Messages from September 2005
Hi David, Just a word of warning, and with all due respect. Expect to get lambasted for saying that "Americans" don't read.
Not only are you terribly mistaken, but you are carelessly exposing some aspects of (your own) socio/economic status, unconscious fears, and/or insecurities in your comments. Perhaps the individuals with whom you associate don't read, but to say, "Americans don't read" as in (all Americans) or even (a large portion) is simply comical! I don't know many Americans who will not take offence or at least be amused by this gigantic generalisation on your part.
I read, all my friends read, all my classmates read, my professors, the TA's I know, my family, all read! (Not all of these people have completed university degrees either) but we do read, Voraciously, consistently and with sincere selfish pleasure! The fact is you simply could not be more mistaken.
Furthermore, I have explored every poem Sylvia Plath has ever written, and while I thoroughly enjoy her poetry, I do not consider her the greatest poet who ever lived, nor do I consider her poetry superior to her husband Ted Hughes! Not everyone does consider her poetry the most perfect,pristine poetry to have ever graced our planet or solar system.
I will always prefer his poetry over hers, but I do recognise her poetry as barrier breaking, ground breaking and important socially and historically in many respects as being one of the more important new genres of poetry that further expanded the artistic possibilities of modern free verse. I have my favorite poems of hers, but I do not blindly heroworship her, and I do not consider her the greatest poet to have ever lived.
I think there is a habit among many Americans, and even non-Americans to ridicule Americans' levels of education, and that to do so somehow reveals them to be dripping with cynical cool. This tiresome habit of some individuals does not do a thing to impress me, and these kinds of people only reveal more about themselves than perhaps they initially cared or intended to.
People who put down Americans in general as all being uneducated only expose their own mediocrity with regard to their own level of awareness and education. When an individual presumes that all of a certain nationality are all of a certain persuasion, they have shown themselves to be incredibly innocent of the true facts.
I believe this is the case with you David, and hopefully in future you will not make the mistake of presuming that simply because you don't know many well read Americans, that all Americans are as a result, not well read! It's simply not mathematically possible.
To Kate:You raise a very interesting question: would Sylvia be famous today if she hadn't committed suicide? As you acknowledge, her poetry is sublime, maybe even better than her husband's (though I'm sure that is up for debate). But he became the Poet Laureate of England, while she became - what? The dead poet cheated on by the Poet Laureate of England?
I think your point raises a more important point, which is that poets in America are not read, not valued, not even understood. Why? Because the American people, smart as they are in some areas, don't read. And I don't mean just that they don't read poetry: I have very intelligent friends and neighbors who don't ever read novels and who don't even take a newspaper!You may be right, Kate: if she hadn't killed herself -in dramatic fashion, and being married to the celebrated English poet Ted - most of us might never have heard of her. She had a couple of slim volumes of poetry published - but who read them? And some poems accepted (maybe published eventually) by literary magazines, but hey, lots of us can say the same. And this, of course, raises a larger, more disturbing question: how many other poets of Sylvia's stature are still out there, and may stay out there, in The Great Unknown, never to be discovered? Good point, Kate. Depressing but appreciated.
To Kate Durbin: Suicide is not sexy; it's an act of courage but can be also an act of showing weakness. People who cannot even try to get up again on their feet suicide themselves, but also people who are so courageous to have the strngth to kill themselves. But I dont see anything sexy in it. I'm sorry.
Well it looks like I am going to have to make a trip to NYC to see this! I think I can make it down some weekend in October. I was wondering if there are other Plath readers in or nearby NYC who might like to meet up for tea, see the exhibit together, and make this an outing?
If you are from out of town and need a good, inexpensive place to stay, my old standby is the Carlton Arms.
"Which puts Sylvia's case into such stark contrast: she was a young woman on the verge of poetic stardom, but the other parts of her personal life made it all seem not worthwhile. She was the exception, not the model."
I have to say I disagree with this statement. While I don't believe that Smith College has any responsibility to put out a disclaimer in regards to Plath's suicide (that would be destructive and counter-intuitive, another way of punishing Plath more than she already has been), I do firmly believe that Plath was not on the verge of poetic stardom when she committed suicide, and had she lived, she would have had mild success but nothing like the success she has now, ironically, in death.
Case in point: How were the original poems, Letters Home, and The Bell Jar marketed? I have a first edition paperback of Letters Home, and here is what it says just inside the front cover: "She was beautiful, popular, enormously gifted and just about to become famous when, shortly after her thrithieth birthday, Sylvia Plath turned on the gas and put her head in the oven. Why? Readers of the Bell Jar may think they know. But in these letters....[these letters] reveal her thoughts and her feelings...from her first day of college to just seven days before her suicide." (Emphasis, mine).
Now does this mean that Plath's work is not worth the praise it's received since her suicide? No! It's worth all the praise it's received and more. Her Ariel poems are some of the most brilliant, and inventive in the English language. But let's take a minute and look at who was more famous while she was alive-Plath or Hughes? Hughes, hands down. And frankly, I don't think his work is nearly as compelling as Plath's. But if we don't think there was and still is a glass ceiling for women poets-that there was so especially in Plath's time-we need to think again. Oh yes, we might still make Plath famous even though she is a woman. But only if she is safely dead first, so that we don't have to deal with all the intricacies and hypocrisies inherent in a real, living, breathing woman who wrote 'feminist' poems yet had two children, loved housewifery, and considered her husband to be her god. She needed that extra punch to make her work really stand out, and that extra punch had to be delivered straight into her own skull.
As for suicide being the exception, not the rule, look at Woolf and Sexton. Woolf was one of Plath's idols, and she drowned herself. Sexton emulated Plath's suicide, she was jealous that Plath beat her to it. She knew suicide was sexy, and for a woman, even sexier. It showed you were really serious because your life and work weren't enough to show that, and it made you an object that was fascinating and sexy and we can play with it, and contrary to what we might protest, we still like our women best as objects.
Formerly frequent visitor here with a link to the New York Times article new Plath/Hughes exhibit in NYC
The NYT review review of the papers on view at the Grolier Club is amazing.
Hello Dan, I might be mistaken, but it sounds as though you think Smith College should be putting out a disclaimer anytime they 'celebrate' Plath (via exhibitions, books, events,etc.) and I personally find the idea rather strange. I can't imagine what that 'hidden statement' could be. "Hey girls, suicide is cool!"? When someone reads Byron, surely they don't expect the publisher to print a disclaimer that incest is not such a great idea. Marilyn Monroe's films don't come with a comment from the film studio that suicide is wrong and that the production company doesn't advocate the taking of one's life. I doubt Hunter S. Thompson's work will be published in future with the admonishment that shooting oneself in the head is painful to one's family and friends and is not to be emulated. When you stand in front of a Jackson Pollock painting, should the label include a disclaimer that drinking and driving is morally reprehensible and dangerous to boot?
I hope you can see my point, even if I am writing with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek! In otherwords, I don't think it is any entities', organizations', institutions' or individuals' responsibility to 'warn' the public about the private actions of a celebrated artist or indeed any other human being, or to 'admonish' the person in question because they 'chose', for example, to commit suicide. (You wouldn't happen to be in law school, would you?!?!) I agree with you that suicide is a particularly painful and traumatic blow to inflict on one's family and friends (not to mention oneself), but to try and understand the 'why' I think is futile.
