Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sunday Plath: May 1958

Poems, Potatoes

The word, defining, muzzles; the drawn line
Ousts mistier peers and thrives, murderous,
In establishments which imagined lines

Can only haunt. Sturdy as potatoes,
Stones, without conscience, word and line endure,
Given an inch. Not that they're gross (although

Afterthought often would have them alter
To delicacy, to poise) but that they
Shortchange me continuously: whether

More or other, they still dissatisfy.
Unpoemed, unpictured, the potato
Bunches its knobby browns on a vastly
Superior page; the blunt stone also.

Sylvia Plath

Plath taught at Smith College in the fall of 1957 and spring of 1958. She found this to be more difficult than she had presumed, but then she tended to be rather harsh with herself. Her students and the college people thought very highly of her.

Except for a flurry of eight poems in as many days written during the spring break in classes, she didn't write very much duting her time spent teaching. From her unabridged journals:

Saturday: May 3rd [1958]... Tomorrow I must correct all my exams which I should do in one day- they're short and all on the same subject. Then a close outline of The Wasteland which should take all week. I pick up my ms. of poetry & leaf through it, unable to invent, to create- all my projected nostalgia for my students can't shake the conviction that teaching is a smiling public-service vampire that drinks blood and brain without a thank you.

So she quit teaching.

Her mother was a little disappointed and fearful for her daughter's financial security, but Plath sold two poems to The New Yorker and received enough money from that to pay for several months' rent in Boston where she and husband Ted lived as freelance writers.

I think this is another transitional poem; it's a sonnet but loosened up a bit. Like many of her poems, its subject revolves around inchoate creativity. This theme arose at various times in her life, such as at Yaddo, and later back in England then her "Ariel" voice bashed its way to the surface.

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