(1932 - 1963 / America)
Biography of Sylvia Plath
Born in 1932 to middle class parents in Jamaica Plain,
Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath published her first poem at the age of
eight. A sensitive person who tended to be a bit of a
perfectionist she was what many would consider a model daughter
and student - popular, a straight A student, always winning the
best prizes. She won a scholarship to Smith College in 1950 and
even then she had an enviable list of publications. While at Smith
she wrote over four hundred poems.
However, beneath the surface of her seeming perfection were some
grave discontinuities, some which probably were caused by the
death of her father, an entomologist, when she was eight. During
the summer after her junior year in college, Sylvia made her first
(and almost successful) attempt at suicide by overdosing on
sleeping pills. The experience is described in her
autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar , published in 1963. After a
period of recovery, which involved electroshock and psychotherapy
she once again pursued academic and literary success, graduating
from Smith summa cum laude in 1955 and winning a Fulbright
scholarship to study in Cambridge, England.
In 1956 she married Ted Hughes, an English poet, and in 1960, at
the age of twenty-eight she published her first book, The Colossus
in England. The poems found in the book clearly showed the
dedication with which she pursued her apprenticeship, yet they
only gave a taste of what was to come in the poems she began
writing in early 1961. She and Hughes settled for a brief time in
an English country village in Devon, England. However, less than
two years after the birth of their first child the marriage
In the winter if 1962-63, one of the coldest in centuries, Sylvia
lived in a small flat in London, with her two children, ill with
the flu and nearly broke. The difficulties in her life seened to
reinforce her need to write and she often worked between four and
eight a.m., before the children awoke. She would sometimes finish
a poem a day. In her last works it seems as though some deeper and
more powerful self had grabbed control of her. In those poems
death is given a cruel, physical allure and psychic pain becomes
On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath succeeded in killing herself
with cooking gas at the age of thirty. Two years after her death,
Ariel , a collection of some her last poems was published, that
was followed by Crossing the Water and Winter Trees in 1971 and in
1981 The Collected Poems was published, edited by none other than
Ted Hughes. ..
I have no
wit, I have no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
A lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is like the falling leaf;
O Jesus, quicken me.
A Lesson In
Of drafty cells and draftier castles,
Of dragons breathing without the frame of fables,
Saint and king unfisted obstruction's knuckles
By no miracle or majestic means,
But by such abuses
As smack of spite and the overscrupulous
Twisting of thumbscrews: one soul tied in sinews,
One white horse drowned, and all the unconquered pinnacles
Of God's city and Babylon's
Must wait, while here Suso's
Hand hones his tack and needles,
Scouraging to sores his own red sluices
For the relish of heaven, relentless, dousing with prickles
Of horsehair and lice his horny loins;
While there irate Cyrus
Squanders a summer and the brawn of his heroes
To rebuke the horse-swallowing River Gyndes:
He split it into three hundred and sixty trickles
A girl could wade without wetting her shins.
Still, latter-day sages,
Smiling at this behavior, subjugating their enemies
Neatly, nicely, by disbelief or bridges,
Never grip, as the grandsires did, that devil who chuckles
From grain of the marrow and the river-bed grains.
Submitted by Venus
Among the Narcissi
wry, and gray as these March sticks,
Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi.
He is recuperating from something on the lung.
The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing :
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.
There is a dignity to this; there is a formality-
The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending.
They bow and stand : they suffer such attacks!
And the octogenarian loves the little flocks.
He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing.
The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.
A Birthday Present
this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?
I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking
'Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?
Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.
Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!'
But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.
I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.
I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,
The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies' bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!
It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.
Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed--I do not mind if it is small.
Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,
The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.
I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified
The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,
A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.
I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,
No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.
If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.
But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.
Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million
Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine-----
Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,
Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.
It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center
Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.
Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.
Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death
I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.
There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter
Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.
prince leans to the girl in scarlet heels,
Her green eyes slant, hair flaring in a fan
Of silver as the rondo slows; now reels
Begin on tilted violins to span
The whole revolving tall glass palace hall
Where guests slide gliding into light like wine;
Rose candles flicker on the lilac wall
Reflecting in a million flagons' shine,
And glided couples all in whirling trance
Follow holiday revel begun long since,
Until near twelve the strange girl all at once
Guilt-stricken halts, pales, clings to the prince
As amid the hectic music and cocktail talk
She hears the caustic ticking of the clock.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! ---The furrow
Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,
Berries cast dark
Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Hauls me through air ---
Flakes from my heels.
Godiva, I unpeel ---
Dead hands, dead stringencies.
And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry
Melts in the wall.
Am the arrow,
The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning.
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