Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, you would be turning 84 today if you had lived but instead you remain forever young. What if you had not gone to study at Cambridge University in England? If you had not met Ted Hughes --- and then married him?

I was only 4 years old when you took your own life. You were 30. By the time I was in high school you had become the favored poet of all young women. Your intensity and intelligence, your beauty and your bold words --- no matter the subject --- made me read everything I could find of your work. I remember reading your letters --- and that while at Smith College you knew of Adrienne Rich studying at Radcliffe. You wrote that she would be your competition. What different paths you took. And yet, you were my heroes --- both poets I return to again and again.

There's no glory in taking one's own life --- just pain. Yet, I wonder if your poems kept you alive longer than if you had not possessed such verbal acuity -- such finesse?


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
NOTE: The third line of the third stanza has been corrected to read "Slapping its phantom laundry in my face" instead of "Gapping its phantom laundry in my face." [2/23/11]
Sylvia Plath, “Blackberrying” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)

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