I think it is up to the individual to understand that one can create art and yet behave in ways that perhaps should not be condoned or emulated. I also don't think you are giving college age women very much credit when it comes to emotional maturity! College age women may be young, but I don't think maturity is entirely dependent on one's age(and no, I am not 'college age', alas). Woody Allen's comment in Annie Hall aside, do young women (or does anyone) really believe that suicide is in someway romantic? I can only assume that your personal experience has led you to believe that indeed they do. Perhaps people themselves should come with a warning label or disclaimer (Danger! "Britney" has abandonment issues, is emotionally needy, leaves her clothes on the floor and drinks out of the milk carton! Back away, slowly, young man....")But that is a discussion topic for another website altogether.
In any case, there is the work and there is the life. It can be argued that Plath's life and work are tightly woven, but the sum of Plath's life is not its ending or manner of. I think someone can read Plath's work not knowing anything about her own life at all, and still be moved, or be appreciative (fat chance, but still). And there has been a lot of recent scholarship that is trying to turn the focus away from the autobiographical reading of Plath's work to show that her vision was not as solipsistic as people assume it to be.
Many are of the opinion that if Plath did not take her own life, she would not be so famous today. That very well may be true, but I would hate to see her wonderful poems diminshed by a public "tut tutting" or disavowal by her alma mater of her painful struggle with mental illness and the unfortunate choice she made to end her life ("professional poet on a closed course. Please do not attempt this at home"). In any case, since you can hardly read a word about Plath and her work without the 'facts' of her illness and death appearing in the text, I think you can consider that she has and will suffer the eternal 'damnation' of having her life and her work overshadowed by the 'choice' she made to end her own life. Perhaps that is 'disclaimer' enough.
The Sunday Times
September 11, 2005
Pages of lost Plath romantic novel are found
Pages and notes from an unpublished novel by the poet Sylvia Plath, inspired by her tempestuous relationship with Ted Hughes, have been discovered in crates of documents left by the late Poet Laureate.
The papers relate the life and loves of an American girl who moves to London to ìfind herselfî and marries her poet lover. Some consist of notes jotted by Plath on the back of writings by Hughes, while others are typed passages.
The discovery of the papers has been welcomed by experts, many of whom believed the book had been burnt or did not exist at all. "It's extraordinary, I heard rumours, but I didn't know Ted had the papers," said Elizabeth Sigmund, a close friend of Plath until her suicide in 1963. "I really thought what he'd described as fragments were the most we'd ever get."
Some of the remains of the book will be shown as part of an exhibition of Hughes's and Plath's papers entitled No Other Appetite: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and the Blood Jet of Poetry, which opens on Wednesday at the Grolier Club in New York.
The documents and books come from the Hughes archive at Emory University, Atlanta, and the Plath archive at Smith College in Massachusetts.
The title of the novel, Falcon Yard, refers to the place in Cambridge where Plath met and famously bit Hughes, her future husband. The book, on which Plath worked between 1957 and 1959, was to have been a fictionalisation of their life together. Many of the scenes depicted were also described by Hughes in Birthday Letters, the sequence of poems to Plath published in 1998.
The two and a half tons of letters, poems, drafts and proofs had been stored for years in champagne and seed boxes in a barn at Hughes's home in Devon. Despite references in Plath's journals, biographers were unsure how much of it she had written. What survives is from two chapters entitled Venus in the Seventh and Hill of Leopards.
The material was discovered in 1999 by a team working for Stephen Enniss, director of special collections at Emory University, where the manuscripts are stored. The first clue came in a list of characters in Plathís handwriting on the reverse of a radio play by Hughes.
The name Richard Sassoon, Plathís first love and a distant relative of Siegfried Sassoon, the English war poet, leapt off the page. Over the next weeks a page, sometimes two or three together, would turn up on the back of unrelated work by Hughes, with a sense of the novel gradually coming into focus. The discovery is being made public now to coincide with the exhibition.
"I didn't think very much was left at all. That's what the letters said and I trusted that," said Elaine Feinstein, Hughes's biographer. "It is intriguing and very exciting. Her mother always contended there was much more. I'm delighted."
The novel was to have been what Plath described as ìa fable of faithfulnessî, the heroine ìkinetic, a voyager, no Penelopeî and the hero, Gerald ó the name of Hughesís real-life brother
While The Bell Jar, her most famous work, was a novel of unresolved questions, Falcon Yard was to have been a novel of answers, ending with the couple marrying.
The American girl at the centre of the story "stays a year, goes through great depression in winter," wrote Plath in her journal. "She runs through several men a femme fatale in her way: types: little thin exotic wealthy Richard [Sassoon]; combine Gary and Gordon; Richard and Lou Healy [all previous boyfriends of Plath]. Safe versus not safe. And of course: the big, blasting dangerous love."
Plath writes of her heroine's experiences in Venice and Rome, desperate to return to the gloom of London and an English poet, "his voice. UnBritish. Refugee Pole rather, mixed with something of Dylan Thomas: rich and mellow-noted: half sung."
The heroine believes marriage can erase the severe depression to which she, and Plath, had always been prone.
The strange thing is: being Dutch, having your own poetical heroes (among others: H. Marsman, J. Schlauerhoff) there is not much space left for the English/American influence. Thank god they teach us Blake, Shakespeare (do not dare to keep him out)and Wilde. But these are men. Nevertheless, it's a good point to start from. Who's interested even gets some Dylan Thomas... To make my point clear: where's Anne Sexton? where's 'queen of confessional poetry' Sylvia Plath? where's Edna St. Vincent Millay? Not to mention Emma Lazarus (what's in a name?) I think it's time to show the people that American Poetry is more than E.E. Cummings and Theodor Roethke (though they're not bad at all!)
Just for the Dutch among you, visit my website and for the Americans/English just scroll through the English sections...
PS Did I already mention Sylvia's Crossing the Water is her ultimate masterpiece?
Michiel Stout Vuurland
Dan B, Sylvia Plath was an extraordinary person and extraordinary poet, so the old rules about copy-cat suicide shouldn't apply. If the undergraduates you are worried about have even an inkling of Sylvia's genius, then you can't save them, regardless of what you try to do. If, on the other hand, those undergraduates are just "normal" girls who think that suicide will make them famous as martyrs to some cause, then you can steer them toward psychological counseling. Anyone wanting to emulate Sylvia in committing suicide needs to be thoroughly grounded in her biography and her poetry; otherwise, they are just dilettantes who may be, as the saying goes, applying a permanent solution to a temporaty problem. Sylvia's mental illness was ongoing, and it's a mark of her importance that she resisted that "permanent solution" as long as she did. And even when she knew she was going to do it, she wrote poems to try to explain it and, from what I remember, tried to keep her children from sharing her chosen fate.
Suicide is not a casual matter, Dan, and someone needs to explain to any young people who are inclined to follow a poet or anyone else into oblivion that, so far as we know, death is the end of who we are or thought we might be. Please note, too, that Sylvia had gone through college and was 30 or so before she ended her life. Maybe it would be good to advise all those Smith girls to wait until they're 30 before contemplating suicide. My guess is that many, if not most, will have decided against it at that point in their lives. Which puts Sylvia's case into such stark contrast: she was a young woman on the verge of poetic stardom, but the other parts of her personal life made it all seem not worthwhile. She was the exception, not the model.
I'm sure that Sylvia would tell all those depressed Smith women to try to find a satisfying life that didn't depend on (1) the acceptance of men, or (2) the acceptance of their poetry. I wish, as most of us do, that Sylvia had lived to tell us what she thought of growing old, but, as I used to read to my children from a popular kid book, we "can't have that wish, little bear." Sylvia was who she was, Dan, but she's not who those young Smith students are. Maybe they'll make better choices in life, and maybe they won't be burdened with the early death of a father, and maybe they'll marry men who will love them and be faithful to them, and maybe they'll live to ripe old ages. Maybe, with any luck and a stroke of genius, they're write good poetry. We can only hope.
