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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

Sylvia Plath Found Poems in The Rumpus

I'm absolutely thrilled to share four Sylvia Plath found poems"Nothing in Moderation," "Writing Is a Malady," "Endless Pages," and "Baptized"in The Rumpus! Three of these poems are centered around writing, a prolific topic in Sylvia Plath's journals, while "Baptized" is a rather irreverent poem featuring an unkind God. All four poems were written using paragraphs from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.

Here are the paragraphs with the words I selected in red.

"Nothing in Moderation"

Monday: July 7: I am evidently going through a stage in beginning writing similar to my two months of hysteria in beginning teaching last fall. A sickness, frenzy of resentment at everything, but myself at the bottom. I lie wakeful at night, wake exhausted with that sense of razor-shaved nerves. I must be my own doctor. I must cure this very destructive paralysis & ruinous brooding & daydreaming. If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simple observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin. I shall, perhaps, just begin. I am somewhere in me sure I should write a good ‘book poema day – but that is nonsense – I got wild when I spend a day writing a bad twelve lines – as I did yesterday. My danger, partly, I think, is becoming too dependent on Ted. He is didactic, fanatic – this last I see most when we are with other people who can judge him in a more balanced way that I – such as Leonard Baskin, for example. It is as if I were sucked into a tempting but disastrous whirlpool. Between us there are no barriers – it is rather as if neither of us – or especially myself – had any skin, or one skin between us & kept bumping into and abrading each other. I enjoy it when Ted is off for a bit. I can build up my own inner life, my own thoughts, without his continuous What are you thinking? What are you going to do now?’ which makes me promptly & recalcitrantly stop thinking and doing. We are amazingly compatible. But I must be myself – make myself & not let myself be made by him. He gives orders – mutually exclusive: read ballads an hour, read Shakespeare an hour, read history an hour, think an hour & then ‘you read nothing in hour-bits, read things straight through’. His fanaticism & complete lack of balance & moderation is illustrated by his stiff neck got from his ‘exercises’ – which evidently are strenuous enough to disable him.

"Writing Is a Malady"

Monday night: March 10: Exhausted: is there ever a day otherwise. Alfred Kazin to dinner tonight: he: broken, somehow, embittered & unhappy: greying, his resonance diminished. Lovable still: and he and Ann," his wife too a writer, another couple to speak to in this world. How babies complicate life: he paying also for a son. Ted is queerly sick still: how hopeless, helpless I feel with Ted pale, raggle-haired, miserable-visaged and there no clear malady, no clear remedy. He coughs, sweats, feels sick to his stomach. Pale and sweet and distant he looks. I think: a week from today I shall be resting, rested, and in my "vacation", able for a week to write on a poem for days, without feeling assignments too near: only 8 weeks of poetry to prepare, seventy papers to correct, and all Melville to read, which should be joy, of sorts. A Rousseau poem: a green-leaved world. With the naked lady on her red velvet couch in the jungle's middle: how close to this I come. Today, all I feel like doing is sleep. I fall on the bed, drugged, with this queer sickish greeny-vinous fatigue. Drugged, gugged, stogged and sludged with weariness. My life is a discipline, a prison: I live for my own work, without which I am nothing. My writing. Nothing matters but Ted, Ted's writing & my writing. Wise, he is, and I, too, growing wiser. We will remold, melt & remold our plans to give us better writing space. My nails are splitting and chipping. A bad sign. I suppose I really haven't had a vacation all year: Thanksgiving a black-wept nightmare & Christmas the low blow of pneumonia and since then a struggle to keep health. Almost asleep in Newton's class: must be up early, to laundry & to steal more pink pads of paper tomorrow. Kazin: at home with us, talking of reviews: his life: a second wife, blonde & he being proud of her, touchingly. What is a life where in one dreams of Fisher, furtive, in pink & gaudy purple & green houses, and Dunn & racks & racks of dresses.

"Endless Pages"

Now it is near ten, and the morning yet untried, unbroken. The feeling one must get up earlier and earlier to get ahead of the day, which by one o'clock is determined. Last night: finished "The Waves", which disturbed, almost angered by the endless sun, waves, birds, and the strange uneveness of description - - - a heavy, ungainly ugly sentence next to a fluent, pure running one. But then the hair-raising fineness of the last 50 pages: Bernard's summary, an essay on life, on the problem: the deadness of a being to whom nothing can happen, who no longer creates, creates, against the casting down. That moment of illumination, fusion, creation: We made this: against the whole falling apart, away, and the coming again to make and make in the face of the flux: making of the moment something of permanence. That is the life-work. I underlined & underlined: reread that. I shall go better than she. No children until I have done it. My health is making stories, poems, novels, of experience: that is why, or, rather, that is why it is good, that I have suffered & been to hell, although not to all the hells. I cannot life for life itself: but for the words which stay the flux. My life, I feel, will not be lived until there are books and stories which relive it perpetually in time. I forget too easily how it was, and shrink to the horror of the here and now, with no past and no future. Writing breaks open the vaults of the dead and the skies behind which the prophesying angels hide. The mind makes and makes, spinning its web.


Lying on my stomach on the flat warm rock, I let my arm hang over the side, and my hand caressed the rounded contours of the sun-hot stone, and felt the smooth undulations of it. Such a heat the rock had, such a rugged and comfortable warmth, that I felt it could be a human body. Burning through the material of my bathing suit, the great heat radiated through my body, and my breasts ached against the hard flat stone. A wind, salty and moist, blew damply in my hair; through a great glinting mass of it I could see the blue twinkle of the ocean. The sun seeped into every pore, satiating every querulous fiber of me into a great glowing golden peace. Stretching out on the rock, body taut, then relaxed, on the altar, I felt that I was being raped deliciously by the sun, filled full of heat from the impersonal and colossal god of nature. Warm and perverse was the body of my love under me, and the feeling of his carved flesh was like no other - not soft, not malleable, not wet with sweat, but dry, hard, smooth, clean and pure. High, bonewhite, I had been washed by the sea, cleansed, baptised, purified, and dried clean and crisp by the sun. Like seaweed, brittle, sharp, strong-smelling - like stone, rounded, curved, oval, clean - like wind, pungent, salty - like all these was the body of my love. An orgiastic sacrifice on the altar of rock and sun, and I arose shining from the centuries of love, clean and satiated from the consuming fire of his casual and timeless desire.

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