The Sylvia Plath Forum

The forum address is now www.sylviaplathforum.com - please adjust your bookmark if necessary



August 2001

Michel (from Brest),

I think it's perfectly natural that, if you are focussing on "The Bell Jar", you may not be much interested in Plath's relationship to Hughes. The novel has little to do with that relationship; actually, it never touches on it, and consequently projects none of the passionate intensity that was generated by that relationship in her life and poetry. It is that intensity that people respond to so "passionately", as you call it. Those of us who are interested in her poetry and its development find that their relationship was a primary catalyst for that development and the direction that it took.

The perception that the dissolution of their relationship both freed her into her own voice and somehow was instrumental in causing her death is another source of the intense interest in (not to say fascination with) their relationship. Very few of us experience a relationship that has the same kind of centrality and intensity in our lives. Certainly it would be a mixed blessing.

Jim Long
Honolulu HI, USA
Thursday, August 30, 2001



I am reading the Unabridged Journals. I was wondering what happened to Richard Sassoon? Does anyone knows if he ever talked about his relation with Sylvia Plath? I was also wondering what happened to Robert Shepard Cochran, he died at 21, four years after he dated Sylvia Plath.

Fabienne
Coulommiers, France
Thursday, August 30, 2001



Anna, I guess we will have to wait until Hughes's personal library goes up for sale before we know who replaced his copy of Shakespeare and made the inscription. The reason why I favor Dido Merwin over Assia Wevill is that she is the source cited for the biography in describing this incident and she seems to have been quite affected by it--really judgmental of Plath's jealous behavior and horrified that she would commit such a desecration of Shakespeare, no less, and Hughes's writings. I suppose it's possible that Assia found out about the incident, but I cannot imagine Hughes confiding in her in this way--it seems out of character. I also think Plath was suspicious of Dido, too, as a possible rival.

Lynda Bundtzen
Williamstown, MA, USA
Wednesday, August 29, 2001



I'm sorry, but I must confess I'm not that much interested in the relation between T.Hughes and S. Plath . I'm working about S.Plath's novel and also about Ingeborg Bachmann's novel 'Malina', and I'm not particurlaly interested in the relation between I. Bachmann and M. Frisch either, I mean, not more than in any other important detail of Bachmann's or Plath's biography-

Why are so many of you so passionate about it ? Excuse me if I dare ask, in a provocative way : are not our own relations to our respective friends, our respective beloved women and men much more important : maybe it could be more interesting, if everyone would write here about his/her own love- and hatred-stories - (That's a joke).

OK, on a theoretical basis it could be interesting to think about the relations existing in writer's couples (Nancy Huston wrote an interesting bookabout that : 'Journal de la cration'), but don't you think, the danger is that we 'project' too much our own very private feelings on dead people, in a disguised narcissic way ? Of course I have nothing against narcissism (I wouldn't write here if I had), but we should have the courage to be openly narcissic - I must stop there, I'm now moralizing, and the French would say it's quite boring, almost a sin (I'm French) (and excuse my bad English).

Michel Kappes
Brest,France
Wednesday, August 29, 2001



I am doing a deconstruction of Sylvia Plath's poem "In Plaster" for school and I am picking up a feeling of schizophrenia. Did anything in her life influence this?

Kellyanne Maynard
Brisbane, Australia
Wednesday, August 29, 2001



Dil, very well. Partnership, couple, I suspect if TS were up for it Ezra would've been too! And yes, really! Let us read more closely that the review said 'one of' meaning 'maybe not the best but certainly up there.' What is exactly wrong with the reviewer's opinion that Plath and Hughes are in the mix?

Peter K Steinberg
Brighton, USA
Wednesday, August 29, 2001



I just want to say that reading Sylvia's poems, and especially "The Bell Jar", has changed my life forever... Thank you wherever you are..... "The sunlight on the garden hardens and grows cold / We cannot cage the minute within its nets of gold...."

Noel
Dublin, Ireland
Monday, August 27, 2001



"The Inscription" and the Oxford Shakespeare - Thank you, Lynda, for the reference to Hughes's letter in Malcolm's book. I'd forgotten all about it. High time I re-read it, making notes. Stevenson mentions the destruction of the book, but not its replacement by Assia Weevill, and neither does Dido Merwin. It's not in Erica Wagner's "Ariel's Gift" either, Anja, at least not in the pages given in the index sv "The Inscription". Judy, you too mentioned this - do you remember where you read about it?

Anna Ravano
Monday, August 27, 2001



Peter, if you had read more carefully, you would have seen that the term used in the review was "artistic partnerships", not "couple", as cute as that seems, and was claimed to be one of the most creative that the "world of poetry has ever seen". really. Could you argue that the Plath-Hughes partnership proved a more productive/creative partnership than say, Wordsworth/Coleridge or Eliot/Pound? Let us not fool ourselves, the 'world of poetry' has proven stronger duos. Regards.

Dil Farbs
Toronto, Canada
Sunday, August 26, 2001



I read an old article recently distinguishing Ted Hughes from "The Movement" occuring mid-century Britain, which included poets such as Larkin. Admittedly, I have no idea what the "Movement" is, being the first time I've come across the term. Would anyone here care to enlighten me, or direct me towards a text with adequate and interesting explanation? Much regards.

Dil Farbs
Toronto, Canada
Saturday, August 25, 2001



Anna, I just received the Tim Kendall's book yesterday and started it this morning before work. It's readable, for sure, unlike some literary criticisms. The book will be published in Amurica sometime around November! I couldn't wait.

The Ted Hughes letter's to Keith Sagar are quite interesting and I only hope to get to see them myself sometime in the future. A collection of all his letters would benefit a great many peanut-crunchers but would also add that insight into his poetry, translations, etc.

Dil, I let a slight chuckle slip from my mouth when I read your posting. Plath and Hughes were quite the creative couple. Between the two of them, they probably out sell and out-interest most other 20th century literary couples. Have you done any research into who might rival them? Their years of marriage and partnership helped produce England's finest, most esteemed post-war poet and Amurica's poetess. Hughes received his fame in part because of Plath's persistent sending out of his poems. Sylvia too received, in part, her fame at the hand of Hughes, who in eerie reciprocation, published her work after her suicide. They wrote on the back of each other's manuscript's, they gave each other idea's and introduced one another to their home country's mysteries and beauties. Curiosity comes into play big-time with Plath and Hughes; but it also get's people reading, opinionating, etc.

Peter K Steinberg
Brighton, MA, USA
Saturday, August 25, 2001



Someone recently voiced the opinion here that Plath's death could not be attributed to an adverse reaction to her antidepressants because, if the drugs had been a problem, they would have been withdrawn from the marketplace. Well, the recent news about the group of anti-cholesterol drugs called statins, which resulted in the deaths of 81 people before they were withdrawn from the market, should dispel such a naive perspective on the safety-consciousness of the drug manufacturers.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Saturday, August 25, 2001



This is for Anna about Hughes's poem, "The Inscription." When Plath sees that "red Oxford Shakespeare / That she had ripped to rags . . . ," she knows that someone replaced it after she tore it up in a fit of jealousy. The incident is described in Bitter Fame, p. 206, and the source is Dido Merwin. When Plath opens up the new volume, she sees an inscription most probably from Dido, but maybe Assia Wevill, and the effect this has on her is devastating--a "fatal bullet" and, in some ways, a self-inflicted wound because she created the opportunity for another woman to give him this volume. Hughes would later write Anne Stevenson that he objects to the description of him--"Ted could neither forget nor forgive this desecration"--and asks Stevenson in a letter quoted by Janet Malcolm in The Silent Woman to change this because, "The truth is that I didn't hold that action against [Sylvia]--then or at any other time" (143) and he describes his efforts to persuade Dido to see Plath differently than she obviously does in that vituperative memoir, "Vessel of Wrath." My guess is that the new Shakespeare volume is from Dido, the inscription is from Dido, and the episode of Plath's discovery described in the poem only added more anguish to a situation that Hughes describes as torture for Plath, who is so torn that she does not know whether she wants him back or away.

Lynda Bundtzen
Williamstown, MA, USA
Saturday, August 25, 2001



Anna, I think the "resurrected Oxford Shakespeare" was a present from Assia as Sylvia found out when she opened the book during a visit. I don't remember where I read this but it could have been in Ariel's Gift.

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Saturday, August 25, 2001



Anna - Regarding "The Inscription", Assia Wevill gave Ted Hughes a new Oxford Shakespear copy to replace the one Sylvia destroyed. Sylvia saw it and read whatever inscription Assia had written to Ted.

Judy Matthews
East Lansing , USA
Saturday, August 25, 2001



About the revelation that Hughes and Plath were about to get back together (see Christina Patterson's article in The Guardian about Ted Hughes's letters to Kaith Sagar), hadn't Ted Hughes already said as much in Birthday Letters? I'm thinking of "The Inscription", with its image of the 'resurrected' Oxford Shakespeare which Sylvia "had ripped to rags", and of the passing allusion in "18 Rugby Street" to one Susan "who would be holding me from the my telephone / Those nights you would most need me." Though I must admit that I find the ending of "The Inscription" rather obscure. What could the inscription have been, that precipitated the irreparable crisis?

I've just ordered from Amazon Tim Kendall's book "Sylvia Plath: a Critical Study", which has just come out. I read some of his articles which have appeared in the last few years and found them excellent.

