An essay about Sylvia Plath



I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.

Here we experience Plath’s love affair with shadow, suggesting yet another dichotomy: shadow and light. The two coexist, although Plath doesn’t allude to shadow’s counterpart; she writes about it as a single entity, existing in the most ordinary things, giving them depth and beauty. In noting the shadow at the “back of people’s eyes and smiles,” Plath seems to underscore the importance of human relationships and subtext—a critical theme in Plath’s poetry and a possible explanation for why she connects so well, so broadly, and so richly to so many people. In isolation, Plath could not achieve this “social nirvana” that not only embraces the shadows that characterize her existence, but elevates them. This duality creates a vivid picture of Plath’s interpretation of happiness: seeing shadows as a thing of beauty, whereas most people perhaps only appreciate the light. This perception of shadow through a different, brighter lens comes from Plath’s ability to connect with the people around her. This is something she achieves intermittently in life, as does her protagonist in The Bell Jar.


The most telling example of this achievement, and one that truly captures Plath’s ability to discern beauty in a dark, troublesome reality, is this line: “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” There is no equivocating in this simple statement, made during a free-spirited rush down a skiing hill, which ended in a broken leg (Plath broke her leg skiing as a senior in college). First, Plath describes the components of the world: air. Mountains. Trees. People. This evokes a simple scene from Plath’s life but a crucial one: she has managed to escape the claustrophobia of her pressure-filled life through a trip to the mountains, which in some sense capture the same vast, beautiful possibility of the open sea. Here, too, there are people. There must be for Plath to achieve true happiness. The last line confirms it: “This is what it is to be happy.” There is no comparison here, no softening of terms with a simile or metaphor; this is Sylvia Plath’s definition of happiness.

The image of his face retreats from me

The image of his face retreats from me
Not fading but withdrawing like a ghost
Till  the light  within his eye is all I see

No longer can I hold his hand today
Or be enfolded in his arms at last
The image of his face retreats from me

How he wished to lie beneath this tree
The maple so majestic in its post
The light within his eye, oh can’t I see?

He is gone and how can I now be?
“Till death us parts”, I can  but barely grasp
The image of his face retreats from me

Soon comes now the  anniversary
And only his long hand I wish to clasp
Till  the light  within his eye is all I see

Oh do I waste my life at this repast
Shall I pray for who is there to ask?
The image of his face retreats from me
Till  the light  within his eye is all I see





It is from my heart


Last year I was a moron at this test
Even though I aimed to do my best
Should I have a brain implant right now?
I’d love to be an imbecile, and how!

I’m stunned  that I write English like a man
Even though my name is Mary Anne
Do they mean homo , or is it vir?
Anyway, I feel a little queer.

I managed to  do mathematics  very well
That I was a moron, none could tell
But should I manage to reinvent a metal wheel
I hope that proves I am an imbecile

I even gave long lectures on Pascal
The heart has got its reason.I can tell
So though on IQ tests my brain is weak
It is from my heart I truly speak

I enchanted men while also gave them pain
For beauty made them blind to my strange brain
As for my heart it’s hidden in my breast
And therefore cannot take an EQ Test

Levine and Marks 1928 IQ classification[56][57]
IQ Range (“ratio IQ”) IQ Classification
175 and over Precocious
150–174 Very superior
125–149 Superior
115–124 Very bright
105–114 Bright
95–104 Average
85–94 Dull
75–84 Borderline
50–74 Morons
25–49 Imbeciles
0–24 Idiots



[This is a slightly altered rondeau form]

My heart, my mind, my soul are very sad
Yet summer comes and I must pick the flowers
I gain my comfort from the love we had.
My heart, my mind, my soul are very sad
The price is paid for all that made us glad
The love that seemed eternal was not ours
My heart, my mind, my soul are quietly clad.
Summer comes; I  lie amidst the flowers

In winter darkness, all  the garden’s hid
Tormented by the cold of winter showers.
For our fresh air we make a sudden bid
In winter darkness, all  the garden’s hid
Forgetful of the love making we did
The sullen heart in dying seems to glower
In winter darkness, all  the  world is clad
In ice and snow are hidden what was ours.


Stand beside the Union Jack and gag.

Not even a Greek Tragedy but Soap
With music from the Workers Playtime gagged
The Government is ruling us like dopes

The intellectuals eye the scene and mope
Their notebooks plugged, the files then dropped and dragged
Not even a Greek Tragedy but Soap.

For playwrights, there may be an ample scope;
But like the water pipes, they’re  surely lagged.
The Government is ruling us like dopes

They’ll charge the  foolish suicides for rope
Their bodies  to recycle in bin bags
Not even a Greek Tragedy but Soap.

I glare from rooftops with my telescope
Listening to the songs of Billy Bragg
The Government is ruling us like dopes

Well, pass the brandy, light me a new fag
Stand beside the Union Jack and gag.
Not even a Greek Tragedy but Soap
The Government is ruling us like dopes



And looking at the world with gratefulness

The dead flowers in the vase have their own charm
They have their form, their shape, their wistfulness
What is dead no longer does us harm

Thus being dead is no cause for alarm
There is no need to suffer loneliness
The dead flowers in the vase have their own charm

As they age, they look like a dead palm
The sort we got in church had comeliness
What is dead no longer does us harm

The secret of good lives is keeping calm
And looking at the world with gratefulness
The dead flowers in the vase have their own charm

Meditation on dead flowers is balm
We fear no longer our own death’s fullness
What is dead no longer does us harm

Waste not time in hateful wilfulness
We sing with love our own dawn choruses
The dead flowers in the vase have certain charms
What is dead no longer may alarm

Why some people hate poetry

Extension wall


” Poetry is linked, in his vision, to the possibility of a total redemption of human society, of the kind Marxism used to call “the revolution.” In particular, his fusion of aesthetic, political, and spiritual messianism brings to mind the work of Walter Benjamin, the 20th-century German Jewish theorist. Lerner’s previous book, the novel 10:04, was saturated in the Benjaminian concept of redemption: the idea that the world as we know it carries within itself the possibility for transformation. Key to this vision is the idea that salvation will come from within, from a rearrangement of the world, rather than through an external power or a god.”