Her writing was certainly before its time, and at least reading her poetry, one senses her alienation and honesty, regarding women in the 50's. It is especially poignant, I believe, because she did not ascribe to the trite, stereotyped feminine ideals in America at the time (unfortunately, these still exist, only more covertly).
Reading The Bell Jar every few years,you will certainly notice different things; it was once said by a literary critic that a true work of art is something that translates over time; I still find her quotations in The Bell Jar to be of significance, and question, for example, when she is at McLean-Mass General Hospital (another book; Girl Interrupted, borrows shamelessly from a similar story); she mentions that one psychiatrist says: "Hello, I'm Dr. Pancreas," while Dr. Gordon, her first psychiatrist, is "too pretty" to understand any emotional problems.
There is also a quotation where she stated: " my mother wore a dress with purple cartwheels ...she looked awful..."
If anyone has any thoughts or ideas about these comments, I would love to hear them. In the meantime I am glad to have found a website which gives us more facts about Ms. Plath. Any student writing about women's issues has a plethora of material with her work.
Marie C Simmons
Dear Dan: I am speaking as a Smith alumna, poet, and former resident of Northampton here, who wrote and studied and became a poet with an acute awareness of Plath's work and her legacy. Its hard to be a poet at Smith and not at some point compare yourself to her - she is after all our most famous writer, and to some extent it is inevitable.
The problem I have with your suggestion is that a) it presupposes that Plath's death is the most important and prominent thing about her, and b) carries the suggestion that Smith students are impressionable, fragile, and sensitive little blossoms who will be overwhelmed by her: "eat-men-like-air" influence and (gasp!) fatally copy her life.
Pfffffft, I say. (Okay, okay. I was influenced by her: "eat-men-like-air" influence, but in not in the way you probably imagine.) I already know that suicide is not the way I want to go. Thank you. Reading and celebrating Plath's art is not going to change that. Thank you. If anything, Plath was in some ways great instruction on what not to do with my life - one can choose to bypass the Ted Hugheses of the world! She was also (ahem!) great instruction on what I absolutely should do with my life - embrace it, live it fully, write with all passion engaged, and eat with gusto. Settle for nothing less than full engagement.
I read Plath because I love her poetry, and I want to see her get the attention she deserves as the brilliant poet that she is. Without qualification. Without hand-wringing or hand-holding. Without apologies. Without pussyfooting.
We could sit down and make a list of writers male and female who committed suicide or came to some messy and awful end - ahem, Hemingway anyone? We could also pull out the newspapers and make a list of ordinary people who fared just as badly. We could also make a list of writers who drove themselves into an early grave by smoking, drinking, or driving too fast. What is the point here? Should our literary textbooks be riddled with warning labels? "I have done it again, one year in every ten I manage it." (Footnote! Children! Do not try this at home! Call the Samaritans!)
I am well aware that Plath's biography arouses more than the usual level of interest. But I would find this kind of public service announcement to be very paternalistic. It trivializes her art, and it underestimates Smith students.
My two bits.
The materials held in various Plath and Hughes archive collections in the US and the UK are available for anyone who wishes to see them. I recommend a bit of personal investment to travel to these places and use the archive for research (either personal or scholarly).
Over the course of time more of Plath's writing may become available. Think back to 1982 and the original publication of Plath's abridged Journals. 18 years passed before the complete edition was published. It took 39 years for Plath's original edition of Ariel to be published, as well. I would personally like to see limited facsimile editions of the Ariel drafts for sale; as was done for "Stings".
In visiting the Sylvia Plath Collections at Smith College, Indiana University, and Cambridge University, I have enjoyed immensely reading uncollected poems, stories, and letters. I have also enjoyed items such as photographs and early journals. Indiana even had some of Plath's hair in the collection. All of those research trips, including my own photographic research trips across the US and UK, have given me a unique perspective into Plath's life, which in turn affects my reading of her works.
If one is interested in Plath related trinkets, check out eBay. Some people are selling extremely tacky trinket boxes and key rings and drawings.
Peter K Steinberg
I live in the town where Smith College is, and I have dated women from Smith, and so on.
My question really is for Smith College (I asked a few people who work there but they simply did not respond), here goes : I recognize and applaud Sylvia Plath's stature as one of the most celebrated Smith students ever, she is in a sense the permanent Poet Laureate of the college, her poems are very powerful, important for women to read, and so on .. and, as well all know, she had a very painful life (so much of that having to do with her being talented and a woman), and committed suicide.
I really feel that when Smith College celebrates a famous alumna who has taken her own life they really need to (and this to me is a moral point) make a strong and positive statement about the fact of her suicide. I don't want to get into a heavy duty analysis but clearly the women that go to Smith are very young (as college students are everywhere) and I feel very strongly that if Smith (or any other college) is going to valorize one of their own who also happened to commit suicide they need to make a statement about it otherwise there is (at least to me) some sort of hidden statement being made.
I know there are all kinds of views about suicide - some say it is a powerful act, some say it is cowardly, some say it isn't about those around you, others say it almost only about those around you, and so on ... clearly, though, it is an act of a person in enormous pain. I personally feel that since suicide has a such a profound impact on those around the person (I am a big fan of Donny Hathaway, the great soul singer, who committed suicide and his daughter has to deal with that very painful reality every day of her life, and I'd imagine it is unbearably difficult) that Smith valorizing Sylvia Plath absolutely needs a companion statement about her suicide - I simply don't agree with the "crazy, painful person who pours all of that torment into their poetry" - there are (potentially) many other sides to life, and if the film "Sylvia" is at all accurate then Plath was someone who really struggled who many of the facets of her life, and I feel her pain.
Simply put, though, I think that without Smith making such a statement that how the whole valorization gets interpreted depends a lot on the person (here, many, many Smith students) doing the interpreting - I am not predicting a copycat act, more worred that the influence is more subtle, more hidden, yet very profound. Thoughts anyone ?
Hi David, I agree completely about Freida and Nick Hughes and all the others who are involved as being greedy and mysteriously grasping when it comes to not releasing even a photo of Sylvia or Ted or themselves to the public. Or any of her drafts, poems, perhaps there are others, who knows? It seems so prissy and selfish.
Can they present even one good reason as to why they will not do this? Sylvia Plath is already such a product of modern popular culture world wide, what is wrong with sharing further photos of her, or other bits of her writings with the public? Will it really create any more controversy than has already existed for the past few decades?
It smacks of that kind of tiresome exclusivity that sometimes certain celebrities, or members of the select "glitter-ary" world project and indulge in, they are simply tooooo good and toooooo busy to be bothered to indulge the public or academia with further involvement.
It is tiresome and rather comic and the bottom line is eventually these photos and writings will see the light of day sooner or later, as the case may be. They won't be able to hide these things away, out of sight, like misers, forever, unless of course they choose to destoy them first, and that for posterity would simply be a huge and wasteful loss.
I wish these two individuals could see who important it would be to set things straight, or at least offer their perspectives, and to stop regarding the interested public as a bunch of salivating amoral "peanut crunchers". The general public world wide is simply much more than that.
Perhaps in time, these two will learn that, but I suppose in may take them getting over their apparent bitterness and unresolved conflicts with regard to SP's suicide, TH's duplicitous, Lothario lifestyle and their painful losses as children. I wish them luck in this process. I honestly do.