Anna Ravano
Milan, Italy
Tuesday, August 21, 2001



Reading those articles on Hughes from the Guardian Review was of great interest, and too importance to anyone seriously studying Hughes I feel. I hope from his letters, as hinted at, more of Hughes' understanding of Eastern religion and the oocult will be revealed, an area of his writing I find lacking in exploration. I liked the comparison to a Yeatsian universe of myth. That aside, I couldn't help but let a slight chuckle slip from my mouth when reading the columnist's opinion that "theirs [Plath and Hughes] was one of the most powerful creative and artistic partnerships that the world of poetry has ever seen." Really. Perhaps one of the most curious and entertaining partnerships, but "most powerful, creative, and artistic"? I think not. Regards

Dil Farbs
Toronto, Canada
Tuesday, August 21, 2001



I agree wholeheartedly with Paul of New York that we must be careful not to dwell unnecessarily or morbidly on the subject of Sylvia Plaths suicide. In particular, we do not want to upset the sensitivities or intrude on the territory of those who have gained priceless personal and/or intellectual insights from her poetry and other works and been powerfully moved thereby. Nevertheless the issue remains a crucial key in our quest to get to know her. And while suicide itself might be depressing, understanding suicide need not be.

I presume we are all mature enough to realize that suicide is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms and there is no suggestion that we should ever "glorify" the act. But equally, in my view, that doesnt mean we should shrink in fear of the subject or be contemptuous of those who for one reason or another have tragically ended their lives in this way. Nor should we feel it necessary to defend their integrity by sweeping it under the carpet, for there is nothing shameful about suicide in my opinion. And as much as we might want to bury the truth, with all the best intentions, truth tends to rear its head again until we come to terms with its validity.

Anja got me thinking a lot. And it suddenly clicked home. 'Ariel' is not to be taken only as a range of options but displays SP's ambivalence on the subject of suicide itself, and ambivalence is indeed a prominent theme in the poem replete as it is with melding opposites. This is echoed in the journals revealing as they do Plath's years of struggle alternating between the bouts of illness requiring medical treatment to the point that she contemplated suicide and periods of enchanting joy and bliss.

Though, in Ariel, there is fire in her soul, there is, as Paul did not deny, also suicide in her heels. Though she desires to live, surely it is a life far removed from her pain and emotional torment that she yearns for. In life, she was said to be happy, and to have all the reasons to be happy, etc. but is it not a human tendency to put on a show even if we are terribly unhappy within?

"Shall you walk tall while small talk pries
And glossy gossip gleeful - flies?
Shall you cavort while braced for trials?
Brave face all aching, faking smiles?"

We can place all our own values on what should have made Sylvia happy and decide that she must have been because we would have been if we were her etc., but she was on antidepressants and so she was suffering from depression. Besides it is well known in the medical profession that you cannot simply tell a clinically depressed person to shake out of it or give them incentives to do this. It doesnt work.

In SPs life-long anguish there must have been a driving impulse. If we strip off the superficial considerations of her emotional, mental and physical state, even the death wish itself, we are left with the essence of Sylvia Plaths dichotomy: her frenetic, tempestuous, and fervent love/hate relationship with life which, paradoxically for some perhaps, even this world could not contain. Not a paper doll. Not a Victorian marionette at all. Far from it. She was the model of a woman way ahead, and arguably too far ahead of her time.

I thought I would share with you all two especially beautiful passages among my own resources. These were written some 100 years ago by a spiritual sage.

The first passage is in response to a letter sent by a woman distressed because her husband had committed suicide. This might shed some light on the issue.

"O Thy Seeker of the Kingdom! Thy letter was received. Thou hast written of the severe calamity that hath befallen thee-the death of thy respected husband. That honorable man hath been so subjected to the stress and strain of this world that his great wish was for deliverance from it. Such is this mortal abode: a storehouse of afflictions and suffering. It is ignorance that binds man to it. For no comfort can be secured by any soul in this world, from the monarch down to the most humble commoner. If once this life should offer a man a sweet cup, a hundred bitter ones will follow; such is the condition of this world. The wise man, therefore, doth not attach himself to this mortal life and doth not depend on it; at some moments, even, he eagerly wisheth for death that he may thereby be freed from these sorrows and afflictions. Thus it is seen that some, under extreme pressure of anguish, have committed suicide.

"As to thy husband, rest assured. He will be immersed in the ocean of pardon and forgiveness and will become the recipient of bounty and favour."

And this is part of his response to another letter from a lady grieving the suicide of her son:

"O though beloved of God, although the loss of a son is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet one who knoweth and understandeth is assured that the son hath not been lost but rather, hath stepped from this world into another, and she will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it burning grief.

"Praise be unto God that thou hast faith, art turning thy face toward the Everlasting Kingdom and believest in the existence of a heavenly world. Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm.

"That beloved child addresseth thee from the hidden world: 'O thou kind Mother, thank divine Providence that I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds in the meadows, have soared to the divine world a world which is spacious, illumined...and jubilant. Therefore lament not O mother, and be not grieved; I am not of the lost, nor have I been obliterated and destroyed. I have shaken off the mortal form and raised my banner in this spiritual world. Following this separation is everlasting companionship. Thou shalt find me in the heaven of the Lord, immersed in an ocean of light.'"

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Tuesday, August 21, 2001



I just found this interesting site as I was looking for information for my thesis titled 'creation and destruction in young women's poetry'. I am at the writing up stage and am checking for the latest info. I read Rose's book three years ago and though the details are lost I still feel the effects. I am very interested in and concerned about young people, poetry, suicide and getting the most out of life. I'd be very happy to talk with anyone who could help me with my study- any info that you could direct me to, or perhaps I could be of assistance to you. My study involved getting 200 poems from students in WA classes (volunteers) and I am looking at their poems in relation to Plath's and Anne Sexton's. I also write poetry and when I have time I'll enter my Plath poems for people's interest. I have a stong connection with my subject matter for both personal and creative reasons. I am an English and Drama teacher when I'm not a stumbling student. Thanks.

Kerry Mulholland
Yanchep, Western Australia, Australia
Saturday, August 18, 2001



I think Anja that you have a good point. And it really is open to various interpretations. And that point was also covered in a different way by Peter Steinberg, ie everyone will see a different angle in interpreting her work and all angles are valid - I do not seen any essential incompatibilty between our two perspectives. My point stemmed from the view that Plath's poetry could NOT be read as an expression of suicidal impulses, whereas I see the case for the opposite. Drugs or fatigue may have led to her suicide but as we are not doctors we shall never know. Simon Cameron
London, UK
Saturday, August 18, 2001



Guardian Review: Ted on Sylvia, for the record by Christina Patterson of the Poetry Society (UK) - Saturday, August 18, 2001

Guardian news: Hughes letter reveals his Plath reconciliation hopes - Saturday, August 18, 2001



I've been following the recent discussions, but mainly without the urge (at least, until now) to participate. I find the subject of Plath's suicide too depressing to dwell upon, and defying a satisfying explanation. Without denying the existence of a destructive urge in her personality, I side with Elaine's contention that her suicide involved a combination of illness (including mental and physical fatigue) and distress over her family situation, and was certainly not performed with a totally reasoning mind. Reading anything positive into it is beyond my ability to reationalize the tragic. And transforming Plath into some life-force representing eternal love and the conquering spirit is nonsense. Her's is a very sad story.

Ted Hughes' statement that her death involved a reaction to a drug she was taking doesn't clarify the situation much, and runs into the old question of his own measure of guilt. He seemed to have had a compulsive need to stir the pot when the subject became his dead wife. It's difficult to know whether he was seriously trying to understand what happened, or trying to run away from it.

On another matter, I don't share Jim's dismissal of Plath's short stories. Many were written for mass-market magazines and reveal her interest in popular culture, something you get only indirectly in the journals. I guess they would never win any prizes for style, and yet, despite their small scale and sometimes gushing tone, they evoke a time and place--at least for me who remembers the period--and linger in the mind.

Paul Snyder
New York City, USA
Friday, August 17, 2001



Thanks to a kind letter I received in response to my last post, I tracked down the source where I first found the 'priest correspondence'. Five letters to an anonymous Catholic priest are published in the book entitled "Sylvia Plath: Confessing the Fictive Self" by Toni Saldivar. They are worthy of review by Plath enthusiasts, particularly after recent forum comments, concerning her religious views. Though not at all in depth, she does describe herself as an atheist, and yet "God-obsessed" in her poetry. She also writes, "I need it, God knows!" and "Lord knows I need it", referring to the priest blessings in his letters (I assume, as his letters to her have been withheld). These comments seem at least brow-raising if not contradictory. Very interesting I find.

Also, concerning the anti-depressant Plath was taking, does anyone know what the drug was specifically?

Dil Farbs
Toronto, Canada
Friday, August 17, 2001



There is a new song-"Sylvia Plath"- on the upcoming Ryan Adams album "Gold" due out sept. 18th. It is a beautiful song.

Jay Russell
Dallas, USA
Friday, August 17, 2001



I have ransacked libraries so as to locate books on Plath (esp. some critical material). Unfortunately, there is very little available on Plath - about three or four books was all I could find. The Internet remains the only door open - please send me more articles on Plath (if possible) as I have taken up Plath to work on for my Master's dissertation.

Can you help me on 'Loneliness' and 'isolation' in Plath's Poetry?

