sylvia plath found poems
To write these poems, I select a paragraph from a Plath text—so far, The Bell Jar, Letters Home, and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath—and only use the words from that paragraph to create a poem. I essentially write poems while doing a word search using Sylvia Plath as source material. I don’t allow myself to repeat words, add words, or edit the language for tense or any other consideration. These poems are simultaneously defined by both Plath’s choices with language as well as my own. Plath's preoccupation with poetry, writing, relationships, and mental health have proven fruitful and resulted in poems that feel authentic to my own experiences.
My published Plath found poems are paired here with the paragraphs I've used to write each one. The words I used from each paragraph are in red.
Very depressed today. Unable to write a thing. Menacing gods. I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass. Caught between the hope and promise of my work - - - the one or two stories that seem to catch something, the one or two poems that build a little colored island of words - - - and the hopeless gap between that promise, and the real world of other peoples poems and stories and novels. My shaping spirit of imagination is far from me. At least I have begun my German. Painful, as if “part were cut out of my brain”. I am of course at fault. Anesthetizing myself again, and pretending nothing is there. There is the curse of this vanity. My inability to lose myself in a character, a situation. Always myself, myself. What good does it do to be published, if I am producing nothing? If only a group of people were more important to me than the Idea of a Novel, I might begin a novel. Little artificial stories that get nothing of the feeling, the drama even of life. When they should be realer, more intense than life. And I am prepared for nothing else. Am dead already. Pretend an interest in astrology, botany, which I never follow up. When I go home I must teach myself the Tarot pack, the stars, German conversation. Add French to my studying. This comes so natural to some people. Ted is my salvation. He is so rare, so special, how could anyone else stand me! Of course, otherwise I might get a PhD, teach in New York, or work at a career. It is hard, with our unplanned drifting, to do much in this way.
The reason that I haven't been writing in this book for so long is partly that I haven't had one decent coherent thought to put down. My mind is, to use a disgustingly obvious simile, like a wastebasket full of waste paper; bits of hair, and rotting apple cores. I am feeling depressed from being exposed to so many lives, so many of them exciting, new to my realm of experience. I pass by people, grazing them on the edges, and it bothers me. I've got to admire someone to really like them deeply - to value them as friends. It was that way with Ann: I admired her wit, her riding, her vivacious imagination - all the things that made her the way she was. I could lean on her as she leaned on me. Together the two of us could face anything - only not quite anything, or she would be back. And so she is gone, and I am bereft for awhile. But what do I know of sorrow? No one I love has ever died or been tortured. I have never wanted for food to eat, or a place to sleep. I have been gifted with five senses and an attractive exterior. So I can philosophize from my snug little cushioned seat. So I am going to one of the most outstanding colleges in America; I am living with two thousand of the most outstanding girls in the United States. What have I to complain about? Nothing much. The main way I can add to my self-respect is by saying that I'm on scholarship, and if I hadn't exercised my free will and studied through high school I never would be here. But when you come right down to it, how much of that was free will? How much was the capacity to think that I got from my parents, the home urge to study and do well academically, the necessity to find an alternative for the social world of boys and girls to which I was forbidden acceptance? And does not my desire to write come from a tendency toward introversion begun when I was small, brought up as I was in the fairy-tale world of Mary Poppins and Winnie-the-Pooh? Did not that set me apart from most of my school mates? - the fact that I got all A's and was "different" from the roughand-tumble Conways - how I am not quite sure, but "different" as the animal with the touch of human hands about him when he returns to the herd. All this may be a subtle way of egoistically separating myself from the common herd, but take it for what it's worth. As for free will, there is such a narrow crack of it for man to move in, crushed as he is from birth by environment, heredity, time and event and local convention. If I had been born of Italian parents in one of the caves in the hills I would be a prostitute at the age of 12 or so because I had to live (why?) and that was the only way open. If I was born into a wealthy New York family with pseudo-cultural leanings, I would have had my coming-out party along with the rest of them, and be equipped with fur coats, social contacts, and a blase pout. How do I know? I don't; I can only guess. I wouldn't be I. But I am I now; and so many other millions are so irretrievably their own special variety of "I" that I can hardly bear to think of it. I: how firm a letter; how reassuring the three strokes: one vertical, proud and assertive, and then the two short horizontal lines in quick, smug succession. The pen scratches on the paper... I... I... I... I... I... I.
