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Sylvia Plath Community
Celebrating Sylvia.  
27th-Oct-2011 10:31 pm
Sylvia Plath I Waltzing Stars
I know the comm. is pretty much dead as of late (which is very sad) but I felt like posting for the first time, since today would have been her 79th birthday.

I've been thinking about Sylvia's poetry quite a lot lately. I wanted to ask all of my fellow fans - how has she changed your life, your views on literature and poetry? I feel eternally grateful to Sylvia for inspiring me to become a confessional poet myself. Her works saved me during difficult years in my life. When I discovered her works at age 13, I was astounded and a little taken aback at the sheer genius of them... and by age 15, I was in love.

I actually did an appreciation post with my thoughts on her work and her life in honor of her birthday, and I wanted to share it here ;)

The Bell Jar

This is a sensational novel about depression. Even the style of writing is very bleak, and melancholic. I first read it at 13, and was so disturbed I barely finished it. I re-read it at 15, and found I could connect with many of the feelings that Sylvia expressed on the world through her character, Esther Greenwood. The distaste for sexism, the feelings of inexplicable sadness over what seem to be so simple and easy to others (like her internship, and life in the city, and dating). I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a grasp on what major depression is like. The entire symbol of the bell jar is incredible, and Plath was genius to invent such a metaphor - being depressed is like being trapped in a bell jar, smothering with your own negativity.


"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.'"
- Chapter 8

"Doctor Nolan said, quite bluntly, that a lot of people would treat me gingerly, or even avoid me, like a leper with a warning bell. My mother's face floated to mind, a pale reproachful moon, at her last and first visit to the asylum since my twentieth birthday. A daughter in an asylum! I had done that to her."
- Chapter 20


This book of poetry is a haunting inspiration to me. Many of Sylvia's best works are included in this anthology, including "Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy". It screams tragedy, power, and pain. It's harsh, unrelenting, and beautifully written. Facing death and life fearlessly, this book shows Sylvia's growth as a poet. This was written with death's kiss.


And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
- Lady Lazarus

The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
- Edge

The Journals

Reading Sylvia's journal was actually very peaceful, and painfully sad. The woman behind moving feminist works filled with such a deeply cultivated genius, was very lonely and troubled - often intensely introspective and lonely, she seemed to feel as if she were peering at others from the outside in, and that she often fell short of her own expectations. Reading the journals made her seem so human to me, and vulnerable. I felt a great empathy for Sylvia. And her observations are extremely, extremely intelligent. Yet even when she wrote her journals, she sounded poetic. It amazes me.


“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that - I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much - so very much to learn.”

Ted Hughes

What is it about their relationship that is so intriguing? After reading many biographies about their life together (as well as observing an adaption of it on the silver screen in Sylvia, which was somewhat poor) I've come to the conclusion that Sylvia did love and care for her husband, but was deeply wounded by his indiscretions.

Their relationship was the type we often see today, one of volatile, great passion, a lot of instability; one that burns intensely and fades just as quickly. It seemed to be filled with enlightening ups and depressive downs. It was a tragic union. Ted was at fault for treating Sylvia like an indestructible object, and not being more faithful and compassionate to her. Ultimately this would have prolonged her life, though I doubt it would have kept her forever from suicide. And that is the saddest thing of all. 

28th-Oct-2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
I just always feel safe and at home inside the vast landscape of her work; like someone is listening and there for me when I need them. "The Moon and the Yew Tree" and the line "I have fallen a long way" comfort me when I feel like I'm not a writer. I don't know, it's hard to explain.
28th-Oct-2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
I completely agree. Sylvia's poetry can be very saddening, yet at the same time when I read her work I feel consoled, contemplative and very peaceful. I love the structure and style of her work because I can become so completely immersed in every single poem. And as you said, so many of her poems make me feel understood... less guilty about my own weaknesses and failures. I get you :)
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28th-Oct-2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
Isn't The Bell Jar so great for that reason? I love books that you can easily re-read many times, and still thoroughly enjoy. There are few books for me besides TBJ that are like that.

That's definitely one of the best aspects of her work. How she faced life, and all of its maladies and disturbing things, head-on without trying to be careful or conventional. Sylvia was definitely powerful in this aspect, and very feminist also.

I agree. Ariel was fueled with so much resentment, a hidden power and a profound sadness, which was of course largely due to her relationship with Ted. But sometimes, I think I almost would have rather she'd been successfully treated and lived contently than written the poems and died. Maybe that's selfish or pointless... but I feel an intense empathy for her.
28th-Oct-2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
dear sylvia...

i feel she is a kindred spirit, ever since i first read a poem of hers. she has allowed me, as a poet, to write in such a way where what i have to say is no one's business, and yet everyone's.

her bee poems are my favorites. i re-read them constantly. i like some of her more obscure poems, like the hanging man and berck-plage, but every single poem i have read of hers touches me.

i have her unabridged journal and letters home and like you, they divulge a sylvia we all want to know and love.
and in fact, the little everyman's book you picture here is in my purse. it goes everywhere with me.

i wish we could revive this comm- i'd be happy to contribute.

28th-Oct-2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
I love her bee poems too :) She wrote one on my birthday, and I read it every year. They definitely stood out to me as something brilliantly strange in her poetry collection when I first read it.

I love those everyman poetry books. I have the Sylvia one for myself, and gave a copy to my best friend :)

I say we try to do so. This community is worthy of a wonderful revival!

28th-Oct-2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
i wonder if the maintainer of the comm is still active and if they might consider handing it over... i'd be happy to do it with some help.
you're right- it is worth a revival!
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28th-Oct-2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
Ah, thank you very much :'D

19 isn't too late! Many of my relatives in their 30s and beyond know very little of her work. Some really don't know her at all, which stings terribly...

Her gifts were rare, indeed. Especially for the time period she was living in. I always said that if Sylvia had been born even just 15 years later, she would have been more accepted for her work... though I'm glad she helped spur the feminist movement in literature.
28th-Oct-2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
I discovered Sylvia, ironically enough while in a mental hospital. Someone there lent me The Bell Jar, and the copy I read had her poem "Mad Girl's Love Song" in the back of it. I thought the poem was brilliant so I read The Bell Jar and adored it. I have a very large collection of books about Sylvia Plath and also of her own works. I love her poetry the most though.

Her writing has definitely helped me through some hard times!
29th-Oct-2011 12:10 am (UTC)
I'm glad that Sylvia's works helped you get through difficult times also. I think that her poetry especially has a very magnetic, soothing quality to it... where as you read it, you just feel so understood!
1st-Nov-2011 07:41 am (UTC)
Great post! :)
8th-Dec-2011 10:51 am (UTC)
She has not changed my life. But much of her work helped me through various difficult times I've had, particularly when growing up. There was strife in my life that I couldn't express to anyone (not having the tools, really) and the way she wrote, and the example she set, provided emotional vents when I needed them, I suppose. Much, much more frequently than other poetry did. She did not mince words, especially at the end, which was a great comfort to me; like finding a sympathetic friend, but one who really knows, not one who likes to pretend for art's sake or fame's sake or whatever. As I said, especially in her final poems. She has also influenced the tone of some of the things I do myself; in that I too, like to get to the heart of the matter right away. I want to hit hard, and I think her work taught me a great deal in how to accomplish this.
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