Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Sylvia Plath Loved


February 11, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death. To honor her life and work we've compiled a list of ten things she loved and wrote about in her letters, journals, and poems.

1. Sun Bathing

The sun seeped into every pore, satiating every querulous fiber of me into a great glowing golden peace.
As Plath biographer Andrew Wilson notes in his article "Sylvia Plath in Love,"1 "Plath was a self-confessed sun worshipper. In her journal she described the joy she felt after leaving the biting winds and leaden skies of Cambridge behind. Finally, by the time the train reached the Côte d'Azur, she saw what she had been waiting for: 'the red sun rising like the eye of God out of a screaming blue sea.'"
In July 1951, Sylvia Plath wrote in her journals:
"Lying on my stomach on the flat warm rock, I let my arm hang over the side, and my hand caressed the rounded contours of the sun-hot stone, and felt the smooth undulations of it. Such a heat the rock had, such a rugged and comfortable warmth, that I felt it could be a human body. Burning through the material of my bathing suit, the great heat radiated through my body..."2

2. France

How can I describe the beauty of [this] country?
"Yesterday was about the most lovely in my life," Plath writes on a postcard to her mother, dated January 7, 1956. "Started out on motor scooter along famous wide 'promenade des anglais' of Nice, with its out-door cafés, splendid baroque facades, rows of palms, strolling musicians—and headed inland to Vence, where I planned to see the beautiful recent Matisse cathedral of my art magazine, which I've loved via pictures for years."3

3. Greek Mythology

I imagine myself with a great public,
Mother of a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos

(from Plath's poem, "Barren Woman")4


Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus

(from Plath's poem, "Fever 103")5
Many of Plath's poems are organized around classical Greek tragedy. These references are found in Plath's first book, The Colossus, where both Oresteia and Electra appear. In Ariel, Plath invokes Medusa, gorgons, and dryads, in addition to Nike and Cerberus. The titles of her poems "Medusa" and "Lesbos" also highlight her interest in Greek mythology.

4. Sherry

We drink sherry in the garden and read poems...
In The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Plath makes multiple references to sherry. At a New Year's party she recalls enjoying "an immense amount of sweet sherry" while on another occasion she states, "I drink sherry and wine by myself because I like it and I get the sensuous feeling of, bliss, erotic-tinged." She also enjoyed sherry when hosting literary guests:
"I cook steaks, trout on my gas ring, and we eat well. We drink sherry in the garden and read poems; we quote on and on: he says a line of Thomas or Shakespeare and says: "Finish!" We romp through words. I learn new words and use them in poems."6

5. Hot Baths

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them...
Plath seemed to enjoy the psychological calm that a hot bath brought. "I took a hot bath: therapy: the kinks wore out," Plath writes in her journals, "and I rose purged..."7
In her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, Plath's protagonist, Esther Greenwood also has an affinity for hot baths:
"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them. Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down so far and then I say: 'I'll go take a hot bath.'"8

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