"Assault and Battery" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | Shō Poetry Journal (forthcoming)
Now I am not sure about that letter I sent. Not sure at all. For was I not the one who acquiesced, mutely responsive and receptive? Was I not guilty of letting a boy be drawn to self-hatred? And yet does it not all come again to the fact that it is a man's world? For if a man chooses to be promiscuous, he may still aesthetically turn up his nose at promiscuity. He may still demand a woman be faithful to him, to save him from his own lust. But women have lust, too. Why should they be relegated to the position of custodian of emotions, watcher of the infants, feeder of soul, body and pride of man? Being born a woman is my awful tragedy. From the moment I was conceived I was doomed to sprout breasts and ovaries rather than penis and scrotum; to have my whole circle of action, thought and feeling rigidly circumscribed by my inescapable feminity. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars - to be a part of scene, anonomous, listening, recording - all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night ...
Tonight, for a moment, all was at peace inside. I came out of the house-across -the-street a little before twelve, sick with unfulfilled longing, alone, self-reviling. And there, miraculously was the August night. It had just rained, and the air was thick with warm damp and fog. The moon, full, pregnant with light, showed strangely from behind the small frequent clouds, poised like a picture puzzle that had been broken, with light in back, outlining each piece. There seemed to be no wind, but the leaves of the trees stirred, restless, and the water fell from them in great drops on the pavement, with a sound like that of people walking down the street. There was the peculiar smell of mould, dead leaves, decay, in the air. The two lights over the front steps were haloed with a hazy nimbus of mist, and strange insects fluttered up against the screen, fragile, wing-thin and blinded, dazed, numbed by the brilliance. Lightning, heat lightning flicked off and on, as if some stage hand were toying with the light switch. Two crickets, deep in the cracks in the granite steps, sang a sweet, haunting-thin trill. And because it was my home, I loved them. The air flowed about me like thick molasses, and the shadows from the moon and street lamp split like schizophrenic blue phantoms, grotesque and faintly repetitious.
Thursday: June 17:" After two days of no-schedule, disrupted by our seeing Baskins, Rodman" & the intolerable stuffy lazy Clark's with their mean, mealymouthed Quakerism, I sit down on a clear cold sunny day with nothing to beef at except the slick sick feeling which won't leave. It comes & goes. I feel I could crack open mines of life - in my daily writing sketches, in my reading & planning, if only I could get rid of my absolutist panic. I have, continually, the sense that this time is invaluable, & the opposite sense that I am paralyzed to use it: or will use it wastefully & blindly. I have all the world's reading on my back, instead of a possible book a day. I must discipline myself to concentrate on certain authors, certain fields, lest I welter, knowing nothing and everything. Across the street there is the chink, chunk of hammers on nails, the tap of hammers on wood. Men are on the scaffolding. I am neither a no-nothing nor a bohemian, but I find myself wishing, wishing, to have a corner of my own: something I can know about, write about well. All I have ever read thins and vanishes: I do not amass, remember. I shall this year work for steady small growth, nothing spectacular, & the ridding of this panic. The windows shake in their sockets from some unheard detonation. Ted says they are breaking the sound barrier. Somewhere I have a vision, not of thwarting, of meanness, but of fulness, of a maturer, riper placidity, a humor to bear nightmare, an ordering, reshaping faculty which steadies & fears not. A housewife - with children & writing & reading in the midst of business, but fully, with good friends who are makers in some way. The more I do, the more I can do. I should choose first the few things I wish to learn: German, poets & poetry, novels & novelists, art & artists. French also. Are they making or breaking across the street there? All fears are figments: I make them up.
"Day by Day" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | Shō Poetry Journal (forthcoming)
Last night Ted & I did PAN for the first time in America. We were rested, warm, happy in our work & the overturned brandy glass responded admirably, oddly, often with charming humor. Even if our own hot subconscious pushes it (It says, when asked, that it is "like us"), we had more fun than a movie. There are so many questions to ask it. I wonder how much is our own intuition working, and how much queer accident, and how much 'my father's spirit.' PAN informed us my book of poems will be published by Knopf, not World (They are 'liars' at World - a strange note: do I feel this?) Also: fifty poems for my book. We will have two sons before we have a girl & should name the boys Owen, or Gawen, the girl Rosalie. Pan recited a poem of his own called 'Moist', stated his favorite poem of Ted's is "Pike" ("I like fish", and of mine is "Mussel-Hunter" ("Kolossus likes it.") Kolossus is Pan's "family god." He advises me to 'lose myself in reading' when depressed (it's the 'hot weather') and claims my novel will be about love, & I should start writing it in November. Among other penetrating observations, Pan said I should write on the poem-subject 'Lorelei' because they are my 'Own Kin'. So today, for fun, I did so, remembering the plaintive German song mother used to play & sing to us beginning "Ich weiss nicht was soil es bedenten ... "The subject appealed to me doubly (or triply): the German legend of the Rhine sirens, the Sea-Childhood symbol, and the deathwish involved in the song's beauty. The poem devoured my day, but I feel it is a book poem & am pleased with it. Must agonizingly begin prose - an irony, this paralysis, while day by day I do poems - and also other reading - or I will be unable to speak human speech, lost as I am in my inner wordless Sargasso.
