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SYLVIA PLATH

 WHO WAS 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. She wrote over four hundred poems.



However, beneath the surface of her seeming perfection were some grave discontinuities, some of 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 disintegrated.

In the winter of 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. She would sometimes finish a poem a day. In her last poems, death is given a cruel, physical allure and psychic pain becomes almost tactile.

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 of her last poems was published, which 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.

SOME OF HER WORKS

1. MIRROR

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

2. A LIFE

ouch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball,
This egg-shaped bailiwick, clear as a tear.
Here's yesterday, last year —-
Palm-spear and lily distinct as flora in the vast
Windless threadwork of a tapestry.

Flick the glass with your fingernail:
It will ping like a Chinese chime in the slightest air stir
Though nobody in there looks up or bothers to answer.
The inhabitants are light as cork,
Every one of them permanently busy.

At their feet, the sea waves bow in single file.
Never trespassing in bad temper:
Stalling in midair,
Short-reined, pawing like paradeground horses.
Overhead, the clouds sit tasseled and fancy

As Victorian cushions. This family
Of valentine faces might please a collector:
They ring true, like good china.

Elsewhere the landscape is more frank.
The light falls without letup, blindingly.

A woman is dragging her shadow in a circle
About a bald hospital saucer.
It resembles the moon or a sheet of blank paper
And appears to have suffered a sort of private blitzkrieg.
She lives quietly

With no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle,
The obsolete house, the sea, flattened to a picture
She has one too many dimensions to enter.
Grief and anger, exorcised,
Leave her alone now.

The future is a grey seagull
Tattling in its cat-voice of departure.
Age and terror, like nurses, attend her,
And a drowned man, complaining of the great cold,
Crawls up out of the sea.

3. CUT

What a thrill -
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian's axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, everyone.

Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Saboteur,
Kamikaze man -

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Babushka
Darkens and tarnishes and when
The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump -
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.