Literature

Reflections on Plath

I have been a fan of Sylvia Plath for about five years now, reading ‘The Bell Jar’ for the first time when I was only thirteen or fourteen years old, and writing a short story inspired by a line from her poem ‘Metaphors’ as part of my Standard Grade English coursework when I was a similar age. At the time, I appreciated the beauty of the language, but the meaning was somehow lost on me. As time progressed, I became more and more fascinated with her life story, spending evenings poring over her biography on Wikipedia, reading Ted Hughes just to hear his take on their relationship, even being reduced to tears at times over the tragedy that consumed her whole existence. I recently re-read ‘The Bell Jar’ and it struck me how much I could relate to the character of Esther (of course, basically a tweaked version of Plath herself). I think the combination of maturity, increased cynicism and developed ability to think poetically has really enhanced my appreciation of her work, so yesterday, I sat down and I read ‘Ariel’ cover to cover. I had read a few poems from this anthology – published posthumously and consisting of poetry written, supposedly, in the imminence of her death – but they somehow seemed more striking this time around. One such poem, which I used to think was just “sinister” and little else, I can now hear her heartache in and this makes it seem even more haunting and beautiful than before. I will leave you with this poem – the unforgettable ‘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 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. 
Gentleman, 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. 

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. 
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 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 on 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 
Beware 
Beware. 

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