When I was, again, at the point of being taken over by the grayness of something more serious than sadness, and looking for literary ways to pull myself out of it, or hows not to be suffocated, I discovered The Bell Jar then Plath’s sad poetry. As I read her words, I felt something comforting with her raw expression of emotions. It’s simple and it’s complex. It sort of felt like I wasn’t alone and my feelings were real and valid.
That time, I started to admire her and her works. I began reading about her life as well and learned about how the early loss of her father, her relationship with Ted Hughes, and variables in her life tragically led to her end.
Who is Sylvia Plath?
Sylvia Plath is a truly gifted poet, novelist and a short-story writer, famous for her intense and introspective writings. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1932, studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge.
Plath published several poetic and fictional works over her life of thirty years. Her works explore themes such as death, self, and nature which was a reflection of the turbulent life she lived.
At a young age, she was traumatized by her father’s unexpected death due to untreated diabetes mellitus.
Plath was an intellectual. She started publishing poems and stories at an early age, eight exactly. As she turned older, she was described as quite a peculiar adolescent. Her personality was often seen as ‘premorbid,’ it demonstrated a “constant dissonance between bright, buoyant and a dark sense of isolation and inner emptiness.”
But despite that, she graduated with all As and was awarded a scholarship at Cambridge. It’s where she met an also aspiring poet, Ted Hughes. They formed a strong connection that led to a real romantic bond, and later on got married. They had two children.
Plath’s failed marriage…
However, not too long after their marriage, their relationship began to fall apart. Hughes had a serious affair with another woman. Eventually, they got separated. That leaves Plath with her two young ones alone.
Plath tried to fight the effects of their devastating divorce— continued writing poems, including Ariel, Winter Trees and Crossing the Water.
But her fragile mental stability could not bear their separation, the sense of betrayal, abandonment, and isolation. On 11th February 1963, even though she was on therapy regularly and had her poetry, she was not able to beat depression that time and died.
In 1982, she was the first to posthumously receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Depths of Plath’s Depression
Over the years, Plath dealt with severe emotional instability which she called ‘ricochets’ and was clearly seen in most of her work.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
This line from one of her poems called Lady Lazarus, it seemed that she could only feel alive when she brought herself so close to death,” since she attempted to end her life several times even though she was at the height of popularity as a poet.
It has also been suggested that she was manic-depressive or what is now called bipolar disorder, underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization and received electroshock therapy to treat her illness.
Despite the ups and mostly downs of Plath’s life, she didn’t shelf her mental health issues to write bright and happy poems, but confronted the emotions she felt caused by shades of her depression. Some even felt that she was perhaps powered by her illness, for she writes best when she’s at her worst emotional state.
Her pieces of sad poetry:
Plath’s poetry is ravening painful and melancholic, but despite that there lies a whisper of whimsical hope in between her words.
In her poems, ‘Lady Lazarus,’ ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ and ‘Edge,’ she faces elements of death and pure pain, both directly and indirectly through symbols that represent the depression and anxiety she went through.
Here in Lady Lazarus, words hold several meanings and layers to it. She depicted herself as a woman who lacks life, and presented an image of distress and paleness.
Read the full poem: Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
While in this short poem, Mad Girl’s Love Song, she presented the struggle of a failed love. In this poem, the speaker which most likely Plath herself, is referring to her former lover and the relationship they had. She’s pondering if their love even existed or if it was simply a figment of her imagination. The poem goes on about her waiting for her lover to return because he told her he would. At the end of the poem, the speaker said she should have loved something like a thunderbird because it at least comes back unlike her lover- gone and will never return.
Read the full poem: Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath
In this last poem of her collection ‘Ariel’, and may be the last piece of poem she wrote called Edge. Plath again explored the concept of death. This poem is complex and interesting, it’s made up of a series of images stemming from her deepest depressions. It is filled with pain, sadness and longing.
Read the full poem: Edge by Sylvia Plath
I have come to learn that, though Sylvia Plath had her emotional troubles, she was able to come alive in her writing through her self-expression. And in all her words, she will live for another thousand or more years.