"Diminished, Day and Night" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | Shō Poetry Journal (forthcoming)
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.
I have never in my life, except that deadly summer of 1953, & fall, gone through such a black lethal two weeks. I couldn't write a word about it, although I did in my head. The horror, day by day more sure, of being pregnant. Remembering my growing casualness about contraception, as if it couldn't happen to me then: clang, clang, one door after another banged shut with the overhanging terror which, I know now, would end me, probably Ted, and our writing & our possible impregnable togetherness. The glittering and coming realities: my job at Smith, which I need more than anything to give me a sense of reality, or serving, specifically, from day to day, and meeting minds & working & practising with them; our apartment in Northampton which we'd have to leave because of the baby; our future, Ted with no job, me with no job, the avalanche of bills putting us into debt, and, worst of all, hating and hating the intruder when, four years from now, say, we could be the best parents possible. Also, the idea of 20 years of misery and a child being unloved, as it inadvertently, through our fault, killed our spiritual and psychic selves by freezing them into a stasis out of the necessity of sacrificing everything to earning money. This we lived in, sickly, from day to day, counting the days over the longest times I'd gone: 35 days, 40 days, and then the crying sessions in the doctor's office, the blood test Sunday, in avalanches of rain & thunder, riding the streaming roads, up to our knees on our bikes in the dips filling inch by inch with rainwater, drenched to the skin, bent to break under the lightning. I pictured final judgment on a bridge: a thundercrack & last pyre of electricity. But nothing happened. Nothing, till Monday when, after a busy, deceptive morning of shopping, I sat at the typewriter and the hot drench itself began, the red stain dreamed for and longed for during the white sterile ominous minutes of the six weeks. And the swearing to whatever gods or fates there be, that I would never complain or bewail anything as long as the baby didn't come: the ultimate worst, aside from physical mutilations and sicknesses and deaths, or the loss of love.
A morbid fear: that protests too much. To the doctor. I am going to the psychiatrist this week, just to meet him, to know he's there. And, ironically, I feel I need him. I need a father. I need a mother. I need some older, wiser being to cry to. I talk to God, but the sky is empty, and Orion walks by and doesn't speak. I feel like Lazarus: that story has such a fascination. Being dead, I rose up again, and even resort to the mere sensation value of being suicidal, of getting so close, of coming out of the grave with the scars and the marring mark on my cheek which (is it my imagination) grows more prominent: paling like a death-spot in the red, wind-blown skin, browning darkly in photographs, against my grave winter-pallor. And I identify too closely with my reading, with my writing. I am Nina in "Strange Interlude"; I do want to have husband, lover, father and son, all at once. And I depend too desperately on getting my poems, my little glib poems, so neat, so small, accepted by the New Yorker. To revenge myself on the blonde one, as if the mere paper dykes of print can keep out the creative flood which annihilates all envy, all mere niggling fearful jealousy. Be generous.
Now enough factual background statement. He and I: sat in the living room, at Rahar's," at the coffee shop" and talked and did-not-talk as we pleased. He hates sitting: likes to talk walking. (N.B also) He sat next to me with his arm around me, warm and close and comfortable. Kissed me, too. Long and goodly saturday we stood on the porch in the rain, him pulling me against his body, and shutting his eyes and kissing me gently and for a long time, with his mouth moving softly on mine. I think I am a good deal more experienced in varieties of kisses than he is: I better be careful I don't shock him or make him think he needs more experience, because I like him this way, and perhaps subtly I can let him know how other ways I like to be kissed. He also carries me places in his arms, and I feel so feminine and light, even with my cast, it is so good to let the world black out quite and the equilibrium tilt inside my head: the carrying is a symbol of his virility: to me. Why do I like him so: more so than dick (so I don't even want to go up and see dick at the end of February)? He is like me in many ways: even the attitude about marriage, unromantic, practical, and reasonable, is like mine. In the long run, that is good, if difficult. I have a rather peculiar feeling that if I use my intelligence and pragmatism that I can become desirable and necessary to him. Maybe that is a damn illusion. Even though he says he is against the attitude that a woman is a prize possession, he likes them good-looking, and pretty intelligent. How do I like men? Hell, depends for what purpose. Everything from the worldly roué to the young innocent. But in the long run, I like not having to worry about what money can buy (sort of let's out teachers, even though they do live in academic circles & have summers off.) I like keen intelligence and intellectual curiosity: probably a professional man: doctor, lawyer, engineer, would do the trick. And a lot more. Giant, superman: mental and physical. He is these. Physically he meets all requirements (clearer skin is the only possible flaw.) Mentally, he is pretty great. The only terrible thing is: I am not sure I will ever know him really: I must see him in a lot of situations before I decide how he reacts, how he is inside. But somehow I am forcibly drawn to him. His lacks: no "family" prestige, etc., bother me not a whit. After all, having none myself, that sort of thing isn't important. Hell, I guess I just like him quite alot!
