers had the emotions of the Ariel poems, but less poetic, and more everyday human, like notes you might write in your own notebooks, but artistic.

Also, seeing her journals displayed was incredibly different than what I thought it would be. First off, her journal books themselves are bigger in size than I expected. They were accounting books, weren't they? Or just larger, classical style composition journals available during the 50's? Anyway, seeing her original journals just made Plath the writer come alive. Also the pink Smith Memo paper she stole and used to write on was neat to see as well.

Well, again, I am looking for traveling tips and practical guides to Plath's England. Especially interested in coastal locations where she went, or recorded going. I have tried googling Plath Literary Tours, but of course no luck. Not like the Jane Austen Tours.

Any leads will help me with my itinerary.

Thanks a bunch.

Noukou Thao
St. Paul, MN , USA
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

I am searching some info on Sylvia Plath because I am doing a report on her. But I don't want to make it just another biography stating what she wrote, when she was born, general, boring info.

Instead I'd rather get people's opinions about her, what was your favourite poem/story? Why and how did it connect to you?

I was also wondering if some of you could tell me why she wrote certain poems and stories, due to some events going on in her life, or any inside information you have on her at all.

Well I would appreciate your help! Thank You,

Shera V
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

I just got Giving Up by Jillian Becker off Amazon and I read it all in one go. It's so sad, it made me cry (I feel like such a loser for saying that). I think it's because Sylvia Plath has always been this distant myth to me, I'd never really thought of her as being a real person until I started researching this dissertation.

Liverpool , UK
Saturday, November 5, 2005

Hi. I haven't posted on this forum in a while but today I came across a magazine containing an interview with a woman named Elizabeth Sigmund, a close friend of Sylvia Plath. I thought people on this forum might be interested in it, as I was. The magazine came with The Mail On Sunday in October 30. I'm not sure if anyone will be able to get hold of one, but i thought I'd post the thought anyway.

Newcastle , UK
Friday, November 4, 2005

Hi Hannah, I am also a student in Liverpool. Have you come across Giving Up, The Last Days of Sylvia Plath ? I recently read this book, it's only very short about 40 pages in total but it is written by a friend of Sylvia's, Jillian Becker, who spent much time with her towards the end of her life. It gives quite a good insight into her state of mind during those last few weeks and also makes reference to her children and her attitudes towards them which might come in handy for you. Hope that helps!

Preston , UK
Thursday, November 3, 2005

I've just recently read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in my English class, and have found the novel strikingly similar to Plath's The Bell Jar (which I included in an extensive research paper about Plath's work last year). Both Plath and Ellison employ similar literary devices to explore the journey for one's identity, yet I can find no solid link between Ellison and Plath. They both wrote around the same time (Ellison published Invisible Man in 1952), and both wrote about social issues of thier time (Ellison's narrator is a black man who becomes a social activist, Plath's narrator deals with the issues of women's liberation). Yet, I can find no more historical connections than these. Does anyone know if Plath was infulenced by Ellison's novel, or if Ellison was influenced by Plath's poetry? Or is the similarity between the two simply the way that many authors of the 50's and 60's wrote?

Amanda Norell Bader
Spokane, USA
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

I'm a third year English student just starting a dissertation on Sylvia Plath, and I'm thinking about concentrating on her attitude to motherhood and how that is represented through her poetry. However, that's a massive topic, and I need to narrow it down somewhat, but I have no idea where to begin. I was wondering if anyone could suggest any books or essays that I could use as critical material to get me started. I've been reading The Haunting of Sylvia Plath as well as looking at her poetry, but I'm still abit stuck. Any comments would be appreciated. Thanks.

Hannah Riggott
Liverpool, UK
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

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