Sylvia Plath’s books are known to be semi-biographical. Committing suicide at the age of 30, the writer managed to influence readers with her books and journals in a short amount of time.
Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932. She published her first poem at the age of 8 in Boston Herald’s children’s section. This became her early steps of becoming a writer.
Soon, she began publishing her writings in regional newspapers and magazines. She also kept a journal starting at the age of 11. Sylvia Plath was an ambitious and a bright student. The biography of her early years is mostly full of her drive to succeed.
She continuously wrote and indulged herself in literature. Unfortunately, her later years weren’t as colorful as her childhood. Her depression was the foundation on which Sylvia Plath’s books were written.
Her journals told us her biography from her perspective. She had a troubled inner world, and no one could save her.
Sylvia Plath’s books and journals weren’t published when she was older
In fact, we learn from her biography that she began writing at a very early age.
Her father, Otto Plath, passed away on November 5, 1940. Sylvia was raised as a Unitarian Christian, but her father’s death caused her to experience loss of faith.
She continued remaining undecided on religion for the rest of her life. Visiting her father’s grave motivated Sylvia to write the poem “Electra on Azalea Plath”.
The day you died I went into the dirt,
Into the lightless hibernaculum
Where bees, striped black and gold, sleep out the blizzard
Like hieratic stones, and the ground is hard.
It was good for twenty years, that wintering –
As if you never existed, as if I came
God-fathered into the world from my mother’s belly:
Her wide bed wore the stain of divinity.
I had nothing to do with guilt or anything
When I wormed back under my mother’s heart.
Small as a doll in my dress of innocence
I lay dreaming your epic, image by image.
Nobody died or withered on that stage.
Everything took place in a durable whiteness.
The day I woke, I woke on Churchyard Hill.
I found your name, I found your bones and all
Enlisted in a cramped stone askew by an iron fence.
In this charity ward, this poorhouse, where the dead
Crowd foot to foot, head to head, no flower
Breaks the soil. This is Azalea path.
A field of burdock opens to the south.
Six feet of yellow gravel cover you.
The artificial red sage does not stir
In the basket of plastic evergreens they put
At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot,
Although the rains dissolve a bloody dye:
The ersatz petals drip, and they drip red.
Another kind of redness bothers me:
The day your slack sail drank my sister’s breath
The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth
My mother unrolled at your last homecoming.
I borrow the silts of an old tragedy.
The truth is, one late October, at my birth-cry
A scorpion stung its head, an ill-starred thing;
My mother dreamed you face down in the sea.
The stony actors poise and pause for breath.
I brought my love to bear, and then you died.
It was the gangrene ate you to the bone
My mother said: you died like any man.
How shall I age into that state of mind?
I am the ghost of an infamous suicide,
My own blue razor rusting at my throat.
O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at
Your gate, father – your hound-bitch, daughter, friend.
It was my love that did us both to death.
After her father’s death, they relocated to Wellesley, Massachusetts where Plath attended Bradford Senior High School. Immediately after her graduation, her first national publication was brought into the world in the Christian Science Monitor.
College years were the best for Sylvia Plath’s books and journals, for it was the time she had more material to work on. But, according to her biography, it was also the time when depression kicked in.
Sylvia Plath did very well at college. She described her experiences at Smith College to her mother in a letter as if the world had presented her a ripe, juicy watermelon at her feet.
She worked as an editor at The Smith Review and also had the opportunity of being a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She spent a month in New York working for the latter, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as she expected it to be.
This is when her suicidal thoughts first emerged. Her experiences at the Big Apple went downhill when she was unable to meet one of her favorite writers.
Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet, was supposed to have a meeting with her which was arranged by Mademoiselle magazine’s editor, which never happened. Sylvia waited for 2 days, but it was a no-show.
Some time later, she cut her legs to see if she was strong enough to kill herself. She was also refused admission to the Harvard writing seminar, which deepened her depressive episodes. Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar was greatly inspired by these events.
We learn from Sylvia Plath’s books and journals how she began making suicide attempts. Her biography isn’t exactly a happy one.
She began electroconvulsive therapy for depression, which failed to help her. Her first medically documented attempt to kill herself was in August 1953.
She had crawled under her house and had taken sleeping pills. This is also how the character in Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar tries killing herself. She was found after lying there for 3 days.
She described the experience saying:
I blissfully succumbed to the whirling blackness that I honestly believed was eternal oblivion.
After the events, she spent 6 months in psychiatric care where she received more electric and insulin shock treatment. Seemingly making a good recovery, she returned to college and graduated with highest honors. Things seemed to be stable for a while.
She was able to obtain a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Newnham College. This was a great opportunity for her as she was able to write more poetry, books and journals.