…I don't believe there is life after death in the literal sense. I don't believe my individual ego or spirit is unique and important enough to wake up after burial and soar to bliss and pink clouds in heaven. If we leave the body behind as we must, we are nothing. All that makes me different from Betty Grable is my skin, my mind, my time and my environment. All that separates me from being Thomas Mann is that I was born in America, and not in his home town of Lubeck; that I am a girl, he a man; that he was inheritor of a particular set of glands and a lump of brain tissue which are tuned differently from mine. He is different now. But he will die. Sinclair Lewis died: the shriveled face leered from the newspaper picture, and I remembered Carol of Main Street, Martin Arrowsmith, and Doctor Gottlieb. Sinclair is now slowly decomposing in his tomb. The spark went out; the hand that wrote, the optical and auditory nerves that recorded, the brain folds that recreated - - - all are limp, flaccid, rotting now. Edna St. Vincent Millay is dead - and she will never push the dirt from her tomb and see the apple-scented rain in slanting silver lines, never. George Bernard Shaw is dead - and the wit has been snuffed out, the light is gone. Do vegetarians rot more rapidly than meat-eaters? But they left something - and other people will feel part of what they felt. But you can never recreate completely, and they are dead. The human mind is so limited it can only build an arbitrary heaven - and usually the physical comforts they endow it with are naively the kind that can be perceived as we humans perceive - nothing more. No: perhaps I will awake to find myself burning in hell. I think not. I think I will be snuffed out. Black is sleep; black is a fainting spell; and black is death, with no light, no waking. And how I bleed for all the individuals on the battle fields - who thought "I am I, and I know this, that there is dying with no one knowing." I know a little how it must be - to feel the waters close above you for the third time, and to feel the internal juice sapping away, leaving you empty. To have your mind broken, and the contents evaporated, gone. For with the record of images we have ingrained in our heads, all goes and is nothing. Antoine St. Exupery once mourned the loss of a man and the secret treasures that he held inside him. I loved Exupery; I will read him again, and he will talk to me, not being dead, or gone. Is that life after death - mind living on paper and flesh living in offspring? Maybe. I do not know.
Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can't, or won't, come clear with a plot. Must put poetry aside & begin a story tomorrow, today was useless, a wash of exhaustion after the bird. Always excuses. I wrote what I consider a 'book poem' about my runaway ride in Cambridge on the horse Sam: a 'hard' subject for me, horses alien to me, yet the dare-devil change in Sam & my hanging on god knows how is a kind of revelation: it worked well. Hard as my little gored picador poem was hard. But now I can't write as I used to - generally, philosophically, with "thoughts that found a mare of mermaid hair / tangling in the tide's green fall". - I have to write my "Lorelei" - to present the mermaids, invoke them. Make them real. I write my good poems too fast - they are on objects, not themes, thus concrete, limited. Good enough, but I must extend. I must start outlining a story plot: obviously it takes time - I half expect to fly to the typewriter & begin. Central conflict - my life is full of it. Start there. Marriage: Courtship. Jealousy. Settings I know: try Wellesley - suburbia. Cambridge apartment: Lou Healy, Sat Eve Post style. Jealousy: sister of newlywed husband. Poor poet. Couple divided over baby: why fear? Not like other men. Suburban neighborhood. I have fragments. Vignettes. Mrs. Spaulding is a story herself. I must note backgrounds jobs against which my people can move. Plagiarism in college. Young teacher. Decision to make. Start with that: 15 to 20 pages a week. Why not? Ambivalent position. Romance involved. Campus setting. I know this. Make a page of story plots & subjects tomorrow. That's what - a paragraph on each - style & sort. Also several on "The Return". Use Baskin. Ho ho. Everyone here. Aaron's cocktail party. S —, James & Joan triangle. From whose point of view? Think, Think. Study sympathy point of view - emotional center –
“I Have a Vision for My Poems” | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | The Indianapolis Review
Jealous one I am, green-eyed, spite-seething. Read the six women poets in the "new poets of england and america." Dull, turgid. Except for May Swenson & Adrienne Rich, not one better or more-published than me. I have the quiet righteous malice of one with better poems than other women's reputations have been made by. Wait till June. June? I shall fall rust-tongued long before then. Somehow, to write poems, I need all my time forever ahead of me - no meals to get, no books to prepare. I plot, calculate: twenty poems now my nucleus. Thirty more in a bigger, freer, tougher voice: work on rhythms mostly, for freedom, yet sung, delectability of speaking as in succulent chicken. No coyness, archaic cutie tricks. Break on them in a year with a book of forty or fifty - a poem every ten days. Prose sustains me. I can mess it, mush it, rewrite it, pick it up any times - rhythms are slacker, more variable, it doesn't die so soon. So I will try reworking summer stuff: The Falcon Yard chapter. Yet it is a novel chapter somehow: slack, uncritical, too many characters in it. Must make some conflict. I am at least making more minor characters come alive: Mrs. Guinea, Miss Minchell, Hamish. Must avoid the exotico-romantico-glory-glory slop. Get in gem-bright details. What is my voice? Woolfish, alas, but tough. Please, tough, without any moral other than that growth is good. Faith too is good. I am too a puritan at heart. I see the back of the black head of a stranger dark against the light of the livingroom, band of white collar, black sweater, black trousers & shoes. He sighs, reads out of my vision, a floorboard creaks under his foot. This one I have chosen & am forever wedded to him.