Nancy, please do post your interpretations of "Poppies In July." I'm very anxious to see them, and how they might perhaps even tie in with some aspects of the "Fever 103" discussion. I was wondering how your project was going - good to see you back.
Lisa A. Flowers
After reading the article that Shawna had posted about No Other Appetite and the fragments of Plath's Falcon Yard, I found a link to a limited run of 1,000 copies of the illustrated No Other Appetite catalogue found at Veatchs.com. The catalogue has something like 27 illustrations and notes on the Falcon Yard fragments. The catalogue is some around $40, and seems to be a great Plath investment, for anyone who wanted to know.
Shawna posted a message to which I wish to reply. The newspapers story - stories? - suggesting that whole chapters of Falcon Yard exist have created a great misconception. The fragments on display at the Grolier Club in New York show the true state of things: only some planning notes and a few pages of the novel are to be found in the Hughes' archives at Emory, and a few other pages in the Plath archive at Smith. I wrote about the development of Falcon Yard in my book Her Husband, after discovering those pages myself at Emory when researching the book.
Readers of Plath's Journals will have noted that she started thinking about writing this novel while she was still a student at Cambridge, then worked on it (unsuccessfully, she thought) during her year at Smith, and then again during her year in Boston. I speculate that she went back to this novel in spring 1962, and that it was the manuscript Aurelia Plath saw her burn in July 1962 - Plath had been planning to give Hughes the novel she was working on as a birthday gift in August. Aurelia Plath's letter about this event is printed in Her Husband. However, the typescripts that have surfaced in the archives appear to be early drafts, and are mostly discontinuous pages; some of them were used by Hughes as drafting paper for his work.
To Jen, Kim, Honeybee and Kate: Thanks for all the information on Sylvia's drawings. I don't claim that she was a great artist - as her "great" talent was obviously poetry -- but I was and am amazed that she showed so much artistic abilility in another medium. I think most of us who write or draw or paint can't imagine expressing ourselves nearly so well another way. I am not one for visiting graves (as I've made clear, with apologies), but I would love to have prints of Sylvia's drawings. I understand that her daughter and brother control her estate and aren't releasing anything! Why not?
What do they have to gain from not permitting even a photo of her to be released for sale to those of us who would mount it respectfully and put it on a wall beside the photos of other writers we identify with (in my case, Whitman and Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson). I don't understand the mentality of her relatives/ descendants/ siblings who just sit on this treasure trove. Are they holding out for the highest price at auction? Are they jealous of her post-life fame? Are they so principled that they can't think of cashing in on her post-life fame? Couldn't they donate the proceeds to benefit a charity of their choice? Does anyone know why there is such a silence as to images of Sylvia for sale, not to mention her own drawings? What's going on here? Best to all.
I haven't posted here before, but do read through the comments occasionally and like to read what's being said. I just wanted to make sure everyone has heard about Plath's novel Falcon Yard, pages of which have been found amongst Ted Hughes' papers at Emory. I believe the article said that two full chapters survive. No doubt some of you have already heard this, but for those who haven't, here is a link to the article. Fragments will be on display in New York, I believe, as part of the Plath/Hughes exhibit at the Groiler Club.
In a post to the forum June 27, 2005 I suggested exploring, through poem analysis, the concept of submission as it expressed itself in Plath's "Poppies in July". I was ecstatic when Elaine Connell replied in the affirmative. (See her entry of June 28, 2005) So back to the and back to something new and different on the menu! It definitely seems that the forum is asking for it (and hungry for it)!!
I knew little of Plath's biography when I first started reading her poetry, so it was with the purity of vision that I innately connected with the submissiveness she so cleverly sublimated in her poetry. It was only after my passionate dive into her work I discovered, among many other things, that this voice had previously been documented by several reputable authors, including Elaine Connell.
Since my initial post I have been gathering data to help document my position and have discovered quite an abundance of materials! I was also communicating with other forum members for help and support with the idea of creating a panel group to focus on exploring this concept, and I must say that trail of communication turned into quite the Autobahn!
I have discovered that different individuals feel very passionately about the use and definition of this forum. Yes, anyone can read almost anything they want into a piece of literature, but it is also human nature to try to establish validation of our own beliefs by convincing others of the same. Yet a forum is a place for debate, is it not? For us as individuals to have a place to read and explore points of view we would not necessarily claim as our own. It also presents the opportunity for mirrors to look into have we the courage to do so. Or, are we so afraid of that "terrible fish" that we look for comfort "to those liars, the candles or the moon?"
In a world such as ours, where truth has become subjective and human beings spend far too much time being cruel to one another, if someone's work (in this case Plath) can affect anotherís life in a positive way, for whatever reason, what harm has been done!?
If all we aspire to as human being is to have everyone believe what we believe so we can feel comfortable with ourselves and our egos, how evolved are we!? Why do we simultaneously embrace those dark, albeit eccentric qualities in one individual while ridiculing and taunting them in another? Philosophical questions with no easy answers, but nonetheless important ones to ask ourselves, no?
"Poppies in July" is only one, her poetry is saturated with submissive desires, fears and needs as well as her struggles with mental illness. Those elements are combined into one unique individual searching for a way to release/contain all her passions. The socially acceptable outlet she chose for her forum, whether consciously or subconsciously, was poetry.
My passionate connection with Sylvia Plath is deeply personal, unshakable and one that will remain so until: "Other trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me."
To David Hall: I brought up this subject[of Plath's artwork] myself on this forum some time ago, with no response. I too think the subject a fascinating one.
Aurelia Plath, for one, apparently saved every doodle and finished piece SP ever drew and/or painted. There are many. many of Sylvia's drawings and other artwork from her early youth through college years and I think, perhaps, a few done even after her marriage, in the Smith archives.
Also, there was an exhibition mounted not terribly long ago at Smith just of her art--examining her as a graphic artist. I'd certainly have made an effort to see it, but I only discovered an old mention by googling(which you can as well--I can't remember exactly where it is--buried somewhere, cached on the Smith website, I think).
The few drawings published that SP did during her honeymoon in Spain are quite good--she was an accomplished artist, and both she and her family knew it. I'm a professional artist myself and to me it's evident that she could have drawn professionally if she'd wished to. As for artwork for sale: I ran a search once on, of all places, abebooks.com(a sort of Amazon.com for independent and secondhand booksellers), and I was surprised that there were several of Plath's paintings from her college years offered outright for sale. They were very, very expensive. One, I seem to remember, was described as a self-portrait but I don't believe it was. I wondered where these had come from--could her brother, or some other relative, have been in need and parted with them? One would think that they'd fetch quite a bit at auction. I hope Aurelia Plath wasn't taken advantage of in her last years where things like this were concerned.
On another, rather unsettling note regarding Plath "ephemera": I was at a rare book & paper show here in Los Angeles about 10 years ago, attended by sellers of extreme rarities from all over the US and the UK. One of the dealers had in his case a wax paper packet containing--I am not making this up--Sylvia's curls from age 5 or 6, with a label in her mother's hand describing "these from Sylvia's haircut" and dated, etc.. How on earth the dealer got this item(which looked to be authentic) boggles the mind. I take an interest in SP's personal life and work together, but talk about fetishistic! It certainly seemed more than a little off to be selling her baby curls.
David, there was an exhibition of Plath's drawings during the Plath symposium at Indiana U in 2003. I believe Smith and Indiana have most of Plath's drawings, collages and paintings in their archives. The symposium also issued a series of I think 3 posters, all with Plath's artwork re-produced.