This web site is a great help.

Ayesha Haroon
Lahore, Pakistan
Friday, August 17, 2001



I have to comment on your reading of Ariel, Simon. I don't know what makes you see the sun as setting, I would definitely say it is rising, it begins in the dark and the blue light before dawn and then the sun is rising. I read it as leaving one stage of being, of existence, behind and entering a new stage. It could be interpreted as death and afterlife but I think the poem sounds far too positive to be read like a suicide note. It feels more like a new start, in a higher sphere, maybe. And it does not require a real death. Could be read as the death of your old habits, of a lower sphere of being, of one phase of your life, riding full force into the beginning of a new phase. It can be read religiously but it doesn't need to be read that way. By not pinning it down the poem remains wonderfully open to interpretation, it does not tell us in detail what this new start meant for her but instead it allows us to read the poem for ourselves, make sense of it for ourselves and get this feeling of excitement and energy from it. I think it's those qualities which make it a truly great poem.

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Thursday, August 16, 2001



Dil, I have read in several biographies of Plath that she was writing to a Jesuit priest in the months before she died. I have never seen any references to whether these letters still exist. It would certainly be interesting to read them if they did.

You may be referring to the article in the "Sunday Telegraph" in which I was quoted as saying I think that drugs may well have been a large factor in Sylvia's decision to kill herself. I have several reasons for this belief, other than the ones quoted in that article to which there is a link on the Forum.

About 20 plus years ago I taught in the same college as a relative by marriage of Hughes. He had visited Sylvia before a few weeks before her death and had found her in what he described as being in an "odd, most peculiar state". He feared for the children's safety and told me that he had since felt that this "odd state" was drug related.

In one of the biographies (the one by Ronald Harman I believe) there is a report that her doctor was criticised by the coroner for not taking more decisive action. As coroners are doctors he may well have been aware that an unwanted side-effect of anti-depressant medication in the early days of taking it can be to lift a person's mood enough to take action such as suicide but not enough to alleviate their mental distress. I think that Dr. Horder may well have regretted his decision not to have Plath admitted into a psychiatric hospital in subsequent years.

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
Thursday, August 16, 2001



I'm here to request insight into two pieces of Plath related info I've acquired recently. Firstly, that Plath was corresponding with a priest about writing poetry during the last few months of her life. I haven't been able to locate any of these letters but I hear they exist somewhere. Secondly, not long ago I chanced upon a newspaper article, though rather small, briefly mentioning that a letter of Ted Hughes mentioned a drug she had been taking during the final weeks of her life and that Hughes felt the drug might have contributed to her suicide. Can anyone support or refute these gossipy claims I've come upon? Regards.

Dil Farbs
Toronto, Canada
Thursday, August 16, 2001



I would gratefully appreciate your interpretation of the 9 lines of "Metaphors." I can understand that the poem is related to the 9 months of pregnancy, but some of the lines have me terribly confused ( money's new minted in this fat purse - for example.) Please help me fully understand this very clever little gem. In anticipation of your assistance, I thank you.

Michael Longworth
Epsom, UK
Thursday, August 16, 2001



I suspect that her Journals were published because, as anyone can see who reads them, they are worth more, as prose and as literature, than all her other prose "stories" put together. They reflect more of her feelings, character and intellect than the fiction does, and are more accessible to the lay reader (the non-scholar) than is the poetry, although the philosophy is there in the poetry as well: "Once one has seen God, what is the remedy?"

Reading the Journals tends to be a frustrating experience for me, because, all the while she is whining about not being able to write those ridiculous stories, she is churning out wonderful, detailed, descriptive, expressive page after page after page. At one point she suddenly says: "Oh, to break into prose!" This, after 472 pages of the most readable prose she would ever write.

I suspect that, in her own mind, there was a vast chasm between what she thought was for publication--the "stories" and poems--and the Journals, which were really just practice and sketches and note-taking. But, to my mind, the Journals abound with marvelous episodes that could and should have been worked into stories. Whether they would have been appropriate for Madamoiselle or Seventeen or The Ladies Home Journal should have been immaterial. Like I say, it's very frustrating.

While you can question whether Hughes had the "moral" right to publish her Journals, he certainly, as literary executor, and absent any specific instruction from Sylvia, had the legal right to publish them. And we should thank him for it. Our picture of Plath and her life, and her talent, would be very incomplete and unbalanced without them.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Wednesday, August 15, 2001



I see a lot of imagery in SP's work which indicates her ambivalence toward God. 'Ariel' is a great example of her ontological vision and arguably Plath's piece de resistance. It is amazing how much can be drawn from such a brief example of her work.

I have noted the view that Ariel is not an expression of suicidal impulses although her use of the term in this poem has had some readers baffled, including me. In retrospect, in my own view, her journey into the red eye, being "the cauldron of morning", reveals her disappointment and anger with God, for the red eye (the sun) is a compelling reference to God and of course the cauldron is hell, and because it is a feminine symbol it is her own personal hell. The sun (which is setting or risen), is the divinity symbol, evoking an All Seeing (red) Eye of God which personifies her own wrath (and upon which she has transferred or transported that wrath); but the eye being a cauldron, also suggests the eye of a storm and so she is heading into a storm and into hell.

What we have then are all the elements for suicide: disillusionment, anger, a suicidal drive, a descent into internal emotional chaos, and a journey into the afterlife ("the morning" - which she ambivalently perceives in the negative light of hell) - all this occuring at the sunset of her life, yet still in her prime (again, morning). This looks to me to be a clear enough map of events as they would unfold.

The doubt is that her inner (subliminal perhaps) perception of suicide seemed novel. For Plath, death is hope but also fearsome and she is fearful of death. But she does not see hell as restrictive or deadening. It would be a chastening, cleansing, liberating experience, a process of renewal (morning) and resurrection. This is an unusual outlook for anyone but someone like Plath who, though angry with God, was ambivalently devoted to Him in the same way that she had this duality of feeling toward Hughes, and there is no doubt an interplay of powerful sentiment between these two central objects of her devotion. So though she is clearly apprehensive of death she also saw it for what it was offering her: a release from her emotional and mental bondage. In Ariel - the poem - we see her courage and determination at their apex.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Wednesday, August 15, 2001



Good point Jim, it is beyond understanding and rationalisation, all our words trying to ascertain a 'truth' are futile. We were neither at the hot gates, nor did we fight in the warm rain! Anyway, I'm halfway through the journals - having read her poems for years, I never realised how much of a philosopher she was - it's strange, she knew how fragile and transitory life was/is, even eulogised upon it but still gave up on it, suicides area strange elusive breeds.

Why were her journals published? Did Sylvia write them with a view to publication? I would be horrified if someone published mine after death. Did Ted Hughes have the right, the moral right to publish them???? Having said that I think that Sylvia probably (knowing her poetic genius) realised that they would be published - but did she give her permission - and if not, why did someone else think they could on her behalf? Ahhhmm.... good reading though.

Paul
Todmorden, England
Tuesday, August 14, 2001



I've just caught up with the Forum and feel quite dizzy. Are Mr Cameron and Mr Haley talking about "that" Sylvia Plath? Why on earth choose Plath of all people as an icon of an improbable Victorian Woman, indeed the Angel in the House? So much for the efforts of all the dedicated scholars who have tried to go deep into the challenging complexities of her work and life!

Adriana
Sarzana, Italy
Tuesday, August 14, 2001



Yes Jim thank you I did indeed mean 'reconcile'. Well spotted! 'compromise' was a complete and genuine misnomer. I apologize if that threw you all.

What you say is exactly true Peter.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Tuesday, August 14, 2001



Simon, I hope you won't mind if I respond to your comments about "Birthday Letters" even though your question was addressed to Elaine. It doesn't seem to me that Ann Skea's comments, that BL was Hughes's "Eroici Furori", need to be "reconciled" (I think is the word you're looking for) with Sansom's opinion, because it seems to me that they are not in conflict; at least they don't seem to contradict each other in the passages that you cite.

Indeed, Sansom's statement that "Hughes has a great spiritual imagination--he is truly a visionary" strikes me as fundamentally in agreement with AS's assessment throughout her analysis. As you probably know, she develops a theory that the 88 poems in BL correspond in some detail to the 88 cards of the Tarot. I don't really see this in them. But, if indeed this were the case, it just represents to me another of his repeated allusions to a fate or destiny that basically frees him of any real responsibility for what happened in their lives. I don't buy it.

To this extent I agree with your comment about "sentimental mysticism" and the fact that they weren't "fated" or "destined" to end the way they did. However, far from being sentimental, I see his attitude as fairly cynical, if indeed he truly believed in the "fate" that he keeps invoking.

And, if I had to pin myself down, I think I would say that I'm not dure he does believe in it. Because, in spite of all his reaching after abstract, mythological systems like astrology to explain events, it seems to me that, throughout the "Letters", he really seems unable to get a handle on what happened. Many of the poems, on close analysis, seem loose and fragmentary, some almost chaotic and inarticulate. He keeps saying "I was young. I didn't know." And I think, at the end, he still didn't know. Which is not suprising, since I think he was trying to understand and explain something that, ultimately, is simply beyond understanding or rationalizing.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Tuesday, August 14, 2001

I have always felt the beauty of being an English major, or a fan of literature in general, came along with the freedom to be able to have opinions, feelings, beliefs and interpretations that cannot be proved false. Poetry isn't a science, or a math, though we can certainly study it in a way that makes us believe something to be absolutely true. But, until is does become officially a science or math with proofs and theories (oddly, the title of a collection of essays by, whom I feel to be, the best living poet) then what someone thinks about a collection of poetry can completely be opposed by another: and they are both right!

