NPM: Sylvia Plath

It should be a requirement of all angsty adolescent girls to read and adore Sylvia Plath. Like I did. I wrote lines from her poems all over my notebooks and school things: “like the cat I have nine times to die

Dying / Is an art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well. / I do it so it feels like hell. / I do it so it feels real.

Out of the ash /I rise with my red hair /And I eat men like air.”

I forget sometimes how poignant Plath is, having permanently associated her with my teen years. I wonder what her last book of poetry would have looked like had her estranged widower, Ted Hughes, not destroyed it.

Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

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

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart–
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr god, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

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8 comments for “NPM: Sylvia Plath

  1. April 9, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    Now if they could just take Sylvia’s words and put them to music.

    Then they’d have something.

  2. April 9, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    Femiste mate

    Women like different things and see things differently to men, especially the concept of life (and death, apparently).
    I feel it’s women’s stronger connection to the realities of existence e.g. conceiving, carrying, delivering and caring for children on the most intimate of levels carries insights and intuitions that men can’t share. That said, there’s always that old saying ‘How do we know God has a sense of humour? Because She gave women PMT, childbirth and men for companions.”

  3. April 10, 2005 at 1:54 am

    Is it wrong that I still adore Plath, even though I’ve kind of grown out of my teenage agnst? The worst of it, hopefully, now that I’m 20. I find myself getting laughed at (especially by my English major guy friends) for liking her so much, but there is something that just rings so true about some of the things she writes about in her poems. Similiar to the feeling I get with some of the music I listen to, something just clicks and the whole world seems to make a bit more sense, and *my* perception of the world changes just that little bit as well. It’s odd.

    And all this thinking about it is making my wine-addled brain more fuzzy.

  4. April 10, 2005 at 11:47 am

    I think the fact she’s such a teen angst cliche has put me off, I just read most of her work and think “livejournal…”

    Perhaps the compulsory studying of her short story “Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit” at 14 also had something to do it; there’s only so much dramatic use of alliteration and assonance I can take.

  5. Nancy
    April 10, 2005 at 11:52 am

    As someone concerned about the high suicide rate among teens, I do not think that reading The Bell Jar is something to recommend to “angsty” teen age girls. I think Plath models terrible coping behavior, plus, her self indulgence is something teens already have too much of without it being validated in an adult woman. Regardless of her merits as a poet, psychologists are finding that rumination increases depression. I realize that Plath is something of an icon, but I have no admiration for how she solved her problems. Do we really want to teach teen age girls to feel victimized by their own relationships and choices? I read Plath as an angsty teen, because everyone else did, and was horrified by her. Teens want hope not desperation. Most kids won’t be affected by reading Plath, one way or the other, but there are more than a few who don’t need this.

  6. April 10, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    There is no shame in liking Plath–for all her over-dramatics, she is a brilliant poet. Period. The men in your class who mock you, jhezika, are participating in the age-old sexist behavior of dog-piling on a female poet rather than admit that a woman could be (gasp!) one of the best poets of the 20th century

  7. April 10, 2005 at 6:19 pm

    OT, totally. Lauren, I have given you the horrible book meme! So sorry. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, of course, but I had to pass the stick on! Details are on my blog for Sunday.


    So sorry, once again.

  8. April 13, 2005 at 12:22 am

    I read Plath when I was an angsty teen and survived. I intensely admire her poetry and that of her husband Ted Hughs who described them once as both playing the part of Caliban in The Tempest.

    A very true account of how mental illness affects a whole family, how everyone ends up crazy if it is not understood and cared for.

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