August 2.8: Thursday: A chill clear morning. Yesterday's anger has clearer, finer edges now: I could have said more than I did better than I did, but in four days we will be off & all here will lose its emotional tension & become a flat memory only, to be ordered, embellished by the chameleon mind. Dreamed last night I was beginning my novel- "What is there to look to?" Dody Ventura said - a beginning conversation - then, a sentence, a paragraph, inserted first of all of description to 'place', to 'set' the scene: a girl's search for her dead father - for an outside authority which must be developed, instead, from the inside. Midnight: still tired, but curiously elated, as if absolved from suffocation - projects bubble: Boston & our flat seems as fine, finer than Widow Mangada's Mediterranean hideout or our Paris Left Bank room. Suddenly I like people, can be nice, natural. We lolled over supper: cold chicken, summer squash, cabbage - sat in the twilit rose garden - a cricket chirred from the ivy on the stone wall, stone flagstones between which grass grew long, roses of pink and yellow, color gone in the grey blueing twilight to a faintly luminous pallor, the fountain plinking, five arcs on the summer house temple, the stone lionhead set in the wall, a ferocious grimace set in stone. I think I am growing more casual - am I? Or is this a lull in a merry go round of panic blackouts, to take all for what it is & delight in the small pleasures - a good dog poem by Ted: a green afternoon with Esther Baskin & Tobias under the trees, apples fallen, rotting on the ground, reading her essay of the bat, Ted's proof of the pike poem - Tobias blond, pink, cherubic, smiling, crowing, crawling, taking the papers from my purse & scattering them about - an atmosphere of books, poems, wood engravings, statues. Tea & cookies at the Clarkes - they opening up, mimicking Mary's father - Mr. Godfrey, the old drunken lawyer in the condemned house nextdoor, the boys who threw his mother's picture out of the window, his pillows & all his law books - no heat, no water he had.
“I Wanted a Nice Life” | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
– Now I’ll never see him again, and maybe it’s a good thing. He walked out of my life last night for once and for all. I know with sickening certainty that it’s the end. There were just those two dates we had, and the time he came over with the boys, and tonight. Yet I liked him too much - - - way too much, and I ripped him out of my heart so it wouldn’t get to hurt me more than it did. Oh, he’s magnetic, he’s charming; you could fall into his eyes. Let’s face it: his sex appeal was unbearably strong. I wanted to know him - - - the thoughts, the ideas behind the handsome, confident, wise-cracking mask. “I’ve changed,” he told me. “You would have liked me three years ago. Now I’m a wiseguy.” We sat together for a few hours on the porch, talking, and staring at nothing. Then the friction increased, centered. His nearness was electric in itself. “Can’t you see,” he said. “I want to kiss you.” So he kissed me, hungrily, his eyes shut, his hand warm, curved burning into my stomach. “I wish I hated you,” I said. “Why did you come?” “Why? I wanted your company. Alby and Pete were going to the ball game, and I couldn’t see that. Warrie and Jerry were doing drinking; couldn’t see that either.” It was past eleven; I walked to the door with him and stepped outside into the cool August night. “Come here,” he said. “I’ll whisper something: I like you, but not too much. I don’t want to like anybody too much.” Then it me and I just blurted, “I like people too much or not at all. I’ve got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.” He was definite, “Nobody knows me.” So that was it; the end. “Goodbye for good, then,” I said. He looked hard at me, a smile twisting his mouth. “You lucky kid; you don’t know how lucky you are.” I was crying quietly, my face contorted. “Stop it!” The words came like knife thrusts, and then gentleness, “In case I don’t see you, have a nice time at Smith.” “Have a hell of a nice life,” I said. And he walked off down the path with his jaunty, independent stride. And I stood there where he left me, tremulous with love and longing, weeping in the dark. That night it was hard to get to sleep.