Peter K Steinberg
Brighton, MA, USA
Sunday, August 12, 2001



Simon,

Why would anyone's opinions need to be `compromised' with Ian Sansom?

John Hopkins
Bridgend,S.Wales, UK
Sunday, August 12, 2001


"i can certainly fight my own battles, but i do think your avowed support of my perspective has been sharp-eyed in several ways (albeit not all; hey, nobody's perfect)." Thanks for that Michael. But hey, am I glad I'm not perfect; if I was I wouldnt be human!

I believe Sylvia Plath Day will be a special event that only someone as dedicated and devoted to her memory as Michael Haley could stage-manage.

Moving on to another point, Elaine, going back over earlier posts I note that re: the Birthday Letters, you were - when they were first released - of the opinion that The poems I've seen so far are quite touching, apparently genuine love poems. I eagerly wait for other people's thoughts.

Ann Skea herself asserts that:

the Birthday Letters were Ted's Eroici Furori - a sequence of passionate love poems such as were considered to be the crowning achievement of a Renaissance magus like Giordano Bruno, with whose work Ted was very familiar.

As I note that you have a very profound and well-reasoned sense and comprenhesion of both Plath's and Hughes' poetic style, I would like to ask you how the above, as the common view, can be compromised with Ian Sansoms opinion expressed in the following commentary:

As Hughes's critical engagement with Plath's poems suggests, there is nothing simply sentimental or nostalgic about Birthday Letters. In fact, a lot of it is pretty unpleasant. It's bad enough at the best of times to be a witness to other people's arguments, like being sprayed with muck, or tasting someone else's phlegm (an experience that Hughes knows only too well: in 'God Help the Wolf after Whom the Dogs Do Not Bark', he writes of those who 'Took pains to inject their bile, as for your health,/ Into your morning coffee'). Distilled into poetry, the concoction of passion and dispute is particularly hard to swallow. But then one of Hughes's great strengths is that he does not sweeten, and he often makes his readers gulp.

Sansom goes on to say that:

Readers should not be fooled into thinking that Birthday Letters, for all its detailed and intense rendering of an extraordinary relationship, will tell them much more about it than they knew already. Indeed, it seems possible that there is another purpose to the book, aside from the obvious; Hughes's big bang may be a distraction. Robert Frost once confided to his friend Sidney Cox that 'I have written to keep the over-curious out of the secret places of my mind both in my verse and in my letters to such as you.' With his verse and his letters it may be that Hughes, too, has satisfied the over-curious, and kept the secret places to himself.

Interestingly Sansom seems to draw a clean distinction between sentimentalism and spirituality for while denying that the Birthday Letters are sentimental, he admits that:

Hughes has a great spiritual imagination - he is truly a visionary and a modern primitive - but as Marianne Moore remarked, 'one cannot discern forces by which one is not oneself unconsciously animated,' and it is sometimes difficult for the merely orthodox in belief or for the sceptic to accept that he is sincere in all his confusing talk of omens and spirits.

Again, To its credit, Birthday Letters doesn't go in for sentimental moralising, but it does open itself up to a kind of sentimental mysticism, which is just as bad. Plath and Hughes, it seems necessary to insist, were not 'destined' to meet, or 'destined' for anything.

I would be interested to hear your and also other readers comments on the above.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Sunday, August 12, 2001



First, Simon, I just noticed that you state at one point that Hughes's lover, Assia Gutmann Wevill killed herself "and their unborn child". Well, the child, Shura, was NOT unborn--she was, I believe, 5 years old (someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this, but I don't think so). This is only significant in that it means her death was not some accidental by-product of Assia's suicide, but a separate, deliberate act.

Second, these long preachy, self-congratulatory statements on how we should all deal "lovingly" with each other are cloying and unnecessary. There was no problem until a certain individual started insulting people. OK? Now can we go on to something else?

We all know Plath was a deeply emotional, soulful, if you like, person. How loving she was is open to question. And before everyone starts screaming at me, I've read the Journals too. I know that she loved life, and children, and the things of the world, and the taste of early apples. But she also had a desperate, almost obsessive need for male attention. And, from a male point of view, she may have been an excessively needy and possessive drag to be in a relationship with. As a man I know that, if one comes on to women this way, demonstrating such extreme neediness, women will run the other way as fast as they can.

It's no crime to be critical of Plath or her work, where she/it bears criticism. And we should be able to be critical of each other's interpretations without taking it personally (or being personally insulting). We should even be self-critical when we become too fascinated with fingering the details of someone else's tragedy. In a reference book I was looking at today, "Contemporary Poets" (St. James Press, 1975) the article on Plath ends with a poem from "The Colossus" that was not included in the American edition (it is in "Collected Poem"). In retrospect, it's eerily prophetic; here's most of it:

AFTERMATH

Compelled by calamity's magnet
They loiter and stare as if the house
Burnt-out were theirs, or as if they thought
Some scandal might any minute ooze
From a smoke-choked closet into light;
No deaths, no prodigious injuries
Glut these hunters after an old meat,
Blood-spoor of the austere tragedies.
...
Cheated of the pyre and the rack,
The crowd sucks her last tear and turns away. Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Sunday, August 12, 2001



I am surprised at the naivety of some of the comments, that in essence are unsubstantiated glorification of Plath, sometimes even tending to a blind passion that is unbowed by critical, intelligent thought and discussion. Blanket statements that are given with no supporting evidence, do tend to be extreme and exclusive of other views, as well as not being credible for many of us. I would like to see more relevant and intelligent commentary on here, where we can all share in the discussion with our diverse understandings and interpretations. It would be wonderful if we could leave behind the personal backbiting and bickering that has been the prevalent focus of recent postings.

How I agree with you. And isn't it marvelous that we are at last learning to be tolerant of each other's views. We must welcome all comments on this forum, and continue to learn to respect each others statements without looking down our noses at anyone's offering, responding lovingly, welcoming all points of view, especially if what is said is offered as a humble gift to the memory of Sylvia Plath. Remember people that this forum is indeed a dedication to Sylvia Plath for everyone who cares about her and not a toffee-nosed graduates' corner to show off our intellect or knowledge of her work so that we can draw an exclusive club around ourselves while exhibiting a cold and superior attitude to those we deem lesser mortals than us. We can approach this by humble fellowship and by considering every contribution valid, however seemingly inept or worthless. Remember it is a natural tendency to consider our view superior than anyone else's but this is not the right attitude, nor is it true for all opinions are equally valid in their own way.

Love is the secret order of the universe. We must learn to love unconditionally without consideration of race, rank or intellectual status. Nor should we set ourselves up above others. This is the primary condition for ideal association.

From the clash of differing opinions, the spark of truth emerges.

As Cheryl says, if we make a comment, let us substantiate that comment, if and when substantiation is necessary or requested of us. And if we do not agree with someone or something someone said, then let us humbly ask for their reference. Let us not assume in other words that we have a better knowledge than all others without first humbly enquiring as to their source, nor, as I say, should we draw parties to ourselves to exclude a given individual.

I wish to commend Peter Steinberg in particular for having exactly the right attitude on this discussion forum. Elaine Connell has also done very well to remain neutral and to most generously accommodate all views fairly. Jim Long is an excellent and humble source of research material goig back 30 years. Kim has also made some highly intelligent and perceptive observations. Michael is exactly right about Sylvia Plath (paradoxically to some perhaps). And Anja has also offered a valid insight borne out of her personal and academic experience to enlighten us. We are one family, let us keep it that way for that is how Sylvia would have wanted it, I am sure. As Cheryl so correctly said, let us remember Sylvia for the person that she was and not merely the poet.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Saturday, August 11, 2001



ladies and gentlemen: how are you? it's michael, the terrible.

i really would like to give peace a chance; however, i cannot say all i want to in this regard right now because i am very busy with sylvia plath day. you know, sylvia plath day is still a very good idea. hope you all will attend. even those who i have disagreed with and still do to some degree or other.

to simon cameron: hang in there guy! i can certainly fight my own battles, but i do think your avowed support of my perspective has been sharp-eyed in several ways (albeit not all; hey, nobody's perfect). I appreciate it! I do think when you mentioned that Plath was a "What A Woman!" you hit on something. Plath was an incredible woman as reflected in her unique, clear-sighted, wonderfully honest poetry (with images Robert Frost never dreamed about); those journals, those pearls of insightfulness; in the short stories somewhat; the bell jar; and even when she just talks, like in the 1962 london magazine interview. such an honest, direct, powerful woman! it's hard for some to handle. anyway, the poetry, and her second most important work, the journals, and the other writings are what matter. anne sexton said about plath: "never mind last diggings, what matters is the poetry". and i might add, the journals,etc. neither simon cameron, nor i, nor some of plath's more favorable chroniclers or many, many supporters around the world are "blindly praising" or "devoid of intelligence" in our remarks. we just know that sylvia plath has uniquely, far and above most, a lot to teach us about how to be and how try to come to terms with our deepest anxieties, fears, and complexities. how to not be afraid of looking ourselves in the mirror. we appreciate her openness, her passion.

a lot of the remarks lately on the sylvia plath "forum" point to the fact that we don't really know what plath was doing at the end. linda wagner martin says in her book it was "ruled a suicide."

that's a good phrase. but again, the important thing is Plath the "What A Woman!", the owl-eyed lesson-provider about life, and the unparalleled poet.