She published her writings in the Varsity student newspaper. She even spent her first college year there traveling around Europe. This part of Sylvia Plath’s biography is the closest she came to being happy.
Sylvia Plath’s personal life wasn’t the best either. Her biography tells us and her books and journals hint us how her love life drove her further into depression.
Sylvia Plath met poet Ted Hughes and quickly fell in love. She described their meeting saying:
I happened to be at Cambridge. I was sent there by the US government on a government grant. And I’d read some of Ted’s poems in this magazine and I was very impressed and I wanted to meet him. I went to this little celebration and that’s actually where we met… Then we saw a great deal of each other. Ted came back to Cambridge and suddenly we found ourselves getting married a few months later… We kept writing poems to each other. Then it just grew out of that, I guess, a feeling that we both were writing so much and having such a fine time doing it, we decided that this should keep on.
They were married 4 months after they met. Sylvia started attending seminars that were given by poet Lowell, who also encouraged Plath to write from her experiences.
This is why Sylvia Plath’s books are based on her biography. She spoke openly about her depression and began considering herself as a more serious novelist. In 1960, the couple’s daughter Frieda was born and Plath also published her first poetry collection, The Colossus, in the same year.
Her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She used her platform to address her unfortunate experience. She wrote to her therapist that Hughes had beat her 2 days prior the miscarriage.
Parliament Hill Fields: Poem by Sylvia Plath
On this bald hill the new year hones its edge.
Faceless and pale as china
The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous;
Nobody can tell what I lack.
Gulls have threaded the river’s mud bed back
To this crest of grass. Inland, they argue,
Settling and stirring like blown paper
Or the hands of an invalid. The wan
Sun manages to strike such tin glints
From the linked ponds that my eyes wince
And brim; the city melts like sugar.
A crocodile of small girls
Knotting and stopping, ill-assorted, in blue uniforms,
Opens to swallow me. I’m a stone, a stick,
One child drops a barrette of pink plastic;
None of them seem to notice.
Their shrill, gravelly gossip’s funneled off.
Now silence after silence offers itself.
The wind stops my breath like a bandage.
Southward, over Kentish Town, an ashen smudge
Swaddles roof and tree.
It could be a snowfield or a cloudbank.
I suppose it’s pointless to think of you at all.
Already your doll grip lets go.
The tumulus, even at noon, guards its black shadow:
You know me less constant,
Ghost of a leaf, ghost of a bird.
I circle the writhen trees. I am too happy.
These faithful dark-boughed cypresses
Brood, rooted in their heaped losses.
Your cry fades like the cry of a gnat.
I lose sight of you on your blind journey,
While the heath grass glitters and the spindling rivulets
Unspool and spend themselves. My mind runs with them,
Pooling in heel-prints, fumbling pebble and stem.
The day empties its images
Like a cup or a room. The moon’s crook whitens,
Thin as the skin seaming a scar.
Now, on the nursery wall,
The blue night plants, the little pale blue hill
In your sister’s birthday picture start to glow.
The orange pompons, the Egyptian papyrus
Light up. Each rabbit-eared
Blue shrub behind the glass
Exhales an indigo nimbus,
A sort of cellophane balloon.
The old dregs, the old difficulties take me to wife.
Gulls stiffen to their chill vigil in the drafty half-light;
I enter the lit house.
Hughes began an affair with Assia Wevill, wife of poet David Wevill. Sylvia got into a car accident which was another suicide attempt, and a month later, she discovered her husband’s affair and left him.
Her creativity blossomed, but her depression returned. She worked on her poetry collection and book, which were published after her death. She took her life after countless suicide attempts on February 11, 1963. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning with her head in the oven. She had successfully sealed the room so her children would remain unharmed. She was only 30 years old.
Sylvia Plath’s books continue touching the hearts of many. Her journals are records of her inner world that her biography couldn’t capture.
Her letters were published in 1975 which were selected and edited by her mother. After the strong public reaction of Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar, the collection Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963 was published.
Since she kept a journal from the age of 11, she continued writing in it until her death. The Journals of Sylvia Plath was first published in 1982 with Frances McCullough as editor and Ted Hughes as consulting editor.
Once Smith College acquired the rest of her journals, Hughes sealed 2 of them until 2013, on Sylvia Plath’s death’s 50th anniversary.
Before his death, Hughes passed on the project of Plath’s sealed journals to his children. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath had a lot of newly released material. Hughes was criticized for destroying Plath’s last journal, which had entries from 1962 until her death.
Sylvia Plath’s books include The Bell Jar, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts, The Bed Book, etc. Her books based on her journals are The Letters of Sylvia Plath, The Journals of Sylvia Plath, etc.
Tulips by Sylvia Plath is one of her critically acclaimed poems. It captures Plath’s desire for the simplicity of death and the tulip’s encouragement towards life.
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
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