There are some drawings Plath did as a child up for sale - check out bookfinder.com - for about $10,000, I think on Ken Lopez's site. There is also a "self portrait" listed for sale for about $35,000 on the Lopez site. I wrote to Lopez, as I don't believe the portrait is a self portrait all at - it looks nothing like Plath, the woman has blond hair (the portrait would have been rendered before the 'Platinum Summer') and blue eyes! Even Warren and Frieda have said that the do not believe the portrait to be a self portrait (which the seller acknowledges on his site), but a pastel by Plath of a friend - yet, it is still listed as a self portrait for the same price! But of course, a Plath self portrait would sell better wouldn't it (provided it does sell - this piece has been offered for sale for a few years now). Bonhams in London is auctioning a drawing of Hughes by Plath on October 3 - there are a few articles about this on line.
Tracey Brain's book uses a Picasso-esque painting by Plath on its cover and Robin Peels's book Writing Back uses one of Plath's collages for the cover. Of course, there are also the pen and ink drawings reproduced in some editions of The Bell Jar. As art history is my background, I kicked around the idea of doing something on Plath's artwork, but I am not sure what the market would be, beyond a very limited one. Plath was a decent amateur, a better draftsman than painter in my view, but it is her writing that is remarkable and I don't think any publisher would be interested in producing a book on her artwork.
More interesting than her own work I think is the art work that inspired her poetry, like de Chirico, Klee, Rosseau. As for the commercial sale of such things, again, I think it is her image rather than any artwork she might have produced, that would sell. I don't believe the estate has ever authorized images for commercial profit (has anyone run across anything authorized with Plath's image on it?) nor do I think they ever will. It's interesting to note that the Bronte's (all 3 sisters and Branwell) also produced quite a bit of artwork and I do believe I saw a rather good sized book of their drawings, paintings, etc., for sale in the National Gallery of London bookshop.
David check out this link to the Bonhams Auction Rooms in London. There has been intense news coverage here of this sketch by Plath of Hughes which as you can see is expected to go for big money at auction on October 15th. It has even featured this week in our tiny local rag.
Here's the auctioneer's description and if you check through the site I think there's a copy of the sketch.
Perhaps the most intimate image included in the sale is a pen and ink sketch of the young Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath, who together were one of the most iconic literary and romantic couples of the 20th century. It is believed to be the only portrait drawn of him by her. Sketched with all the gripping immediacy of a love note, this image exemplifies Oscar Wildeís claim that ìEvery portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter.î It shows the former Poet Laureate sitting and writing, wearing a dinner jacket and bow-toe. Hughes recalled that the portrait was drawn at Cambridge in the early days of his marriage to Sylvia. The portrait, which measures 21 x 12.7 cm, is on faintly lined paper and is inscribed by the sitter, <Portrait of Me, made by Sylvia Plath, circa 1957, Ted Hughes. It was a gift from the poet to Roy Davids, who was his close friend until the poet's death in 1998. It is expected to fetch £15,000 - £20,000.
Kim, where are those two letters from? How could you have them? I'd never seen them before on the web and now that I have seen them and read them i'm shocked and surprised and almost moved. And also: Can you tell me something more about the famous letter (or letters) Sylvia wrote on the night of her death (the night she asked for stamps from Trevor Thomas, her neighbour)? Thank you very much.
Interesting that Hughes writes of Sylvia: "I look on her as my wife and the only one I shall ever marry." I believe he also wrote to Assia's sister, following Assia's suicide, that "Assia was my true wife" or very similar words.
Dear David, In regards to Sylvia's drawings, I'm sure you've seen the recreations in her unabridged journals. Those are truly drawn by Sylvia, yes. So she certainly was gifted in this area, and I remember reading in one of her letters home to her mother how impressed Ted was by her drawings of fishing boats on their honeymoon in Spain (though he did have some derogatory things to say about their implied meaning in Birthday Letters), and how he encouraged her to keep drawing. I know the Christian Science Monitor accepted at least one if not more of her drawings along with an article, I can't remember exactly what it was about but I think it had to do with her honeymoon in Spain.
I showed her sketchings to my fiance, who is a visual artist, and he said they were 'pretty good.' What I gathered from that was that she probably wouldn't ever had made it as an artist in the way that she did as a poet (obviously she was more than 'pretty good' at poetry!). But she certainly was gifted at drawing, in an above average way--as she seemed to be with most everything she attempted in her life time with a few notable exceptions. Think how incredible it would have been had we had a life time's worth of her poems, sketchings, stories, cooking recipes, decorating schemes, etc. to eagerly dig through.
As for who owns the sketches, I am pretty sure the Lilly Library in Indiana owns some and Smith College the others. But someone else more knowledgeable in this folder would know better than I.
As for mugs, t-shirts etc., I am pretty sure her estate won't allow that, at least currently.
Since there has been some discussion of late regarding Ted's treatment of Sylvia after her death, and his handling of the news of her death, etc., I thought it would be helpful to people to read portions of what he wrote Aurelia after Plath's death, in two letters. As was her usual practice, Aurelia did make annotations on at least one of these letters, including an annotation in short hand which I cannot translate. From her comments, and from her subsequent comments in letters to Olwyn Hughes, it appears to me that she did not exactly warm to his explanations regarding his behavior, and I am sure some people will also find them self-justifying, but I believe he was writing from the heart and that his grief and remorse were genuine. The letters he refers to must have been the ones that she borrowed/bought the stamps for from her downstairs neighbor on the night of her death.
March 15, 1963:- I shall never get over the shock and I don't particularly want to. I've seen the letters Sylvia wrote to my parents and I imagine she wrote similar ones to you or worse. The particular conditions of our marriage, the marriage of two people so openly under the control of deep psychic abnormalities as both of us were, meant that we finally reduced each other to a state where our actions and normal states of mind were like madness. My attempt to correct that marriage (Aurelia's comment: "thru adultery with Assia Wevill?") is madness from start to finish. When all she wanted to say simply was that if I didn't go back to her she could not live. Only in the last month suddenly we became friends, closer than we've been for two years or so. Then suddenly her book about her first breakdown comes out, fifty other hellish details go against her, she became over-agitated, begged me to leave the country because she couldn't bear to live in the same city.. then very heavy sedatives, then this. If I hadn't been so blindly involved in the struggle with her, how easily I could have seen through all this! And I had come to the point where I decided we could repair our marriage now. She had agreed to stop the divorce. I had that weekend cancelled all my appointments for the next fortnight. I was going to ask her to come away on the Monday, on holiday, to the coast, some place we had not been. Think of how it must be for me too.
I don't ever want to be forgiven. I don't mean that I shall become a public shrine of mourning and remorse, I would sooner become the opposite. But if there is an eternity, I am damned in it. Sylvia was one of the greatest, truest spirits alive, and in her last months she became a great poet, and no other woman poet except Emily Dickinson can begin to be compared with her and certainly no living American.
May 13th, 1963 Please, Aurelia, do not make the mistake of thinking that the way I caused Sylvia to suffer was any indication of my real feelings for her, which are simply unaltered (Aurelia's shorthand comment, which I cannot translate, other than to guess that the JC! is Jesus Christ!) my love for her simply continues. I look on her as my wife and the only one I shall ever marry.
Would anyone mind if I changed the discussion? I'm curious about Sylvia's artistic talents. I remember seeing -- in one of the many books I read about her -- some pen and ink drawings she'd done (fishing boats, as I recall). She seemed to be amazingly talented in that respect, but I've heard little about it in the Forum or elsewhere.