Until we communicate again....and come to sylvia plath day; it won't be a narrow-minded event; besides, there will be discussion.

Michael Haley
Massachusetts, USA
Saturday, August 11, 2001



Having just now caught up on all the recent postings, I am surprised at the naievity of some of the comments, that in essence are unsubstantiated glorification of Plath, sometimes even tending to a blind passion that is unbowed by critical,intelligent thought and discussion. Blanket statements that are given with no supporting evidence, do tend to be extreme and exclusive of other views, as well as not being credible for many of us. I would like to see more relevant and intelligent commentary on here, where we can all share in the discussion with our diverse understandings and interpretations. It would be wonderful if we could leave behind the personal backbiting and bickering that has been the prevalent focus of recent postings.

I am currently reading Tracy Brain's book and am impressed with what I have read so far. It's wonderful to read something which takes a completely different perspective, examining her work in terms of her artwork, environmental and political concerns, and other factors that impact her writing, besides the emotional and personal. I am not entirely convinced that these other factors are the sole determinants of her poetry and fiction but there is intriguing evidence that has given me pause for thought.

I appreciated your comments Jim, on the book, especially your description of Tracy Brain's experience with the personal and physical evidence of Plath's writing and life- the lock of hair, the paper and dribbles of ink, smudges, fingerprints, etc. I think her descriptions help to make us remember Plath as a person, and not merely as "poet".

In reading the book, I am further intrigued to know more of Plath's artwork and scrapbooks. I am not aware of any published works that expose this side of Plath and we are given only scant description in Brain's book. Does anyone know of any other sources, whether print or media which is more revelatory? I am amazed really that her art, important as it was to her, and her opinions on art and the outside world, have not been exposed or barely touched upon. I hope there will be further works discussing this unseen side of Plath. If there are any other sources available, please post or email me.

Be happy everyone. Let's expand this forum to be more inclusive and respectful, with a more tactful and critical discussion of Plath, her work and her life.

Cheryl Black
Talgarth, Wales
Friday, August 10, 2001



I've been following the latest discussion here and was wondering whether to add my comments or keep away, because we are discussing things we don't know much about and it all mounts up to speculation.

I agree with Jim's last posting, especially with the point about love turning into excessive need and dependency. True deep love always gives the other person space to breathe in and freedom. Love and need are two different things, though they can occur together, of course.

I think it should be clear that the fact that a person loves you does not make you love them back. If Hughes' feelings had changed by 1962 then we cannot expect him to keep pretending love when he is no longer sure about feeling it. He could have dealt with this fact differently, for sure, but he cannot really be blamed for having stopped loving Plath back as she loved him, because these are matters of the heart and not really in our control. Anybody who's had to end a relationship knows what I'm talking about.

I also had some closer contact with depression lately and it is frightening to see how it changes the very character of a person, you could say they are not the same person as without the depression. The effect of antidepressant drugs is also frightening, because they can change the person so much that you get scared. The whole episode made me realise that everything I thought I knew about depression from reading about Plath was nothing compared to the real experience of seeing someone close affected by the illness.

With regard to what Jim wrote about Hughes more sophisticated academic background I'd like to add that Plath spent a lot more time studying literature than him and was probably the more academic of the two. He was widely read but I wouldn't call that academic. When I read her journals I am always amazed at all the things she studied, wrote papers about etc. because looking at her later poetry you wouldn't immediately guess that. But I am sure that all that knowledge, her very consciousness of her literary predecessors and competitors found its way into her poetry as well, only that I, knowing a lot less about it, wouldn't notice.

Anja Beckmann
Leipzig, Germany
Friday, August 10, 2001



"My objections are generally to some of the over-the-top rhetoric about Sylvia's "love" and "soul", things about which we can know very little. I do know that love is a unifying force--it draws us to each other and, indeed, I believe it keeps us living, it doesn't draw us into death."

Excellently put and I absolutely agree. I am not sure who said that love drew Sylvia to death. What I understand is that the loss or betrayal of a loved one can trigger mental distress or illness that leads a person to take their own life. These are facts well known to the medical profession and we are many of us aware of them.

Yes we must not talk about subjects we can know little about and as we are not psychiatirsts or doctors, nor did we medically analyze Sylvia we cannot determine whether Sylvia was suffering from paranoia, schizophrenia, diabetes or anything. All we basically have to go on is the evidence available that she was depressed in some way (she was taking anti-depressants) and the assertion from her close confidante that just before she died she had confided in Sigmund that she was totally cut up over Ted Hughes. She was almost certainly mentally unwell or at least distressed (though I stress that we cannot specify the exact nature of her disorder), because as Peter Steinberg pointed out, she was "out of it" the night before she died - and yet she was never properly diagnosed.

I do not place much credence on the idea that the drugs caused her suicide for the reasons I have already stated (Ted Hughes is not a reliable witness because he was being accused by some of causing her to commit suicide and so it was reasonable to assume that he could be looking to transfer the blame elsewhere, but Elizabeth Sigmund IS a reliable witness because she was a close friend of Sylvia's with no obvious motive for distorting the facts).

As for saying we do cannot know much about the soul. That is a great point and I agree. We cannot know the soul directly. What we can know about is the nature of the soul (its goodness, its patience, its kindness, its generosity, its humility, its ability to love etc.). What a wonderful opportunity we have then on this forum to get to know the nature of Sylvia Plath's soul. This will offer us a valuable insight. What we do not need to focus on unduly is how crazy she was or wasn't, whether the drugs played a part, and the type of disorder she was afflicted with. All this is highly speculative and we are not qualified to do this, and thank God it is not in any case necessary to do so as the soul is sanctified above the limitations of the earthly condition and cannot be harmed by mental disorder. This may be a new concept to some but it is a perfectly valid one.

You are so right that "love is a unifying force."

"Man is in reality a spiritual being; it is not until he lives in the spirit that he is truly happy."

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Friday, August 10, 2001



I certainly would make no claim to either know or understand more about Plath and/or her work than the rest of the people on the forum. Elaine Connell and some of the others who have participated here have studied the work with more intensity and scholarly research than I have, although I have been reading and thinking about Plath for a long time, and I would defer to their opinions on many topics, because my perspective is of course limited by my own expectations and predispositions that I bring to my reading, just as we all do.

My objections are generally to some of the over-the-top rhetoric about Sylvia's "love" and "soul", things about which we can know very little. I do know that love is a unifying force--it draws us to each other and, indeed, I believe it keeps us living, it doesn't draw us into death. Of course feelings of abandonment, and of being deprived of love can lead us to fall out of love with life, and lose the will to continue. Sylvia had a very strong need for the nurture and support and reinforcement of her own self-esteem in the love of those in whom she saw herself reflected--she loved herself and needed for others to love her also. This is true of all of us, but for some reason her need for the esteem of others seemed extreme and uncompromising. This is only love as long as it is a nurturing and creative force, beyond which it becomes excessive need and dependency.

It seems to me impossible to say whether Plath or Hughes was a "better" or "greater" poet than the other. They wrote out of different impulses and motives, under the influence of very different histories and sources. What I would say is that Plath is, to me, the more accessible poet. What abstract or mythological framework she does employ in her work is applied lightly and doesn't obscure the peronal nature of her subject, by which I mean the feeling base of the images. Her metaphors are symbols for feeling states and those feelings are addressed and expressed much more directly than in Hughes' work. They both wrote a very musical, almost incantatory, line, and employed the same kinds of techniques in terms of rhyme and meter. Hughes' work seemed to relax and open up more toward the end of his life, it seems to me under the influence of her more plainspoken style. He had perhaps the more sophisticated academic background and the influence of a more ornate language, but she had the advantage of a characteristic directness and uninhibited nature. This I think makes her more accessible at least to Americans and makes her work more available to a wider audience. Whether this makes her a "better" poet is open to discussion.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Friday, August 10, 2001



It's funny you are starting not to agree with me, Peter, because I agree with you completely. Well almost! Michael is not perfect and he has a bias toward Plath, and so ok he is not neutral on Plath but neither is a tennis fan neutral on his favorite player. I don't think he means to be insulting but he finds himself at the center of a minefield with all the mines blowing off wherever he moves - no wonder he gets jittery and defensive and if you notice he isn't saying much right now so it looks as though he's worn out or he doesn't want to continue offending you guys as you dealt him quite a blow. All that I am saying is that we must try to see things a little more from his perspective without allowing ourselves to get personally offended. I do so find ganging up, and being insulting to each other, and taking sides to attack someone, ugly. I took the risk of being fired upon (and I did get fired upon) mainly because I defended him, as I would anyone who I fe!

el is being unecesssarily picked on. But please Peter, I haven't said you are doing that. In fact you are among the most courteous people here, if not the most courteous.

Ok. Now one of your points I would have to comment on: "Trevor Thomas's questionably credible biography does assert that Plath was 'out of it' the last night of her life."

Man, if she was not out of it how could she have killed herself? Of course she was. That takes nothing away though from my point that the trigger for her suicide was Ted Hughes' infidelity. And note that a trigger is not a direct cause.

