A Woman Remembered for Her Death: Sylvia Plath

Overdosing on sleeping pills, driving her car off the road and ending up in an oven… Does that sound familiar to you? Yes, you are right, it is about Sylvia Plath. Call her what you want: a poet, a feminist icon, a pathetic young lady with manic depression… Just bear in mind that her story is neither about her grave nor feeling sorry for her.

Sylvia arrived upon the scene in 1932, Boston. Being the daughter of an entomologist, she was eager to succeed. She published her first poem in Boston Herald when she was only eight, a year after her father’s death. She lost her faith in religion after her father’s sudden death and remained to be irresolute.

   “I talk to God but the sky is empty.”

Releasing her first national publication just after graduating from high school, her future seemed bright as an artist. She started studying at Smith College, where she excelled academically. Thanks to her shining academic life, she got a guest editor position at Mademoiselle magazine, which was prestigious for a student. Nevertheless, she didn’t find what she hoped for. Overmore, she was overshadowed by the other guest editors. Following this, she lost the chance of meeting her favourite poet, Dylan Thomas, and also got a rejection from Harvard’s writing seminar. Furthermore; she was lost about her future, she didn’t know what to become. This sequence of events led her to a long-lasting depression.

      “When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.
“Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said.

     “She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.”

While she was getting electroconvulsive therapy, she committed her first medically recorded suicide attempt. She spent the following six months in psychiatric care, receiving electric and insulin shock treatment. (a form of psychiatric treatment in which patients were repeatedly injected with large doses of insulin in order to produce daily comas over several weeks, it can even lead to death.) The expenses were paid by another famous novelist, Olive Higgins Prouty who had experienced a similar situation. Sylvia later expressed her desperation in ‘’The Bell Jar’’ by stating that the bell jar of her illness was trapping her, not letting her breathe and be grateful for her life.

  “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

As she was released from the hospital and, finally, graduated; she got Fulbright Scholarship from the University of Cambridge. While she was studying there, she met Ted Hughes and married him after a few months of exchanging poems. From 1956 to 1961 she travelled across Canada and United States with her husband, both teaching and writing. Although she had a miscarriage, most probably caused by the assaults of Hughes, she later had a daughter and a son.

 “All the heat and fear purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.”

Later in 1962, she discovered her husband’s infidelity so she moved back to London with her children. Her flat having frozen pipes and a broken phone, plus her children being ill, worsened her depression. She had a great outburst of creativity there and had written more than 26 of her poems in the last few months of her life. She suffered from severe insomnia, lost 20 pounds but took care of her physical appearance and tried not to reveal her problems. Despite being on anti-depressants and being looked after by a nurse, she was able to stick her head in an oven on the morning of February 11, 1963. I believe, no one ought to be remembered by his or her death but if you are interested, you can find out more by clicking this: https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/sylvia-plaths-suicide-note-death-knell-cry-help/

   ‘ ‘Dying
     Is an art, like everything else.
    I do it exceptionally well.
   I do it so it feels like hell.
  I do it so it feels real.
 I guess you could say I’ve a call.”

During her school life, Sylvia won all the major prizes in writing and scholarship. One of the most remarkable ones is  Glascock Prize for “Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea“. Her only novel,  The Bell Jar, is a semi-autobiographical novel, which is regarded as a ”roman à clef ”  because the protagonist’s tendency to mental illnesses reflects Sylvia’s own experiences with, what may have been,  clinical depression or bipolar II disorder. Moreover, she tried denoting society’s pressure on women and how women may easily get assaulted.

“What I’ve done is to throw together events from my own life, fictionalising to add color—it’s a pot boiler really, but I think it will show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown… I’ve tried to picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar.”

Most of her work has been published after her death, including The Colossus and Other Poems and  Ariel (poetry collection) Ariel has catalysed her rise to fame. It contains autobiographical descriptions of mental illness in poems such as “Tulips“, “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus“.

”You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   
But no less a devil for that, no not   
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.   
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.”
There’s so much more to say about Sylvia and her legacy. She wasn’t a ”normal” woman of her time, she was never a sight for sore eyes. She was, and still, the impressive one even when she was crying inside. Most say her only notable success is that she became the first person to win a  posthumous Pulitzer Prize but, to me, she is more than a Pulitzer winner. I will never be able to understand the deep agony under her poems or her cry for helps in the Bell Jar but my heart will always sink the same whenever I remember her name. I hope you have been freed of the eternal silence of your soul and have found real peace, Sylvia.
”The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.”
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