“No Solace” | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
Whom can I talk to? Get advice from? No one. A psychiatrist is the God of our age. But they cost money. And I won’t take advice, even if I want it. I’ll kill myself. I am beyond help. No one here has time to probe, to aid me in understand myself…so many others are worse off than I. How can I selfishly demand help, solace, guidance? No, it is my own mess, and even if now I have lost my sense of perspective, thereby my creative sense of humor, I will not let myself get sick, go mad, or retreat like a child into blubbering on someone else’s shoulder. Masks are the order of the day – and the least I can do is cultivate the illusion that I am gay, serene, not hollow and afraid. Someday, god knows when, I will stop this absurd, self-pitying, idle, futile despair. I will begin to think again, and to act according to the way I think. Attitude is a pitifully relative and capracious quality to base a faith on. Like the proverbial sand, it slides, founders, sucks me down to hell.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Mother wrote today with a good letter of maxims; skeptical as always at first, I read what struck home: "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter - - - for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.... Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here." Those words spoke to my heart with peace, as if in comment, kindly, on my life, my days. That first, touched on that ricocheting judgment I've made: despairing of the inferior, disintegrated men I know (who I can't consider for marriage) and blowing up the blonde one and the figure-heads all out of proportion. Envy and pride, and where's the golden mean, the man who can be mine, I his. When I start getting jealous of the five editors of Mlle for being married (with a pang - - - this might be me, that sweet word: success) or Philip Booth" for writing poems for the NY and having a wife and all that, it is time to build up some inner prowess; I am letting too much go vacant; I must build up a little series of sitting ducks, possible ambitions, to knock down, or I'll find myself sitting at the beginning of Easter vacation, addled as an egg, twiddling my thumbs. We get well first, then we work. Meanwhile, read Hopkins for solace.
"Soft Blossoms" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
A little thing, like children putting flowers in my hair, can fill up the widening cracks in my self-assurance like soothing lanolin. I was sitting out on the steps today, uneasy with fear and discontent. Peter," (the little boy-across-the-street) with the pointed pale face, the grave blue eyes and the slow fragile smile came bringing his adorable sister Libby of the flaxen braids and the firm, lyrically-formed child-body. They stood shyly for a little, and then Peter picked a white petunia and put it in my hair. Thus began an enchanting game, where I sat very still, while Libby ran to and fro gathering petunias, and Peter stood by my side, arranging the blossoms. I closed my eyes to feel more keenly the lovely delicate-child -hands, gently tucking flower after flower into my curls. "And now a white one," the lisp was soft and tender. Pink, crimson, scarlet, white... the faint pungent odor of the petunias was hushed and sweet. And all my hurts were smoothed away. Something about the frank, guileless blue eyes, the beautiful young bodies, the brief scent of the dying flowers smote me like the clean quick cut of a knife. And the blood of love welled up in my heart with a slow pain.
“Some Sleep Is Bleak” | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
... Some sleep is like a pile of garbage, with egg shells jagged, and vermin swarming over lurid orange peels, coffee grounds and sick wan lettuce leaves; that is the sleep of nightmare fragments, when the operation or the exam is coming the next day. Some sleep is bleak and gray, sparing with its calm and soothing treatment; that is the sleep of the worker, when each day is like the last and the next, and all time is present. But there are sleeps that are born of spring and of the slumbering hibernation of bears in leaf-hushed caves. My ears caught the twitter of birds, strange and early. My shut eyelids felt sun, and my nose smelled earth, and my skin felt warm wind. Eyes closed, body not yet mine, but still part of something - of air, of earth, of fire, of water. - And the sound of cars along the street and someone breathing in the next bed. I opened my eyes and pulled my body to me again. Leaning on an elbow, there was the window open, the curtains blowing in the Saturday wind, and the sunlight and shadow sharp and clear on the building across the street. To lie and regret the emergence from the womb as the umbilical cord is snipped, neatly, and the knot tied. To regret, regret, and know that the next move will be to arise, to walk to the toilet, one foot after another, to sit on the seat, sleepily, releasing the bright yellow stream of urine, yawning, and undoing rags from brown hair and curls. To get up, brush teeth, wash face, and begin again, in the merciless daylight, all the rituals of dressing that our culture subscribes to
“Spring” | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
January 24 ... Saturday morning, and I am at the old game of catching time between my fingers as it is running, forever running, away. This last week has been a blissful relaxation: breakfast in bed, a slow, languid getting up, reading modern poetry, seeing an excellent play "Bell, Book and Candle" in Springfield, having leisure time to write witty letters - oh, all this. And now the sensuous delight of sitting warm and clear-eyed at my desk, looking out of the window into the thick, steamy, rain-lashed dripping air, and hearing the cars slithering by, and the persistent scritch of shovels on cement, scraping away the slush. All is muted and blurred with thaw, and there is the fresh wet pregnant smell of earth again that makes me long for spring (again.) And I have taken to reading the muscular packed verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins again: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God... " and then again: "How to keep - is there any, any, is there none such, nowhere known, some bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep / Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty ... from vanishing away?" Yes, obsessed, as always, with the vanishing of time!