However I for one am not so interested in proving what caused Sylvia Plath's death as understanding Sylvia Plath. It is not the physical act of suicide but the forces that were driving her that interest me. We are not saying that Sylvia Plath died because of Ted Hughes. As I said, he was more of a bystander, albeit not an innocent one. What I have said is that Sylvia Plath was predisposed to suicide because of a number of factors. Again, her love for Hughes contributed to her death but it was merely the trigger. Remember that for ten years she did not attempt suicide again (that is to say throughout her association with Hughes). It was only after they parted that she made the second (successful) attempt.

Note that according to the Sunday Telegraph's account, Plath had intimated to a close friend of hers, Elizabeth Sigmund, the nature of her obsession with Hughes and this was, unquestionably in Sigmund's mind, a strong contributory factor.

Remember that bereavement and loss of a loved one can trigger mental distress and illness. Her father's death at the age of eight had a profound effect on her from which she never really recovered for she had adored her father. Could this loss of one she had loved so much have been the first trigger? Surely, and we see this particularly in 'Daddy'. It left such an imprint that he calls her father a "bastard". Clearly, Elaine, her frustration (for she is impatient for love) has brought on anger (which you also observed in the poetry she wrote leading more immediately up to her death) and this contributed to building a mental condition that predisposed her to suicide. Emotion is feeding her poetry and the poetry is also feeding her emotions - in reciprocal fashion - for words can have that effect. So it is altogether a truly inflammable situation where neurosis flares easily.

The following excerpt from SP's journals demonstrates that far from having undergone a sinister transformation in which three hours after taking the drugs she had suddenly decided to kill herself, she had been predisposed to do so for many years time before it happened.

"I became immune to increased doses of sleeping pills. I underwent a rather brief and traumatic experience of badly given shock treatments on an outpatient basis. Pretty soon, the only doubt in my mind was the precise time and method of committing suicide." - Sylvia Plath (Letters Home, Letter to Eddie Cohen dated December 28, 1953. Return address Belknap House, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass., pp. 129-130).

We must also remember that she did attempt suicide just as she had proposed. This attempt occured later that same year (1953).

Thus from the evidence that is available, and not merely Hughes' word, it seems clear that she was mentally predisposed to commit suicide and Ted Hughes' infidelity was the trigger for her second (successful) attempt, while the drugs may have played a large part or not, but more likely than not Hughes is partly aiming to mitigate the severity of the criticism that was levelled against him for his unchivalrous behaviour, and partly he is regretting not being by her side in her time of need (to watch what she was taking etc.) (ref: his claim that stirrers and trouble-makers got in the way of a reconciliation). Note that to his last he conscienciously avoids all blame while placing it elsewhere (anywhere but on him) and yet Sigmund verifies that it was Hughes that had hurt her. He was to the last then the archetypal, though dispirited and abandoned, cad without an ounce of remorse. And to add to his trail of disastrous relationships, his lover also killed herself along with their unborn child.

Again we have to remember that we have no reports that these drugs produced this suicidal reaction in others or the drugs would have been withdrawn from sale before Plath took them.

"Much as she and Hughes had a passionate and productive relationship I feel it is an exaggeration of Hughes' hold over Sylvia to attribute her death solely to her grief at their separation. There is an enormous amount of anger and defiance in the last poems - in my reading of them those emotions are the most predominant, not the hopelessness and despair which usually accompanies self destruction. "

Again we are not saying a sane woman killed herself. Unhappiness is certainly a trigger for depression and therefore mental illness and she was on anti-depressants so she was not happy. If she was not unhappy because of Hughes infidelity and her consequent separation from him then she was inhumsn. Her unhappiness led to her new bout of depression and mental illness that caused the suicide. The trigger was Hughes' infidelity - no conflict there.

"I don't understand why people are so resistant to the idea that Plath's suicide may well have been the result of illness in addition to her distress at the break up of her marriage."

Beautifully put Elaine and I agree. Yet I don't see who is doing that. What I for one have said is that too much emphasis has been placed on Sylvia Plath, the mentally afflicted woman. Nowhere do I see anyone denying that her mental state may have played a part in her death. The point I and others perhaps are making is that we don't want to remember SP like that, not because we are burying our head in the sand but because whether she was mentally ill or not is so completely unimportant and does not explain why we feel so close to her. Her mental state is of no abiding interest to me. I am not a doctor and I would rather leave this subject to them, the experts. If she was ill, this does not alter my perception of her reality which is her spirit. I as a soul can do that and do not need expert knowledge to connect with Sylvia Plath as another soul.

The spirit or soul is sanctified above earthly condition and lives on in an afterlife, free of infirmity. This is not wishful thinking but a definition of the nature of the soul in relation to the body. The two (soul and body) are not a part of each other as some may conceive it. The connection is akin to that of a light in a mirror. And thus mental illness does not affect the soul which is immortal. That is to say that a mentally sick or physically person will not be mentally or physically sick in the afterlife, where Sylvia is right now. Therefore why emphasise that her mental illness caused her death? We could also say that the oven in which she gassed herself caused her death. That is true, but what does that tell us about Sylvia Plath? What does it say about her person in the sense of the reality of Sylvia Plath divorced from earthly limitations?

What is beyond dispute is her ferocious, truly astonishing love for Hughes or anyone she gave her heart to. It is not her suicide that leads me to observe this but her life and her life's work. I find this great love of hers a truly riveting subject of discussion.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Thursday, August 9, 2001



I don't understand why people are so resistant to the idea that Plath's suicide may well have been the result of illness in addition to her distress at the break up of her marriage. Much as she and Hughes had a passionate and productive relationship I feel it is an exaggeration of Hughes' hold over Sylvia to attribute her death solely to her grief at their separation. There is an enormous amount of anger and defiance in the last poems - in my reading of them those emotions are the most predominant, not the hopelessness and despair which usually accompanies self destruction. She knew she was writing poems which in her own words would "make my name" and there were several letters written to her mother which asserted her determination to rebuild a successful life for herself and her children apart from Ted.

It is very rare indeed for the mothers of young children to kill themselved and Sylvia was an enthusiastic and passionately devoted mother. It is these factors which have led me to speculate that her actions might have been the result of some form of illness or reaction to prescription drugs. There is a well known›risk of suicide›in the early stages of taking anti-depressants. These drugs may lift the mood sufficiently for the person to take action, but not enough for their depression to be alleviated. The coroner at the inquest into Plath's death criticised her medical care which leads one to suppose that he may have thought her death could have been avoided.

As regular visitors to the Forum are aware, I have suspected for some time that Plath may have been suffering from undiagnosed diabetes. This disorder can make one feel utterly wretched,›fatigued beyond description, prone to extreme mood swings›and susceptible to other forms of infectious illnesses. It can also easily be confused with depressive disorders. It may well be the case that this is what was underlying so many of Plath's behaviours in the last years of her life.

Yes, Hughes was not a good husband but Sylvia was only in the same position of countless women throughout history, abandoned by the fathers of their children for another beautiful woman. She also had far more advantages than many such women youth, looks, talent, qualifications, friends and a supportive family. A mental or physical illness or both seems to me to be a far more understandable reason for suicide than the loss of a man, however huge he might have been!

Elaine Connell
Hebden Bridge, UK
Thursday, August 9, 2001



Simon, now I am beginning to disagree with you. Michael Haley's emails were insulting, immature, out-of-place and on the attack. This is hardly seen as being a brotherly impulse. Michael's postings were scattered, irrational and overall, bad. He could not, at that time, express himself to the degree necessary to warrant our full support, attention and understanding.

I am the first to say I don't understand suicide. But, there has to be something wrong with someone, mentally or similarly, for someone to take that step. Trevor Thomas's questionably credible biography does assert that Plath was 'out of it' the last night of her life. This could have been the effects of the drugs she was taking (have you read that article from last Sunday's Telegraph?). This stigma around mental illness has never been stronger. I agree with you there. It's still very very taboo here in the States. However, to deny this aspect of Plath's persona is to deny her her full self. Like looking at the Plath de Milo at the Louvre. Plath's poetry is about the self, about her struggles to come to terms with her life and her art. "The Moon and the Yew Tree," to quote a recent article by Peter Porter in the Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum (June 28-29), "It is almost a ground plan for self-destruction." This article is right up Haley's article because it boasts that Plath was a far more imaginitive, original poet than Hughes. But it also recognises (he met Plath and Hughes on several occassions) that Plath did suffer from mental illnesses of some sort. He doesn't lay claim that it's the sole reason for her death or her poetry, and I don't suspect any of the Forym contributors do either. This whole Plath Day argument is about whether Plath is more a poetic genius that Hughes. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. The argument is about whether or not one can make those opinions public around Haley, and the argument is about respect said opinions and the person that has them.

Peter K Steinberg
Brighton, MA, USA
Thursday, August 9, 2001



Thank you Jim for you clarifications. As you are a life-long researcher of her work I do believe that you have a firm grasp (surely better than all of us) of the problems Sylvia faced in her life and you are so right that we must not overrate or misinterpret the reasons for her death.

"Such a death is a selfish and irrational act, especially in the face, and practically in the presence of two dependent children, not because of but in spite of her love for them."

