(Re)Discovering Sylvia Plath


Dead Flower by SneakOne


Picture a young, pretty girl, sitting down to her pencil and paper next to a window with a lovely view. She’s going to write some poetry. Someone might imagine this girl would write daydreamy love poems that would make her grandmother proud. If we’re talking about Sylvia Plath, this is the point where those expectations are rendered false. It seems as though the joke is on us, the manner in which Plath uses the medium of poetry to express herself. You could sit down to a poem of hers about fruit trees, and her words would slice the apple and the juice would drip down, staining your clothes (figuratively speaking, she never wrote a line like that about fruit trees, as far as I know).

As someone who appreciates poetry but doesn’t particularly enjoy reading it, I find her work to be an exciting use of the craft. The experience of reading a Sylvia Plath poem is anything but restrained and evasive. Instead, each line is deliberate and visceral with morbid whimsy. Sylvia Plath is one of the first poets whose poems I’ve read (I’m sure others exist) where mystery is preserved, but her words have sharp edges that leave a mark whether or not you understand all of them.

After reading some of her poems on the Internet, I came across her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. I got my hands on a copy and it took me about a week to finish. I read the book before bed each night, and I have to say, there were some nights I needed to put it down and read something entirely different in order to get back into a peaceful state for a good night’s sleep.

The Bell Jar follows the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who earns a summer internship at a major magazine in New York City, and the experience proves to be disappointing. At the end of the internship, she finds out that she has been denied acceptance into a writing course taught by a famous poet. The book deals with her struggle of being forced to live back in her mother’s home, and seeking validation as a serious writer.

For me, the most chilling aspect of Esther’s character (and really that of Plath herself) is her detachment from the people around her. In one scene Esther, a girlfriend, and two young men are spending a day at the beach. The friend laughs and acts giddily with her date, and Esther matter-of-factly asks her date about his thoughts on suicide, walks into the water alone, and quietly tries to drown herself.

The book is noted for portraying Plath’s own struggle with depression, and reading it challenged my understanding of the disease. It didn’t seem like Esther was all that sad, lonely, or hopeless. Rather, she had contempt for the life presented on this earth, and made the calculated decision to no longer be a part of it.

I can usually finish a Sylvia Plath poem unscathed thanks to its relative briefness, but I think The Bell Jar may haunt me forever.


“…it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

2 thoughts on “(Re)Discovering Sylvia Plath”

  1. Whenever I hear name “Slyvia Plath”, I always recall:

    “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; / I lift my eyes and all is born again.”
    – Sylvia Plath

    My reading pace of “The Bell Jar” is slow which is why it is sitting on my bed side for more than a month now.

    1. I’ll be curious to know what you think when you finish reading the book. Kudos to you for being able to really sit with it for that long. It isn’t something I was able to linger on.

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