Book Cover: The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner
FSG Originals

The purpose of poetry

Albatros_DAP_Intaglio [1024x768]
Art by Mike Flemming


” I believe the personal is also political.  I remember a time about 10 years ago when I audited a poetry writing class at the University of Chicago as an “older adult.”  (I was 36, but easily the oldest student in the class!).  When it was my turn to submit a poem to the workshop, I offered a piece about my two kids fighting over a doughnut in the back seat of our mini-van.  I’ll never forget the first comment from one of my classmates:  “Your poem is so real.  It’s really about something.”  He meant the words as a compliment.  Even if my poem was not about anything particularly enormous, it was grounded in everyday reality unlike any of the poems my classmates had offered before me.   And Smith’s memoir Just Kids is artful, I’d argue, because of its personal observations.

I don’t mean to be making any grand distinctions here. But, speaking crudely, I think we are living in an age of artistic abstraction. The purpose of poetry,” Sir Philip Sidney famously pronounced, “is to instruct and to delight.”  The order of those two points seems pointed.  Delight, to him, is a secondary concern.  While Sidney’s epigram might hold just as powerfully today, I don’t think the order of points would remain the same. In contemporary poetry I believe there has been a turn toward abstraction and a turning away (however slight) from poetry of everyday reality and the poetry of social conscience.”


I went to the doctor.He said I’d pre-flu..
I said, “My dear doctor what shall I do?”
Next time I went, he said “It’s pre- shock.”
And then I had pre measles, pre mumps and pre-pox
I ran to the doctor ,he said ” You’re pre-well”
I said, “Are you sure it’s not just a pre-quel?”
Next time I turned up, he’d gone out for a walk
It’s hard for a doctor who wants to pre-talk.
I went to the optician, who said I’m pre-blind
I thanked him for being so intensely unkind.
I went back to the doctor, and these words I said
“I’m pre -blind, pre-deaf,pre-ill and pre-dead!

The eyes of love

garden 2

They lay down in awe and fear,
Of what their love was bringing near.
They gazed into each other’s eyes
And so did tantalise.

They lay down to gaze into
the eyes and soul of one who’s true.
They gazed until, when overcome,
They were united into one.

Their souls and bodies were conjoined,
And thus their hearts were well entwined;
As honeysuckle on the walls,
In joy’s sweet arbours does grow tall,

Their loving lips and eyes and hands
Gave pause to time’s soft flowing sands.
and as they touched and gazed and longed,
The birds sang out in glorious songs.

Which is me and which is you?
Are we one or are we two?
I give you all myself today,
So this shall be our way

Love is never a sin

Pray, Father, give me a good blessing.It’s ten weeks since my last decision.
What was that, my dear?
To lose my Catholic Faith, Father!
Why are you here in that case?
I can’t manage to lose it!
Well, you are not trying hard enough, my child.
My wife says I’m very trying.
Your wife?I thought you were a woman yourself!
Yes, I’m a lesbian now.
Do you practise it?
I don’t need more training, I’m really good at it all.
That’s a sin for a lesbian…
Thank God.I have a sin to confess…I was lost for words
More than one sin if you are married.
Why, does marriage make one more sinful?
It gives you more temptation
That’s why you get married ,so you can be tempted and give in
Catholic lesbians are not allowed to marry
You mean we should be living in sin?
No, you should be chaste
I am often chased by men.Does that count?
You know I don’t mean that… you are teasing me.
Well, I saw you running after me last week
It’s not my fault if you are running in front of me.
I was walking till I saw you coming!
Well, at least I’m normal.
Is it normal for a man of 89 to run after women?
Don’t worry, I have not caught one yet.
But it’s the principle of it.Well, anyway, I went to Holland and married a blonde poet.
Are there any left?
Look here, I am the sinner tonight!
So am I.
This is not a competition
Yes, it is!
Oh, no.Please give me absolution now
Right, your penance is to stop hailing Mary and whatever else you do in bed with her.
She’ll be so sad… is that a good idea?
Well, I don’t know.Life is confusing.Giving up one sin causes another one.What am I to say?
I believe if you love anyone properly it is never a sin
Well, that’s worth musing on amidst the News of war and murder.
I stole a lemon pie from a shop.Now that is a real good old fashioned sin.
MMmmmmmm give me half and we’ll say no more.
No more.
No mor

As unknown as the journey to your birth

Was this the apple then, your mother’s breast

Which father thought was his to oft caress?
And when, in deprived rage, you bit to test
In rage, he vowed to ever you harass.

So then you learned that you could hate as well,
The punishment struck hard in your small heart.
Your memory was unworded, could not tell;
Though pain and anguish made your soft skin smart.

As unknown as the journey to your birth
As shocking as the grief of unmeant wrong.
As frightening as the gauging of your worth
As sudden as the ending of a song.

Impossible to foretell or to prepare,
The ambivalence of our hearts starts here.