Does anyone know if any of those drawings exist and where they are and how many she did?
A person with that kind of ability should have drawn a lot, but no one is talking about it. Wouldn't it be great to have a print of one of Sylvia's drawings? Surely someone, somewhere, is offering them for sale. If not, why not? If you haven't seen them, I wish I could direct you to a book or website, but I can't.
Elaine, do you know where to find repros of Sylvia's drawings? (No, sorry EC)Having tried myself in the past to draw things/people/places to scale and with some sense of re-creating the actual thing/person/place, I know how hard it is. Did Sylvia actually have this rare talent, in addition to her poetic skills? Now that would be extraordinary!
P.S. Is Sylvia's estate releasing any of her drawings or any of her likenesses or anything at all for those of us who would love to have some of her best lines on a T-shirt or a mug? What's all the secrecy about? Wouldn't we all love to have something with Ted and her on whatever item? Come on now, this is America, land of commerce!
David please believe me when I say no offence taken this side of the pond, I love the variety of views on this forum and if we can't take it we are free to wander off elsewhere for a while. I sense there are not many regular UK contributors here and it would be good to see some more as I really feel we often have a different take on the whole Plath-Hughes subject.
I have been reminded elsewhere of a wonderful quote today which I think succinctly crystallises your argument about graves etc David so I'm leaving it to George Eliot's final paragraph in Middlemarch and dear Dorothea to get me off the hook as I would certainly never disagree with a word she says!
"Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself on channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:for the growing good of the world is partly dependant on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who have lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs"
Dear Honeybee, Therresa, and Kim, I never meant my comments on our tendency to visit graves to mean than those who do so aren't appreciative of the humans buried within and their accomplishments. I've visited many graves, including Oscar Wilde's, in a lovely and delapidated Paris cemetery (where Jim Morrison of The Doors was also buried). I only meant to point out that, missing those poets and others we never knew but wished we had, sometimes we mistake the bones for the person. As Sylvia said in "Daddy", "I thought even the bones would do."
I understand the impulse to visit the last resting place of those we identify with, and mourn, but we must also remember all those worthwhile/gifted/good people who, for whatever reason, never got a place that we could visit and pay respects. I used to tell my children -- much to their horror -- that when I died, I wanted to be driven out to the country and thrown out the door, to be feasted on by feral dogs. I acutally meant it. What I am, what I was, should live after me, if at all, in what I said and did and what I wrote. The rest is (forgotten) history.
Please don't mistake my constant carping for anything more or less than what it is: an attempt to be sure we all remember Sylvia and Ted as they would want to be remembered -- first as poets, and only then as fragile, f*cked-up humans. I honor and respect and appreciate all your comments and hope you take mine the same way.
Thank you, Alisha, for your eloquent post regarding the recent discussion of "Fever 103". I found myself agreeing with much of what you said, and your objectivity is much appreciated.We need more such unbiased feedback on this forum, I think, as many of us...myself included...tend to become impassioned, and perhaps write before we think.
I agree that the subliminal message of "Fever" is just what you said it was, but I maintain that masturbation seems to be the likely metaphor for its expression....if that makes sense.:-)
David, I both agree and disagree with your ideas about death and burial. Certainly what matters, finally, is our memories of the deceased...personal or symbolic; it matters not...and what they left us. I don't think anyone would or could dispute that. Certainly, too, death in the "civilized" world is often ludicrous, as Evelyn Waugh so unforgettably observed in The Loved One. What cannot be denied, however...whatever the presumption behind it...is the sense of closure a final resting place can bring to survivors. Addie Bundren and her children knew it in As I Lay Dying and Laci Peterson's family knew it when her remains came up out of the sea. On the other hand, the relatives of the many dead and missing in the Gulf Coast (to use a current example) might have to come to terms with the opposite...which, of course, was your point. And, ultimately, because "golden lads and girls all must/as chimney swepers, come to dust" you are absolutely right. But I wouldn't go so far as to force that kind of truth on people who do have the option of closure...however transitory it and the world might be in the long run.
As far as Ted's handling of Sylvia's burial goes, I haven't really thought very much about it, as I hadn't been aware that Sylvia had had any specific wishes regarding such matters. What I do think was particularly appalling was the way Ted handled the death in relation to Aurelia Plath and Sylvia's family back in the States...the notorious telegram, the complete lack of say or options he gave them, etc. For example....I don't know, but I'm pretty certain Aurelia Plath would have wanted her child's body shipped back to America, and that she would have gladly covered the cost of that...if, in fact, that were the issue. But, again, I don't know....maybe Plath would have wanted to remain in England. It was certainly clear she had no intentions of returning to America while she was alive.
Lisa A. Flowers
Regarding discussion of "Fever 103," I think it's interesting how many of the interpretations have centered on sexual desire and frustration. I think that these things are definitely elements of this very elemental poem, and it is easy to associate sexuality with the blatant, constant imagery of heat, fire and flame.
However, I feel that we should be careful not to simplify this brilliant poem too much by assuming its express purpose centers on the indulgences of the flesh and baser human instincts. While I believe these things are fragments of the whole, I think this piece is really about a sort of baptism by fire; a rebirth of a pure, refined self through the endurance of (and ultimately, ascension out of) hell.
Jack's posting examined SP's very own interpretation of the poem, stating that "Fever 103" was about "two kinds of fire - the fires of hell...and the fires of heaven. During the poem, the first sort of fire suffers itself into the second." And it's true, that middle ground becomes practically visible in "Fever 103". It' s where those two fires meet and meld that one can feel the poet's retreat into the chrysalis, and subsequently, we feel and see what she becomes. She is proud of her transformation and even invites us (or perhaps, him) to witness (Does not my heat astound you. And my light).
After agonizing through the tribulations and fires of hell, she is sanctified through metamorphosis, and now exempt from any further consumption. She reaches her refined state not only having suffered for and because of love, but also at the impure subjections of the world around her. Having "flickered" through the conversion from mere mortal to pure, untouchable self, she speaks after from a point of enlightenment that has strengthened her beyond the ordinary and facilitated her endurance. At this point, she is still of the world, but not in the world, and has suffered well and good for her cause. She thinks she will rise and therefore does, out of former selves, former loves, and "old whore petticoats." She is no longer stained and subdued by earthly concerns and becomes a "pure acetylene/ Virgin/ Attended...by cherubim." After a long and arduous journey, Plath has transcended her hell miraculously by ascending "To Paradise."
In response to Brianna's idea that the "devilish leopard" in question may be alluding to Assia Wevill, I think that's a good possibility. If so, one may be inclined to think a panther would better suit, as Assia was always referenced by her raven hair and dark features. However, that may have likened her too much to Ted's own kind; he was after all, the "black marauder" of "Pursuit." I think the "radiation" in question is Plath herself; she is radiant, and the radiation of her metamorphosis is untouchable. It can be redemptive or deadly, depending on who's around.
Has anyone ever examined Anne Sexton's "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator" alongside "Fever 103"? Although they are two separate, unique pieces, there is a kind of unifying thematic, a sort of journey through martyrdom and into sainthood. However, I don't at all share the view that "Fever 103" is a masturbation poem.
Christine, I am not aware that there is any copy available of Difficulties of a Bridegroom - the radio play - to read or to listen to although it is possible that contacting the BBC might yield something. It seems like they would have copies of their programming, but whether or not the copies are accessible to the general public or anyone else, I do not know. Sebastian, the short story collection by the same name is not the same as the radio play and is, as you say, readily available, via Amazon.com and other booksellers. Hughes apparently liked the title so much he used it twice. There's something in that, don't you think?!