"Stability Is a Feeling" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | Poem-a-Day
August 2: Saturday: I have a strong feeling of sickness, of which I am heartily sick. A life of doing nothing is death. Our life is ridiculously ingrown, sedentary. Ted has fanatic ideas - he wants to get thin & eats jam, sugar, sweet things in great amounts, simply walks, won't hear of any plausible or implausible exercise - Later: Sunday morning: it is as if I needed crises of some sort to exercise my fiber. I find all cool, clear & possible this morning. The great fault of America - this part of it - is its air of pressure: expectancy of conformity. It is hard for me to realize that Dot & Frank probably don't like Ted simply because he "won't get a job, a steady career." I have actually married exactly the sort of man I most admire. I will shut up about the future for a year & face work & encourage Ted's work in which I have the greatest of faith. I find myself horrified at voicing the American dream of a home & children - my visions of a home, of course, being an artist's estate, in a perfect privacy of wilderness acres, on the coast of Maine. I will no doubt be an impractical vagabond wife & mother, a manner of exile. I must work for an inner serenity & stability which will bear me through the roughest of weathers externally: A calm, sustaining, optimistic philosophy which does not depend on a lifelong street address within easy driving distance of an American supermarket. And what fun to see England with Ted, to live in Italy, the South of France. If I can work this year like mad & get one worn-an's story published, a book of poems finished, I will be pleased: also, review & read German & French. Ironically, I have my own dream, which is mine, & not the American dream. I want to write funny & tender women's storys. I must be also, funny & tender & not a desperate woman, like mother. Security is inside me & in Ted's warmth. The smell & feel of him is worth a private fortune a year & how lucky I am - there are no rules for this kind of wifeliness - I must make them up as I go along & will do so.
"There, There" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | The Worcester Review (forthcoming)
There comes a time when all your outlets are blocked, as with wax. You sit in your room, feeling the prickling ache in your body which constricts your throat, tightens dangerously in little tear pockets behind your eyes. One word, one gesture, and all that is pent up in you - festered resentments, gangrenous jealousies, superfluous desires - unfulfilled - all that will burst out of you in angry impotent tears - in embarrassed sobbing and blubbering to no one in particular. No arms will enfold you, no voice will say, "There, There. Sleep and forget." No, in your new and horrible independence you feel the dangerous premonitory ache, arising from little sleep and taut strung nerves, and a feeling that the cards have been stacked high against you this once, and that they are still being heaped up. An outlet you need, and they are sealed. You live night and day in the dark cramped prison you have made for yourself. And so on this day, you feel you will burst, break, if you cannot let the great reservoir seething in you loose, surging through some leak in the dike. So you go downstairs and sit at the piano. All the children are out; the house is quiet. A sounding of sharp chords on the keyboard, and you begin to feel the relief of loosing some of the great weight on your shoulders.
"Tongue-Shy" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
Absolutely blind fuming sick. Anger, envy and humiliation. A green seethe of malice through the veins. To faculty meeting, rushing through a gray mizzle, past the Alumnae House, no place to park, around behind the college, bumping, rumping through sleety frozen ruts. Alone, going alone, among strangers. Month by month, colder shoulders. No eyes met mine. I picked up a cup of coffee in the crowded room among faces more strange than in September. Alone. Loneliness burned. Feeling like a naughty presumptuous student. Marlies in a white jumper & red-dark patterned blouse. Sweet, deft: simply can't come. Wendell" & I are doing a text-book. Havent you heard? Eyes, dark, lifted to Wendell's round simper. A roomful of smoke and orange-seated black-painted chairs. Sat beside a vaguely familiar woman in the very front, no one between me and the president. Foisted forward. Stared intently at gilt leaved trees, orange-gilt columns, a bronze frieze of stags, stags and an archer, bow-bent. Intolerable, unintelligible bickering about plusses & minuses, graduate grades. On the backcloth a greek with white-silver feet fluted to a maid, coyly kicking one white leg out of her Greek robe. Pink & orange & gilded maidens. And a story, a lousy sentimental novel chapter 30 pages long & utterly worthless at my back: on this I lavish my hours, this be my defense, my sign of genius against those people who know somehow miraculously how to be together, au courant, at one. Haven't you heard? Mr Hill has twins. So life spins on outside my nets. I spotted Alison," ran for her after - meeting - she turned, dark, a stranger. "Alison", Wendell took her over, "are you driving down?" She knew. He knew. I am deaf, dumb. Strode into slush, blind. Into snow & gray mizzle. All the faces of my student shining days turned the other way. Shall I give, unwitting, dinners? To invite them to entertain us? Ted sits opposite: make his problems mine. Shut up in public those bloody private wounds. Salvation in work. What if my work is lousy? I want to rush into print any odd tripe. Words, words, to stop the deluge through the thumbhole in the dike. This be my secret place. All my life have I not been outside? Ranged against well-meaning foes? Desperate, intense: why do I find groups impossible? Do I even want them? Is it because I cannot match them, tongue-shy, brain-small, that I delude my dreams into grand novels and poems to astound? I must bridge the gap between adolescent glitter & mature glow. O steady. Steady on. I have my one man. To help him I will.