I think perhaps it is not for us to judge that she was selfish. Who knows the mental agony she was undergoing at the time? It is not easy to take one's own life. We perceive it wrongly as cowardice but it takes courage to commit such an act, not knowing where it will take us together with the physical and emotional pain that it entails. This does not mean we are promoting suicide as an option in any way shape or form. God forbid! You have perhaps misunderstood.

In maintaining that love drove her to suicide we are in no way romanticizing suicide, but seeing the reality of her soul shining through the shattered pieces of her mind. However weak and inadequate she may have been from the conventional perspective and the ordinary every day emphasis we place on these matters, however immature in certain respects or foolhardy, she loved with an intensity which few of us are capable of and cannot fully comprehend. It was her love that fed her poetry and her poetry that, in return, fed her love. It was I'd say, in fact because she was so intense and so endowed with this capacity to love that she chose to become a poet at all (not that all poets are likewise endowed) and thus the quality of her love is a vital, I would say the most vital, component of the process of discovering Sylvia Plath. Without acknowledging its profoundity, we haven't really understood her.

Such a love can and does take possession of us if we are not careful. The medical profession is well aware that one can die of a broken heart and that the loss of a loved one (bereavement), separation, divorce, etc. can trigger mental distress or illness even to the point that one decides to take one's own life. Shock can trigger illness, loneliness can trigger illness as you have so rightly pointed out. In Sylvia, who was especially predisposed to such a course of action because of a number of exacerbating factors, the trigger was Ted Hughes' infidelity.

I do not see anything "irrational" about this. I think it is only irrational if we are insisting on making a case that some of us are castigating Ted Hughes for her death. I am not. He was a bystander as I see him - not innocent of any blame but neither should we go overboard in laying the blame at his feet. Outside of his talent and learning he was just your average joe in my opinion. As talented as he was he could not hold a candle to her in the love department, but I am not here to judge his soul, only to celebrate the intense beauty of Sylvia Plath's.

We do not merely see this in her death. Her poetry is intrinsic to that beauty, fully confirms that beauty, and we are all in love with it, but in the last analysis it is merely the wrapping and within that wrapping lies a beautiful person who has somehow succeeded in entrancing friend and stranger alike the world over. It is even arguable that her poetry is not as accomplished as Hughes', though I am not about to decide this. You, Jim, will know and understand this better.

It is this warmth of connection that we wish to explore and fathom, and her poetry and journals, her life and other documented material makes this possible.

Michael Haley's perspective appears to be misunderstood. I hear what Peter is saying and I understand but Michael is not perfect and others have been over-reacting to his statements by making unnecessarily personal and unkind comments. We are not here to hate each or take pot shots at each other but to celebrate our love for Sylvia. I understand what Michael means. He is merely in the end being protective, through a natural brotherly and laudable impulse, of a woman whose mental condition was over-stated as being the cause of her death. Mental disease carries such a stigma in our society. We make too much of what we do not fully understand. Was she cuckoo? Was she out of it? Was she a head case? This perception is hurtful to those of us who have had their lives touched by her magnetic spirit. It is a perception that he is lovingly trying to guard against and we need to see beneath the veneer of his defensive attitude.

Ted Hughes may have wanted to mitigate the criticism towards himself in blaming it on the drugs. Others will say it was only because she was 'crazy' that she 'topped' herself. But I and others who admire her and her work do not see her in this light. Instead of seeking to retaliate against Hughes in kind for his unchivalrous behaviour, as so many jilted lovers do, she died a truly faithful and virtuous woman and such fidelity is so rare and so precious.

We see qualities in her that some have merely skirted over. Otherwise why should there be a forum such as this or a desire to dedicate these memorials.

We are not juveniles living in some fantasy world. We have spotted a gorgeous innocence in this person that is unique. Meanwhile, these considerations of her mental state are so unimportant just as the common cold is merely incidental to the purpose of and driving forces in our life. What we are examining is the nature and goodness of her soul. This is not some poetic symbol but the reality that animates her person.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Thursday, August 9, 2001



For those who are still interested in Plath's work, Tracy Brain's book "The Other Sylvia Plath" provides some perspectives on aspects of the work that are not often discussed in the literature. And she also gives some insights into the more fascinating side of doing the research. She describes her experience of seeing all the materials in the Rare Book Room at Smith College; I was particularly moved by her account of finding a little box containing a lock of Sylvia's long, dark blonde hair. She vividly evokes the feeling of Sylvia's presence as she describes the many manuscripts, notebooks and drawings, still marked with SP's fingerprints and other signs of her handling them.

As far as her arguments are concerned, it seems to me she's trying a little too hard to separate Sylvia the writer from, for example, Esther Greenwood in "The Bell Jar", when she trys to deny that the book is autobiographical. Of course, she's trying to make a valid point that Plath's work has other subjects than just her own life, but after all Sylvia seemed to go to some pains to make the work, particularly the fiction reflect her own experiences.

What I find most interesting is the extent to which Hughes was able to manipulate what got published and what didn't, at least while he was alive. So that what did get published seems to reinforce the idea that the work, whether fiction or poetry, was identical with the life, and that the subject was her own mind and emotions to the exclusion of other subjects. A lot of the intriguing things that Brain talks about are in UNpublished work, which, if published would demonstrate that she had many other topical concerns that were not so self-centered and neurotic as so much of the published stuff is. Hughes has said some place (I think it's in the PARIS REVIEW interview) that her "real" subject was her own subjectivity, and that she only finds her true voice when she talking about her self-as-subject. Why would he want to promulgate this idea, giving people the impression that she had nothing else to talk about?

While she tends to see a lot of "topical" material, like environmentalism and references to pesticides and hydrocarbons and other toxic materials in unlikely places--poems like "Fever 103" and "Elm"--it's undeniable that Plath talks in her work about issues like nuclear fallout, and tends to find poisons in one form or another all around her. But in the past these have usually been referred to personal rather than political motives and paranoia.

This is, all in all, a very insightful treatment.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Thursday, August 9, 2001



Thank you Peter for deeming me with a very kindly, thoughtful and courteous response. You are a gentleman and a scholar. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the heart. Kim, as you have made some valid points, I have no need to get in the ring with you. You are entitled to your opinion and I respect yours implicitly. I guess I had to expect that not everyone would agree with me. But hey, From the clash of differing opinions, the spark of truth emerges! I wish to apologize to the life-long scholars of Sylvia Plaths work who undoubtedly have a better grasp of it than I do, if what I have contributed is a travesty of her memory. I maintain what I say but stand to be corrected.

Please people, let us not bicker and squabble. There is no doubt about one thing, that we all of us, from our various perspectives, adore Plath and that her overpowering spirit is tangible, potent, as fragrant as Hughes' nodding violets and omnipresent when we but turn our thoughts to her and in particular, her last days on Primrose Hill. How I love Primrose Hill and might it just be because, to this day, her pristine spirit radiates therefrom!

D'you know what is to love a stone
As much to swim an ocean lone?

D'you know what is to cry all day
For cheating's bleeding heart away?

Have you not heard the forward truth
That skews in vainly yearned for truce?

And loved the truth for all its sorrow
That weeps and sighs until the morrow?

When all for love of stone youve gained
Is pain in vain and pain again?

You cannot guess my friend you cant
Until youve heard your heart to chant

This doleful song of anguished loss
For stones that roll amass no moss

Though might you plead all this not matters
Your spirit heaves until it shatters,

And grieving silenced, sunken dreams,
You seep within until it seems

Youve died to all but death of you
This self, this soul, this wretched who!


Simon Cameron
London, UK
Wednesday, August 8, 2001



Sylvia Plath did not die "for love". She died out of depression, despair and loneliness. And this tendency of people to celebrate her suicide as if it were some kind of heroic act is exactly what leads people to dismiss Plath's admirers as irrational, lunatic fans of self-destruction. It is also this attitude that leads teachers to refuse to teach Plath's art to high school and college students, for fear of exciting this adolescent admiration of what they see as selfless devotion.

Plath's suicide in Feb. 1963 was no more "for love" than was her attempted suicide in 1953. She was ill and did not get the help she needed when she desperately needed it. This is not something to be admired. Such a death is a selfish and irrational act, especially in the face, and practically in the presence of two dependent children, not because of but in spite of her love for them.

Sylvia Plath was a remarkable woman, who persevered in the face of considerable emotional distress her whole life, but who was a fine poet whose work deserves to be admired and studied. But her death was no triumph of love over life. Anyone who has has someone in their life who they cared about commit suicide will tell you that it doesn't feel like an act of love, it feels like an abandonment and a vast grief. and you do Plath no favor by choosing to emphasize and idealize, out of some misguided sense of loyalty, her ultimate humiliation and defeat.

This does not mean her life should not be celebrated; as a poet and a struggling, suffering, creative human being she deserves all honors we can offer her. I love her as if she were my sister. All the more reason why I hate to see her death romanticized and trivialized as some kind of sacrifice to the image of Ted Hughes. Her foe was something much bigger, darker, more personal than that.

Jim Long
Honolulu, USA
Wednesday, August 8, 2001



Not to be a pest but I have something more to add to my previous comment. Elaine Connell, thank you for posting me up. I read what the Sunday Telegraph quoted you as saying. I have no doubt that anti-depressants played a cruel and sinister part and we have yet to fully assess the damage that mood drugs wreak on the mind in terms of their side effects etc.

