Sunday, November 18, 2007
Sunday: Two Plath Lasts
This is the last poem that appeared in the 1966 version of Sylvia Plath's Ariel collection:
After whose stroke the wood rings,
And the echoes!
Off from the center like horses.
Wells like tears, like the
To re-establish its mirror
Over the rock
That drops and turns,
A white skull,
Eaten by weedy greens.
Years later I
Encounter them on the road-
Words dry and riderless,
The indefatigable hoof-taps.
From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars
Govern a life.
When he published Plath's Collected Poems in 1981, Ted Hughes, her husband at the time of her death, revealed the original order of the Ariel poems that Plath had indicated in the manuscript she'd left on her desk in 1963. He then came under some criticism for having messed about with her intentions. (He also had left out the early Mad Girl's Love Song, the wonderful villanelle found in the back of The Bell Jar. Odd, that.)
The poem order was rectified in 2004 when Ariel: Restored Edition was published.
Plath's daughter Frieda explains a lot about this here. Plath herself wanted the collection to finish with the word "spring." This is the poem with which she planned to end her own version of the manuscript:
This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,
Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant's rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters ----
Sir So-and-so's gin.
This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
But the torch and its faint
Chinese yellow on appalling objects ----
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,
This is the time of hanging on for the bees--the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin
To make up for the honey I've taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.
Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,
Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,
The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women ----
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.
Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.
Posted by shrimplate at 1:48 PM