Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday Plath: An Early Sonnet

One of the things that I find remarkable about Plath's poetry is her craftmanship. Even the hot-house intensity of her Ariel voice is tightly controlled, or rather unleashed, by her command of language.

Even while still a highschool and college student, she worked very hard at developing her abilities.

Sylvia Plath wrote “Ennui” during her undergraduate years and may have intended to publish it, as she placed her name and address at Smith College in the upper right-hand corner of the typed poem, a practice which she often followed with poems she considered good enough for submission to journals. However, she may have simply been identifying the poem for her teacher, Alfred Young Fisher, with whom she took a special studies course in poetry during the spring of her senior year in 1955. “It is difficult to realize how hard Plath worked to perfect her craft unless you read the poems written before 1956,” Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, wrote to us; “many of these poems, like ‘Ennui,’ deserve publication.”


Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight
finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blasé princesses indict
tilts at terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,
while bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.

Sylvia Plath

From the link highlighted above:

Plath’s original typescripts of her poem (including an earlier draft and the final finished version), which we’ve reproduced here photographically, are currently housed in the Sylvia Plath Archive of juvenilia in the Lilly Library at Indiana University under the label “Ennui (I).”

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