I think in this case we are all correct perhaps. As Elizabeth Sigmund says we have to look at why Sylvia was taking the pills in the first place. You say that her suicide had puzzled you as Sylvia gave the impression of having everything to live for. Not to be an Hercules Poirot, but how things can be so deceptive on the outside! And it was to her closest confidante that she had unburdened her soul. She had everything to live for, yes, you are exactly right, this is true from our perspective as we are not in love with Ted Hughes (well not in the same way), but she was depressed enough to seek solace in medication. Why? Because the one thing that was missing in her life was the all-important man she had given her heart to (as she confided to Elizabeth).

Her marriage mattered to her even more than her children. So many women claim its the reverse but marriage is in fact our natural (conditioned) priority and Sylvia in taking her own life was, paradoxically, facing up to reality. Its easy to see why marriage is more important. Children will one day outgrow the nest and build their own lives while marriage in the true sense is for eternity. In a good marriage, a couple will travel as soul mates through all the worlds of God. Think then what it meant to such an honest, faithful, passionate woman as Sylvia who must have adored her parents and the traditional family values they had seeded in her. In her ancestral Germany marriage as an institution is important enough to have beaten an ostensibly liberated society England to the finishing line in that gay marriages have just been approved there. I will not here give my own views on gay marriage.

We must not forget that Sylvia's talent was in part born of her exuberant love of life and people and that, so often, strong, even extreme, emotions characterise and often dominate the life of poets and they certainly did hers. If you also combine her vulnerability with Ted Hughes ill-advised and potentially dangerous escape into black magic where he therefore also led his talented but obviously impressionable young wife, if you acknowledge that it was only in Sylvia and not other prescribed users that the drug (medication) had this devastating effect, for otherwise the doctors would have been aware of the problem and it would surely have been withdrawn from sale, we must conclude that she had become all in all predisposed to the suicide and the drug was not therefore essentially to blame. I would say that Ted Hughes was no more nor less the man that she married but he was unable to see the extreme gravity of his actions where they were meted out on someone like her, because such a wholesome respect for the institution of marriage as she had was anathema to him.

In English society taking a mistress was so common and morals have not improved. It is the trademark, in a sense, of our agnosticism. In her world of unstoppable poetry, she would have prayed that fantasy would meet reality to become indistinguishable, to borrow the imagery she so much enjoyed and was fascinated in herself. In fact her poetry must have been taking possession of her. She would thus, with an intensity not of this world, have seen Hughes as her perfect man. It was because he shattered that illusion - in her mind irreconcilably - that she could no longer live.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Wednesday, August 8, 2001



As Dorothy Parker would say "What fresh hell is this?"

Or: "The white gape of his mind was the real Tabula Rasa."

Dear Buddy Willards One and Two and all Forum Devotees,

"...Many women hate men who can fathom the truth about them..." Gosh, it's just the opposite - I'm just so damn glad that Michael and now Simon can fathom the truth about me and all the other women who contribute to this Forum. Without you he-man truthseers, what would we women do?! Now that my innate female mystery has been un-Purdahed, where can I run, without having to run forever? Simon, I think you're missing the point about the people who responded to Michael's postings. No one who posted in response to Michael has disagreed that Plath was "courageous", or that she "loved life" or was "passionate" or "large-hearted."

What I and others objected to is the sneering and nasty tone used towards people Michael disagrees with. That and the fact that no one is allowed to have an opinion that opposes Michael's. No one (according to Michael) will be allowed to speak at Sylvia Plath day that disagrees with any part of Michael's viewpoint or agenda. Speakers who were invited to speak, were disinvited as soon as they expressed an idea that Michael did not like or agree with. We don't all have to agree about Plath or Hughes or Plath and Hughes. There is actually room for dissent, and I'm sorry, but no one person has the "truth" about any aspect of Plath's life.

Michael and I have emailed back and forth to each other several times, but I cannot seem to convince him that while I disagree with him on a number of points, I don't necessarily disagree with him about Plath's humor, joy, passion and courage. He seems to only see in me what he wants to see - a little like how he views Sylvia Plath, and perhaps other women. Michael (and now Simon, perhaps) seems to feel that Plath was never 'officially diagnosed' as depressed and did not have any kind of serious or chronic (mental) illness - I happen to think she did indeed have an illness - and as I put it to Michael in a one-to-one email - so what?! Why should mental illness be a stigma? Can't someone love life passionately and still be depressed or manic-depressive? Is illness the only thing we should focus on, does it explain all of Plath's life and work - no. But it has something to do with her life and work. Happy women don't swallow a handful of sleeping pills and put their head in an oven.

Same with the "PMS theory" put forth by Kate Moses in her Salon article. It's a theory. It makes some sense. It may well be true. As a woman I would give it more creedence than perhaps a man would. According to Michael, this theory is "mush." Now, he doesn't really have any intelligent refutation of Moses' work - he just calls it a name and dismisses it. This is not the mark of an intelligent and expansive thinker. And again, as I told Michael - if PMS effected her in adverse ways, so what?! It effects many women. It doesn't make Plath or anyone else "pathological.' Why can't Sylvia Plath be complex?! What is wrong with being multi-faceted? If it makes it easier for you to understand her work, by all means, simplify. I can handle the paradox and the complexities, thank you.

If the two of you, Simon and Michael, would really listen and try to understand other points of view, and could offer viable reasons as to why you believe this or that, public debates like this would be productive and energizing instead of tedious and dead-ended. But according to one of the abovesaid assuming that there are two sides to every story or believing that everyone should have their own opinion is a "drivel mindset" that "mocks substantive reality" - whatever that is. Which is essentially saying that no one can have an opinion about anything, unless of course we all think exactly alike. I wonder who gets to decide what we should all believe. And what a fine and interesting world that would be. God, I'm bored.

"Two, of course there are two. It seems perfectly natural now - "

Kim
Detroit, USA
Tuesday, August 7, 2001



I don't think too many people can attack an articulate, rational response, Simon. The "Let us leave out" paragraph is great! I think the problem we had/have with Michael's viewpoints is the way he presents his feelings and also the absolute blind spot he has toward the full woman of Sylvia Plath. By censoring Plath's flair for the dramatic (and the real, in some cases) he's doing nearly the same thing that Hughes did when he censored poems, journals, etc. I especially like when you say, "That she was also self-absorbed was only a defensive mechanism in my opinion because she had been hurt before and whether or not Ted Hughes intended to hurt her also, he did so." You are a man that can see both sides of the coin!

The way you characterize her is just on the mark! Are the 'good' Ariel poems written by a woman we can tell is happy? A strong NO from the peanut-crunchers! The 'good' poems are emotionally charged and all over the place. They stretch over continents, but like shadows, not sunshine. These are poems written in the dark, in the earth's shadow, and the candle's. Sylvia Plath's words are more powerful than love, or if they aren't, they come darn close to saying "This is what love can do."

In the end, though, she discarded life. Like Alvarez said, I think it was Alvarez, she came to the conclusion that life simply isn't worth it. Maybe it was Lowell that said that. But that doesn't really matter; they appreciate her works just as we do.

Peter K Steinberg
Brighton, MA, USA
Tuesday, August 7, 2001



Excuse me if I make an impromptu entry into this discussion. Hey Michael, are they giving you a hard time? For the record I think what you said was cool. In fact you seem to have summed up this whole Plath scene better than almost anyone.

But look who's writing in! They're almost all of them women! You have a large female fan club. And it is a statistical fact that womens favorite name in America right now is Michael. You know that many women hate men who can fathom the truth about them because mysterious is how they so often like us to figure them and they cannot be mysterious if we know where theyre at, right? Many women hate to think weve got their number. They think we have too much power over them already, not to also know what makes them tick. They like us to think of them as the same as them, and very complicated (well that part is true if you dont mind the smoke screen), but though we are equal in the eyes of God, we are definitely not the same. So they will return fire by picking holes wherever they think they can spot a chink in our armour. But take it in your stride and know that its only that they love to pit their wits against the best and show how much smarter they are than u! s, for no-one throws stones at a tree without fruit. Im sure you know most of this already. Be sure I will get my share of criticism too btw for giving you my vote. They will call what I have just said, and even you might fall for this too (but I think you're too smart), typecasting or profiling, or judgmental (a ridiculous cliche), but that's all bull. I have lived long enough to know which way's up.

Let us leave out the contentious issue of Ted Hughes and focus on what you have seen that the others clearly havent or are pretending not to. Even before I read your posts I have to tell you that I had come to the same conclusions as you did. Sylvia Plath was a lionhearted woman of intense courage and passion and was prepared to love and devote herself to whoever was prepared to love her in kind. That she was also self-absorbed was only a defensive mechanism in my opinion because she had been hurt before and whether or not Ted Hughes intended to hurt her also, he did so. Sure she wanted fame and recognition because after all she had so much talent to offer, but she would have forsaken that a zillion times over to make her lover the centre of her world. She loved so much she was prepared to die for love if any lover had only been faithful. And so she did. Yes love can do that. What a woman! I throw my hat to her because she was one woman who was prepared to let us see her real self, as Ted Hughes himself observed, and so vulnerable was she, that she allowed us to see to what extent love had hurt her, over and over again in the theatre of her life.

Simon Cameron
London, UK
Tuesday, August 7, 2001



Ted Hughes blamed drug for Plath's suicide - Sunday Telegraph Sunday, August 5, 2001

Sylvia and Ted by Emma Tennant reviewed by Amy Rea in the Literal Mind










Web Design by Pennine Pens