I first learned of Sylvia Plath the summer I read Father Loss by Elyce Wakerman. In it she outlines a number of well known creatives who lost their fathers at an early age. Plath was one of them. I cannot say that I remember much about the book other than the reference to Plath, and the way my mother looked when she saw it lying around the house. At 17, I think I was really too young to appreciate Wakerman’s message and style of writing. I have since ordered it and am having another go at it along with Neil Gaiman’s latest (as you know from a previous blog, he won the race).
Enter second year university and a giant blue anthology called 20th Century Poetry. The prof was remarkable and terrifying, and loved his male poets. Sylvia Plath was in the book (Daddy, Lady Lazarus), but we never took a glance her way.
I did though. Those two poems are no doubt her most controversial, but in no way are they a definitive representation of who she was, I don’t think.
often usually portrayed as a very passionate, difficult woman in both fictional and biographical accounts of her life. Much of her story is wrapped up with husband, Ted Hughes, an accomplished British poet, well poet laureate, let’s be honest, who is credited with helping her find her poetic voice…and contributing to her mental anguish.
But I find Kate Moses’ Wintering, is a compassionate account of Plath’s final months, detailing her actions in combination with some of her best poems. It’s a softer, more human side of Plath that I love, and it puts a face to the mom, the daughter, the wife, and the poet using both fact and conceivable fiction.
It also presents a grieving woman, separated from the man whom she thought to be her soulmate, living in isolation.
And it is a solid reminder that we all struggle within ourselves. How we react to that inner conflict can be so different for you and for me. It can be humbling and enlightening with the right amount of support encompassing you.
But it can also swallow you whole, making you angry and afraid with a tendency to totally withdraw.
For this reason it is important to recognize the Plath in our neighborhood, and reach out to them as much as we can. People in crisis do not always react the way we would like them to- and it can be frustrating. Keep trying. Maybe they cannot express their gratitude, and they never will be able to, but that doesn’t mean they do not appreciate your efforts. You may be their game changer person and not even realize it.
When I read about Plath and listen to her own voice reading her poetry, I think about how hard she worked that February of 1963 to keep herself together. She didn’t have the internet to stay connected with what few friends she had. She didn’t even have a phone. It was freezing cold in London at the time, and she lost power in her flat frequently. She was exhausted and sick, and friends of both she and her husband had deserted her because of her difficult nature.
When I began writing this piece on Plath, I didn’t intend for it to become personal, like my other blogs are, but I guess I did not realize the impact she has truly had on me over the years. How fortunate I am to have family close, and even those far away can reach me in seconds through the power of social media . I also have beautiful neighbors who will stop to chat (6 feet away) on a sunny spring day. Recently I have joined a group chat with women from the surrounding area and we discuss a multitude of things. All good. All so very good.
I am lucky, but I also reach out for support much more (as my Crowe spirit will allow) because I know I have to for me and for Bea . As a friend told me one time, it can be a humbling experience, this grieving thing. Who you thought you were and who you really are, or at least have become, are a bit at odds with each other, and you may find yourself thinking, saying and doing uncharacteristic things. Still all good.
But sometimes, as Plath so eloquently wrote, I simply cannot see where there is to get to (The Moon and the Yew Tree). From this poem, one of her finest, we learn that she takes no comfort from her surroundings. She is a woman displaced, without support. How tragic.
A woman suffering from depression in that era would certainly struggle greatly. I would like to think and hope that those struggling with mental trauma have more support now, but I don’t know. Just imagine Plath’s writing voice in these times. How her confessional poetic voice would be applauded rather than feared.
There is an image from a Voices and Visions documentary on Plath, that I never forget, of a kerchiefed young woman, pushing a pram with a toddler in toe. It portrays her at her heightened time of isolation and loneliness. It’s desperate to look at.
Please be aware of those in need, our young women and the elderly, children of abuse the dad who has been laid off.
Watch for the mom struggling with her children, and help, even if it’s simply to hold the door or to acknowledge how brave she is doing during these challenging times. And do not necessarily expect to receive a thank you.
Plath writes, please don’t expect me to always be good and kind and loving. There are times when I will be cold and thoughtless and hard to understand. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have been able to say to this young woman, wife and mother, that it’s okay to be all of those things at any given time? That her gut-wrenching poetry has touched millions of readers and is applauded for its raw truthfulness? A bit of reassurance in her dark, dark days. I wish I could have done that. Maybe now I have.
Be somebody’s reassurance so they do not become swallowed up in the darkness of these days.
2 thoughts on “Beauty in struggle”
You are such a compassionate soul Melissa. I do not know Sylvia Plath’s poetry and after reading a short biography of her, one you had posted on Facebook awhile ago, I had already decided it would be too sad. I must share some of my husband’s fear of strong emotion. However, your message here about so many in need of support is absolutely true. It takes a brave person to reach out but with the right mindset and understanding the task seems a little less daunting.