"Wanting" | The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath | SAGINAW
—Tonight was awful. It was the combination of everything. Of the play “Goodbye My Fancy,” of wanting, in a juvenile way, to be, like the heroine, a reporter in the trenches, to be loved by a man who admired me, who understood me as much as I understood myself. And then there was Jack, who tried so hard to be nice, who was hurt when I said all he wanted was to make out. There was the dinner at the country club, the affluence of money everywhere. And then there was the record…the one so good for dancing. I forgot it was the one until Louie Armstrong began to sing in a voice husky with regret, ‘I’ve flown around the world in a plane, settle revolutions in Spain, the North pole I have charted…still I can’t get started with you.’ Jack said: ‘Ever heard it before?’ So I smiled, ‘Oh yes.’ It was Bob.’ That settled things for me - - - a crazy record, and it was our long talks, his listening and understanding. And I knew I loved him.”
Now I am surely becoming an incurable romantic. But please, hear me out. After the play we walked out, breaking from the crowd that pushed out in knots of people up the aisles, raveling at the exit-signs. Another cold black March night. So I said to myself, unassuming creature that I am, "he-was-being- chivalrous-last-night-because-it-was-traditional-to-kiss-date-after-dance." I steeled myself to a cool goodbye at the head of the stairs. "I have something to show you," he said as we neared the house. He turned our steps across the street to the Chem Lab." There was a road on the hill behind the building, and a fence bordering the road, and a field of grass beyond the fence. I sat on a fence post, looking over the field to the road below and beyond. Lights blinked yellow white, and cars moved and scurried to and fro. I felt what the 19th century romantics must have felt: The extension of the soul into the realm of nature. I felt that my feet were growing into the hill, and that I was a jutting outgrowth of the elements ... a humanized tree stump, or something equally improbable. He stood in back of me, hands on my shoulders, and the wind broke against him as I sat in the shelter of his upright body. Then we walked out to the crest of the field, wading through the grass, arm in arm. "You know," he said, "I was wondering how to be when you came - cool and casual - or friendly ... and you make it so easy." So he put his arms around me and put his cheek against mine, kissing me, then, once. The wind blew my hair back and whipped tears into my eyes as the two of us stood facing each other. Walking back, we talked about ourselves - conversation not to be reproduced - but I remember laughing as he said he had been wary of asking me down and a bit bitter because of my "popularity" When we got to the house I couldn't bear to have him come up stairs and see me in the light - windblown hair and tearful eyes may be delightful on a dark hilltop under the stars - but under a 100° watt Edison bulb in a narrow hallway - God forbid! So we stood outside, and he was softspoken and touched his lips to mine once sweetly as Chuck came out the door. I said good night to the two boys, and went upstairs alone.
The most vital spot in the world for me was today in the rain, in an old gravel parking lot in Marblehead," where, beyond a rusty shack, was the harbor, and the neat upright forest of masts. Houses were close together, and yellow flowers were growing in the wild grass. Somehow, sitting there in the light blue Plymouth, your Grandmother beside you, your mother in back, you cried with love for them because they were your own people, your own kind. Yet not all your own kind, but you were of their blood and bone, and no barriers were between. You talked, and cried a little, as you sat, for the beauty of the wild, lanky yellow flowers, and the rain, trickling down the blurred and wavy windows, rushing in streams down the windows. This hour was yours, to steer through the narrow crooked streets, to sit and talk and watch the rain, to absorb the love of kin, of rain, of the masts of sloops and schooners. And when you swung the car into reverse, roaring out, back to your job, you felt whole and human once again. Someday you will find your way back to that parking spot by the gravel drive, and you will remember how it was, so forever you can carry it in you as it was, giving life and a new sight in the rainy space of an hour.