Opinion| Letters Home by Sylvia Plath
The best way to experience Plath's writing is to read her letters. Her poetry is like living in a beautiful world, but her letters are like experiencing her electrical insights. The sight of such a prolific poet in utter despair will make you sad, and you will wonder what you can do to save such a beautiful soul. This book will give you an entirely new reading experience. She addresses most of her letters to her mother, Aurelia, who is the editor. The most interesting part of the book for me is when she tells about her interviews with Marianne Moore, lecturing with W.H. Auden, and later, dining with T.S. Eliot and his wife. Her early letters show a glimpse into her life. When she meets Ted Hughes in these early letters, she reflects her love for life. The beauty of it all is her love for life. And yet, her tragic end is truly heartbreaking.
A beautiful thing about these letters is how vividly they describe the emotions of such a beautiful poet. In this book, you'll learn more about a poet you greatly admire.
Here are a few excerpts:
April 29, 1956
Dearest most wonderful of mothers,
I’m so struck full of joy and love I can scarcely stop a minute from dancing, writing poems, cooking and living. I sleep a bare eight hours a night and wake springing up merry with the sun. Outside my window now is our green garden with a pink cherry tree right under my window in full bloom, thick with thrushes caroling.
. . . I have written the seven best poems of my life which make the rest look like baby-talk. I am learning and mastering new words each day, and drunker than Dylan, harder than Hopkins, younger than Yeats in my saying. Ted reads in his strong voice: is my best critic, as I am his.
My philosophy supervisor Doctor Krook, is more than a miracle! She took me on an extra half hour last week, and I’m in medias res of Plato, marveling at the dialectic method, whetting my mind like a blue-bladed knife. Such joy.
Bodily, I’ve never been healthier: radiance and love just surge out of me like a sun. I can’t wait to set you down in its rays. Think, I shall devote two whole weeks of my life to taking utter care and very special tendering of you. I’ve already reserved London and Cambridge rooms . . . We’ll leave about the 22nd . . . for Paris, where I’ll see you through your first two or three days and get all set up for you so you’ll know what you want there, and then I’ll take off for a month of writing in Spain on the south coast . . . [getting] tan, doing nothing but writing, sunning and cooking. Maybe even learning to catch fish!
Ted is up here this week, and I have become a woman to make you proud. It came over me while we were listening to Beethoven, the sudden shock and knowledge that although this is the one man in the world for me, although I am using every fiber of my being to love him, even so, I am true to the essence of myself, and I know who that self is . . . and will live with her through sorrow and pain, singing all the way, even in anguish and grief, the triumph of life over death and sickness and war and all the flaws of my dear world . . .
I know this with a sure strong knowing to the tips of my toes, and having been on the other side of life like Lazarus, I know that my whole being shall be one song of affirmation and love all my life long. I shall praise the Lord and the crooked creatures He has made. My life shall be a constant finding of new ways and words in which to do this.
Ted is incredible, mother . . . wears always the same black sweater and corduroy jacket with pockets full of poems, fresh trout and horoscopes. In his horoscope book, imagine, it says people born in Scorpio have “squashed” noses!
. . . How I cook on one gas ring! Ted is the first man who really has a love of food . . . He stalked in the door yesterday with a packet of little pink shrimp and four fresh trout. I made a nectar of Shrimp Newburg with essence of butter, cream, sherry and cheese; had it on rice with the trout. It took us three hours to peel all the little tiny shrimp, and Ted just lay groaning by the hearth after the meal with utter delight, like a huge Goliath.
His humor is the salt of the earth; I’ve never laughed as hard and long in my life. He tells me fairy stories, and stories of kings and green knights, and has made up a marvelous fable of his own about a little wizard named Snatchcraftington, who looks like a stalk of rhubarb. He tells me dramas, marvelous colored dreams, about certain red foxes . . .
The reason why you must be at ease and not worry about my proud growing this time is because I have learned to make a life growing through toleration of conflict, sorrow, and hurt. I fear none of these things and turn myself to whatever trial with an utter faith that life is good and a song of joy on my lips. I feel like Job and will rejoice in the deadly blasts of whatever comes. I love others, the girls in the house, the boys on the newspaper, and I am flocked about by people who bask in my sun. I give and give; my whole life will be a saying of poems and a loving of people and giving of my best fiber to them.
This faith comes from the earth and sun; it is pagan in a way; it comes from the heart of man after the fall.
I know that within a year I shall publish a book of 33 poems which will hit the critics violently in some way or another. My voice is taking shape, coming strong. Ted says he never read poems by a woman like mine; they are strong and full and rich – not quailing and whining like Teasdale or simple lyrics like Millay; they are working, sweating, heaving poems born out of the way words should be said . . .
Oh, mother, rejoice with me and fear not. I love you, and Warren, and my dear suffering grammy and dear loving grampy with all my heart and shall spend my life making you strong and proud of me!”
“There will come a time when I must face myself at last. Even now I dread the big choices which loom up in my life — what college? What career? I am afraid. I feel uncertain. What is best for me? What do I want? I do not know. I love freedom. I deplore constrictions and limitations… I am not as wise as I have thought. I can now see, as from a valley, the roads lying open for me, but I cannot see the end — the consequences…
“I want to be free — free to know people and their backgrounds — free to move to different parts of the world so I may learn that there are other morals and standards besides my own. I want, I think, to be omniscient… I think I would like to call myself “The girl who wanted to be God.” Yet if I were not in this body, where would I be — perhaps I am destined to be classified and qualified. But, oh, I cry out against it. I am I — I am powerful — but to what extent? I am I.
Sometimes I try to put myself in another’s place, and I am frightened when I find I am almost succeeding. How awful to be anyone but I. I have a terrible egotism. I love my flesh, my face, my limbs with overwhelming devotion. I know that I am “too tall” and have a fat nose, and yet I pose and prink before the mirror, seeing more and more how lovely I am… I have erected in my mind an image of myself — idealistic and beautiful. Is not that image, free from blemish, the true self — the true perfection? Am I wrong when this image insinuates itself between me and the merciless mirror. (Oh, even now I glance back on what I have just written — how foolish it sounds, how overdramatic.)”
Oh, I love now, with all my fears and forebodings, for now I still am not completely molded. My life is still just beginning. I am strong. I long for a cause to devote my energies to…”
… Both of us are just slowly coming out of our great fatigue from the whirlwind plans and events of last month; and after meandering about Paris, sitting, writing and reading in the Tuileries, have produced a good poem apiece, which is a necessity to our personal self-esteem — not so much a good poem or story, but at least several hours work of solid writing a day. Something in both of us needs to write for a large period daily, or we get cold on paper, cross, or down… We are really happiest keeping to ourselves, and writing, writing, writing. I never thought I should grow so fast so far in my life; the whole secret for both of us, I think, is being utterly in love with each other, which frees our writing from being a merely egoistic mirror, but rather a powerful canvas on which other people live and move…”
“The thing about writing is not to talk, but to do it; no matter how bad or even mediocre it is, the process and production is the thing, not the sitting and theorizing about how one should write ideally, or how well one could write if one really wanted to or had the time. As Mr. Kazin told me: ‘You don’t write to support yourself; you work to support your writing.”
Attributions: Excerpts taken from the book Letters Home by Sylvia Plath