Elaine, your information on the burial at Heptonstall is quite interesting, and if accurate, rather disappointing. It seems like such a pointless act, to isolate someone's corpse after their death. But then Ted had quite a few superstitions, so there may have been something 'otherworldly' that he wish to isolate or ward off, as dotty as that might sound. It seems he did not wish to have an accessible burial place himself.
David, as a veteran, your view of death, dying and physical bodies must be different from those of us who have never experienced such horrors as one finds in war time. I don;t disagree with you necessarily. But people have always made pilgrammage's to sites where important events took place or to burial sites - not as substitutions for any sort of experience, but to pay respect or show appreciation. In SP's case, I don't think it detracts from the poetry and the work to do so. For me personally, to visit some of the places that Plath saw when she was alive (I've never visited Heptonstall) - the streets she lived on, houses she lived in, the places and things she wrote about - added a dimension to my interest, but certainly would never substitute for reading her work.
Hey David! Loved your recent post, and your thoughts on bodies, burials and grave sites really struck a chord with me. I was however, a bit taken back by your description of Assia Wevill's daughter Shura as "Her murdered kid" it seemed a bit casual and trivializing, (put it down to the mother in me) but I did agree on all counts about your perceptions of what is important and what is not with regard to the thousands in this world who will as you said simply "rot" in the sun.
My father served in WW2 and saw his fair share of decomposing corpses melting in the hot sun and I am sure he would share your common sense opinions in that regard.
It is however simply interesting to contemplate the details of SP's burial as opposed to TH's after death arrangements. I find it odd frankly, that he wasn't buried next to her and that he was instead cremated and his ashes thrown over some moor in his old stomping grounds. I wonder if he or someone else made those specific requests for his after death arrangements. He also could have merely anticipated the vandalism that might and quite probably would have been the fate of his burial site if he were to have been buried in a traditional grave.
I also find myself agreeing with Elaine Connell's idea that he had Sylvia Plath buried in a remote area that she was perhaps not to fond of, as some sort of odd revenge, or at least some manner in which he could exercise some last measure of control over her. A last manner of "There! Do it woman!" He was definitely an odd one, but never uninteresting.
He also could possibly just have been so befuddled with Assia and his children's needs that he didn't give it much thought, and perhaps allowed family or friends to influence him in the choosing of her burial spot. I guess we will never know. As a person of some importance socially, and artistically, it is not hard to understand the interest one may have in the small trifling details that surround the periphery of a persons death and burial arrangements.
I along with Honey Bee find myself consistently interested in these small and minor details, it is like a small bit to the puzzle that you think may aid in better understanding the whole of it.
As a local from 1975 Honeybee, I don't concur with Hughes' ideas about Heptonstall. However, I can see how he may have arrived at that decision from a visit I made to the Calder Valley in 1968 when I was 15 and on a Geography field trip from school in Manchester. I got off the coach, looked at the town, looked at the people and said to my friend, "What a dump. Who'd live here?" Talk about tempting Fate:-)
But the Calder Valley in the 1960's and when Hughes was growing up in it was very different from the area it was by 1975 and what it has become since. It was very industrial, dirty and inhabited by people on low incomes in declining industries and farmers literally eking out a poor and very hard working livelihood in a region with a tough climate. I believe that many people's lives were so hard here that they couldn't see the surrounding beauty when you got above the smoke and dirt of the town.
Hughes wrote of this area in his famous autobiographical piece The Rock that: "everything in West Yorkshire is slightly unpleasant, the people only half born from the stone and the graves too near the surface." I almost suffered from culture shock when I moved only 26 miles away from where I was raised and found a people far more defeatist and gloomy than in my home city.
I think it may have been this cultural and socio-economic background which gave Hughes such a negative view of his home region. When I first moved here very few people had heard of Hughes and of those who had not many had a positive attitude towards the area having produced one of England's leading poets. If people talked about the Hughes' clan they always seemed far more impressed by Ted's maternal Uncle Walter who was a fairly wealthy clothing manufacturer. I also think it is factors like this, along with the lack of sunshine and the cold which made Sylvia feel she was unable to settle here. But the area (and the weather) in more recent years has changed so much that I feel now she'd be very much at home here:-)
David, ignore this message, it's about graves, sorry:-)
Elaine this is fascinating evidence that does offer credence to 'revenge' theories. I guess the burial decision was made in the immediate aftermath and shock of Plath's death and who can say how Hughes' thinking may have been affected at that time, It must have been a fairly simple step to convert any anger he may have felt into a form of "I'll show you" style revenge. It still doesn't equate with the man, though I agree I'm biased.
I'm interested to know whether you concur as a local with his ideas about Heptonstall? I had a flatmate whose parents lived there very happily in a beautiful cottage up the hill back in the 1970's and we had some wonderful holidays there.
Was Hughes statement based on a lifetime of disliking the place or since Plath's burial?
Ah well David, as regards the "misplaced impulse" I often sense that is your function on this forum to home in on these foibles and nail them to the mast for a public flogging so here I stand before this venerable community suitably dealt with.
Except I have to take issue with you I actually do care where people are buried.
We all have a different set of life events to work from and mine are probably...no definitely polarized to yours but no less valid.
I might have a grave-visiting addiction but that's just plain morbid old me!
One of the most interesting and memorable days of recent years was spent with my daughter, then 18, wandering around Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. So you see there really is no hope for me and I've clearly passed on this terrible affliction to my offspring but do I feel wretched? Au contraire, we came home from that visit with me totally reminded of the existence of some wonderful people and my daughter mad keen to get hold of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, to write up her media project on the films of George Melies, find out more about Abelard and Heloise and we were both intrigued about just who Victor Noir was and what was that polished protuberance all about? (I'll let you google that one yourself!)
I don't think you can make sweepingly judgemental statements suggesting that someone has somehow lost sight of the words just because they make a pilgrimage to the grave and expect to survive unchallenged, for many the two go hand in hand.
A visit to a grave can offer a real and focused sense of the person that was (whether they were famous or not, had written books or not) and a renewed regard for their life and work (whatever that may have been) Interestingly not far from Plath's grave was that of Hughes' parents, which set up a whole further raft of thought processes for me in the beautifully quiet and contemplative environment of an English churchyard on a summer's day.
Just call me sentimental but it was a lovely day and even your message hasn't detracted one iota from how memorable it was!
In my book Sylvia Plath: Killing The Angel In The House I stated that Hughes initiated the first of many mysteries about his whole handling of Plath and her reputation by burying her in Heptonstall. An American, resident in London who had previously been living in Devon has her final resting place in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, a place she did not particularly like. For example, Hughes' poem "Stubbing Wharfe" in Birthday Letters documents his unsuccessful attempt to persuade her into living in this part of the world. It was probably far too expensive to ship her body back to the States for burial but she herself presumed that she would buried in the graveyard which adjoins her home in North Tawton. It might even have seemed more logical to bury her in London where she died rather than bringing her body up to Yorkshire.
I have always felt that Hughes put Sylvia's body in Heptonstall as some sort of revenge. A writer friend of mine who was close to Hughes in his life time has often recalled how he once witnessed Hughes banging on a table and declaiming, "No one can be happy in Heptonstall! No-one!" Why choose a place he regarded as so doom laden for his late wife's body then?
Another underlying reason might also have been the comparative inaccessibility of the village. It is almost as if he made a conscious decision to isolate/exile her in death as she had been isolated/exiled from her country and from the metropolic for so much of her married life. Of course it could well be that Hughes believed he might return to the Calder Valley and so decided to bury her there. But he never did make that return.
