Another Tragic Moment: Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath as Teenager

Sylvia Plath, aged 15. From here.

Take a look at this photo of the young Sylvia Plath: who knew that the author of The Bell Jar could ever have seemed so happy? Photos can be terribly deceptive, but still. The contrast with the writer is astonishingly tragic:

I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam a new leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

It’s not even a binary decision to die; despite Plath’s worryingly glamorous suicide, the poem here expresses psychological trauma, collapse. Plath would “rather” be dead. It’s a matter of preference, of taste, rather than of despair. It’s never simple, is it?


4 Comments on “Another Tragic Moment: Sylvia Plath”

  1. Love that poem! Plath’s death was a terrible loss for poetry.

  2. JaneS says:

    Thank you for posting this moving poem of Sylvia’s which I didn’t remember. I also love her “Daddy” poem. It is filled with the same emotions – gosh she was good even if, or perhaps because, she was eaten up with sadness!

    • Mark says:

      Daddy is a great poem too, yeah. Both poems are given a very misleading title – that’s what makes her so haunting. Hemingway had that famous line about how he had never known an intelligent person who was happy. Thank you for reading. 🙂

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