Fifty years ago today, Sylvia Plath locked all the doors. She kept her children safely in the next room, using towels to seal the empty spaces that still connected her to them. She turned on the gas stove. She reached her head into the darkness, breathing deeply. Exhaling life, inhaling death.
Until about a week ago, Sylvia Plath was just a name to me, a famous poet who’s tragedy I had forgotten. Now, I can’t stop thinking about her. Learning about the kind of person she was, the struggles that she faced, the ways she thought, has in many ways changed my own thoughts. There’s something about her and about her tragic, eery story that has granted her a sense of immortality.
I remember reading Plath’s poem Daddy in high school. I don’t remember when, I don’t remember the class or the teacher, I don’t even remember what we discussed. But I remember her voice. Rereading the poem, I can still hear Plath’s voice, the rise and fall of her words as they tumble off her tongue, her sharp pronunciation of words like daddy.
Plath’s ambitious love for language. Her persistent drive despite publication rejections. Her internal challenges with mental illness. The highs and the lows of her marriage to Ted Hughes. Her suicide, both her attempts and her success. The cascade of suicides that followed in suit over the years– Hughes’ second wife, who followed Plath’s methods; Nicholas Hughes, her son. I am both intrigued and torn by the mystery of Plath’s life. I’ll be discussing my thoughts and admirations of The Bell Jar, a somewhat autobiographical account of her experiences with mental illness, later this week. .
Three years ago, around this time of the year, I wrote about the immortality of The Catcher in the Rye in honor of J.D. Salinger’s death. Two years ago, I wrote about the importance of commemorating poets in honor of Elizabeth Bishop’s 100th birthday. Now, I am writing in about the powerful resonance of Sylvia Plath in honor of the 50th anniversary of her suicide.
I am honoring her life today, on the day that she that she ended it.