Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Michael played the recorder and saxophone and I played classical guitar at outside weddings at Yaddo, a reclusive sponsored artists' retreat in the fabled and beautiful town of Saratoga Springs, New York. The ponds, gardens, and statuary there are so beautiful it stretches the boundries of language to describe these. The little city itself is quite nearly a wonderland. I lived many years and met my spouse there.

We also gazed into the very ponds in which children died.

Sylvia Plath spent some time there, and she had a poetic breakthrough which enabled her to give voice to the "Colossus." That was not her greatest acheivement. When the "Ariel" voice came out she, in my humble opinion, gained the strongest poetic voice in late twentieth-century American poetry.


The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

I have read a few biographies of Plath, and I was young when first introduced to her work. My mother was a "book-club" kind of gal, and Plath was a going thing when I was growing up. So her collected poems, which won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1981, were a fixation in our household. I/we grew up with Plath. Funny that. My mother first probably inadvertently introduced me to her, and also the musicality of Ivan Moravec, who was also featured as a book-club artist in those heady days. My mother was also a Third Reich expert, per the book club offerings from that time. My, the dinner-table conversations we all had.

I do not know where she is right now. Another story altogether. When I was an adult she divorced my father and married a man who was younger than me. Ten years later they also divorced and I think she moved to the British Isles afterwards, but I'm unsure.

My god, Moravec could play Debussy as if the piano had no hammers at all, just feathery indicators.

I always read Plath literally and her poems are indeed rooted in moments from her life. That is the essential beauty of her art; she took often-mundane but sometimes critical life-moments and cradled these amongst a sanctuary of words on a page.

When she stuck her head in an oven I honestly think she meant to annhililate her two young children also, as indicated in the poem, but instead she put them in an upstairs room with milk and opened a widow so the gas would not get them. So she had hope at last, just not for herself. The landlord downstairs awoke to the smell and alerted authorities.

In the poem she imagines herself as a peacefully laid out corpse. At some kind of peace. Laid out. Over the edge. The moon rises and sets, having seen the passing of many. It's so simple really.

1 comment:

Bohemian Road Nurse... said...

Now you've got me interested in Plath's poetry--I'll have to check her out.