SP being buried in Heptonstall instead of N Tawton - I have read that TH decided to bury her in Yorkshire, where his family had roots, instead of Devon, where he and SP were newcomers. I believe there was some talk of selling Court Green after her death, but circumstances conspired in such a way that he held on to the property and indeed, lived there (in an on and off way his last years) until his own death. I don't believe that there was any disrespect intended, it simply made sense at the time, not completely unlike what ended up being published as Ariel, if TH is to be believed.
By the way, W.S. Merwin's Summer Doorways - a memoir of his youth - has just been published. There was a brief review in Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Hughes' story Difficulties of a Bridegroom can be found in a collection of Hughes' short fiction of the same title on Amazon.com.Sebastian
Littleton, CO, USA
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Reading the recent posting of "Honeybee", I was reminded of our tendency, as humans, to place great significance on the burial places of our celebrated fellow humans. While I understand the impulse, I think it misplaced. How many worthwhile people have perished from this earth and been left where they fell, unknown and un-remarked? Think of the soldiers from all the wars, and the civilian victims of those wars, many of whom might have gone on to accomplish great deeds or write great poetry. Gone and forgotten, every one. To place value on the burial site of anyone seems to me a slap in the face of all those others. Who cares where Sylvia was buried? Or Ted? Or Assia? Or her murdered kid? Who cares where anybody was buried . . . unless we all are buried with all the pomp and solemnity that we deserve? If any one of us is left in a field to rot, why should anyone else be buried with ceremony and have his/her grave visited/celebrated?
When I served in Viet Nam, I saw lots of corpses that once were human, and I'd be willing to bet that at least some of them wrote poetry and that a few wrote really good poetry -- or might have, if they'd lived. Instead, they were dumped along a riverbank to decay in the sun. If Sylvia and Ted still exist for us, it's because of what they wrote -- and because of the sparks they ignited between them and that strike a spark in us all these years later -- and we should find their immortality, such as it is, in the words they left behind, not in their bones. Visit the sites if you feel the need to, but don't mistake that for an understanding of what they had to say.
I understood that Hughes always expected that he would eventually settle back in the area of Heptonstall/ Hebden Bridge hence Sylvia was buried there. I also visited it recently, was the bee borage still in flower?
Hughes himself was cremated and I think his ashes were scattered on Dartmoor where it is also possible to walk to his granite memorial stone, simply engraved and placed in a very secluded spot at a vantage point from which you can see three of Dartmoor's most beautiful rivers the Teign, Taw and Dart. It's about a 7 mile walk to get to it.Very near to me here and keep meaning to trek out and find it.
Nice to see another Brit on the list!
Continuing Melissa Dobson's Annie Hall analogy, I wish we could bring Plath out of thin air like Marshall McLuhan to wag her finger in all our faces and chastise: "I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong."
Actually, I see where you're coming from, David. "Fever 103" is no doubt about what its title insinuates it's about. But it is also, I think, about masturbation and much more. Though Freud's quote may hold true for many aspects of life...particularly political ones, if I may momentarily digress.... I don't think poetry is ever merely a cigar. Or, if it is, it's a cigar with some very interesting hallucinogenic contents rolled up into it.
To Christine Roberts: I'm not sure about this, but according to Diane Middlebrook, Hughes's "Difficulties Of A Bridegroom" was the inspiration for Plath's poem 'Kindness." I'm not sure where you'd be able to find the story in its entirety, though. Perhaps someone else on the forum could advise. I'd love to read it, myself.
Kate...you're absolutely right...pointing out a major personality flaw does not equal character defamation. I think it's very interesting, too, that Hughes thought of the original "Ariel" as unpublishable. Certainly the poems he chose to omit from it were no more controversial than much of his own work had been, even up to that point (remember Marianne Moore's reservations about The Hawk In The Rain?)
Lisa A. Flowers
Have just visited Sylvia Plath's grave at Heptonstall. Why was she buried there? If this is something to do with Ted Hughes, why isn't he buried there?
David, welcome back. Lisa, I enjoyed your interpretation of "Fever 103" and I feel like you are on the mark. David, could not Plath have meshed both experiences into one poem, the 'mysterious fevers', apparently physical, she said she was suffering from since she and Hughes split and the stark reality of a highly sexed person now left with no outlet (perhaps temporarily, but nonetheless) of a sexual nature other than herself? I don't think that your interpretation or Lisa's (and Lynda's) cancel each other out. Plath seemed to take whatever was at hand to shape her writing, and both of these physical 'pains' may have suffered themselves into one another. Just a thought.
The Grolier Club in NYC is opening a major exhibition on Sept. 14 of archival material from Plath and Hughes collections at Smith and Emory. I just bought the illustrated catalogue and many of the items are duplicated and/or described--photographs, mss. of some of the poems, letters, etc. It's a handsome red book with a photograph of Plath and Hughes on the front.
The exhibition is curated by Karen V. Kukil from Smith and Steve Enniss from Emory and will be there until November 19. The title is "'No Other Appetite': Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and the Blood Jet of Poetry." The title alludes to Hughes's "Lovesong" (a rather frightening poem to my mind about erotic obsession) and Plath's poem "Kindness."
My reason for writing is that over the summer I have been putting down some philosophical aesthetics and poetics. Sounds serious but I studied philosophy at Cambridge and my finals dissertation was the aesthetics of improvisation. I have been dragged into poetics by some personal associations and I ended up writing Nick Drake and the Cambridge Poets - A Transatlantic Agenda. It's what I do on my summer holidays in ancient Lycia.
This year the grand project has been The Sublime of the Small which is currently in 4 parts on my blog
The Sublime of the Small started out as an examination of the Kantian sublime and the question of whether the sublime changed scale in the 20th century - following a suggestion of Ezra Pound. I looked at S Plath, Eva Hesse and Veronica Forrest-Thompson. VFT and I went to some of the same classes at Cambridge.
Lurking behind this is Aldous Huxley. Looking at the Journals I have decided that SP knew her Huxley pretty well - and that she understood the metaphysics which underpin Brave New World - in Spring 1956 she is reading the latest Huxley on mescaline and asceticism.
So - I have become aware of a continuity between Huxley, Huxley's take on his friend D H Lawrence, Sylvia Plath and the Lawrentian revival under F R Leavis at the time SP was in Cambridge and Ted Hughes great metaphysical exploration of Shakespeare - which he said killed him.
Indeed my view is that the issues are still alive and well and are currently being debated in what is called Disturbatory Art - confrontational performance art where the artist puts herself at risk. Indeed you could see SP as an early disturbatory artists.
I tell you all of this - in case you are interested - and in case you know of others ploughing similar tracks.
Well, so much for my self-exile from the Forum. I've been listening in and am concerned about the recent analyses of "Fever 103". Masturbation? Playful? Listen to these lines:
"Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch."
The narrator obviously has a real fever and can't keep anything down.
"My head a moon
Of Japanese paper . . ."
Isn't this what fever feels like? Then she moves the poem into a metaphysical realm:
"I think I am going up,
I think I may rise --"
103 degree fever feels like this. I've been there, and some of you have, too. You feel like you're drifting up, not of this world anymore, maybe ready to die and go to heaven, and your journey to that otherworld means a casting off of all earthly woes:
"Not him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats) --
I think Sylvia was sick and had a high fever and, when she'd recovered, wrote about the experience, taking it to a higher/metaphorical level, as she was inclined to do. And we're all glad she did. As Freud allegedly said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."