Tag Archives: sylvia plath

21 Quotes from Sylvia Plath

31 Jul

1. “Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

2. “God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of ‘parties’ with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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3. “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”

The Bell Jar

With Ted Hughes

With Ted Hughes

4. “Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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5. “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence. I knew perfectly well the cars were making a noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for the good it did me.”

The Bell Jar

Syvia Plath

6. “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.”

Draft of letter to Richard Sassoon

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7. “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

The Bell Jar

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8. “With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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9. “I like people too much or not at all. I’ve got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

As a child, with her brother Warren

As a child, with her brother Warren

10. “I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.”

The Bell Jar

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11. “We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.”

Lesbos

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12. “Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

13. ” I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.”

Elm

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14. “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

The Bell Jar

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15. “I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.”

Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950 – 1963

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16. “If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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17. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

The Bell Jar

With Frieda and Nicholas

With Frieda and Nicholas

18. “To annihilate the world by annihilation of oneself is the deluded height of desperate egoism. The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Self- portrait

Self- portrait

19. “What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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20. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

The Bell Jar

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21. “But everybody has exactly the same smiling frightened face, with the look that says: ‘I’m important. If you only get to know me you will see how important I am. Look into my eyes. Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.’”

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Insomniac

2 Jul

You start by carefully arranging everything on the bed: the long skinny pillow on one side, the regular pillow at the top, the pretty handmade blanket folded just so. You place your glasses and phone and kleenex on the night table and turn off the light. You lie down, wriggle yourself into position, and close your eyes.

Stop thinking, you tell your brain. Go to sleep.

But your brain won’t stop. Instead, it offers you bits and pieces of information, things that are useless on their own but suggestive of something deeper, more frightening. Or else it takes one small event from the day and expands it, blows it up like a grainy old photograph, then picks it apart. Or else it gives you just the beginnings of sentences, stuff like:

My kid is. My partner doesn’t. My boss won’t. My friend says. She knows. He wants. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

You try to stay very still and think about nothing, but since when does thinking about nothing ever work? And while we’re at it, how does sleep work? How does everyone make the daily transition from conscious and thinking and feeling to, well, unconsciousness?

You squirm around, trying to find that elusive perfect spot on the pillow, the one that’s smooth and cool to the touch. Your legs get tangled up in the blanket, and the sheets feel wrong and scratchy. Frustrated, you strip the sheets and blanket off the bed and throw them into a pile on the floor. But now you’re cold, so you put on a sweatshirt and a pair of socks.

You lie there. You check the clock. You close your eyes. You open them. You check the clock. You count down how many hours are left until you have to get up.

And your brain says, Let’s have a drink.

And your brain says, Let’s read Sylvia Plath’s journals.

And your brain says, Let’s make a list of all of your shortcomings.

But you’re smarter than that, aren’t you? So instead, you do this relaxation exercise that you learned years ago in some theatre class that you took, where you bring some kind of mindful awareness (what does that even mean?) to each of your body parts in turn, starting from your toes all the way to the crown of the head. And as you’re doing this, you remember how, another time, in another theatre class, you learned to do a sort of bastardized version of the Alexander Technique. After class, you went back to your dorm and offered to teach it to the boy you had a crush on, just so you would have an excuse to touch him.

From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the memory of how you told him that you were in love with him. It was in a friend’s dorm room, where five or six of you were lying piled on a bed, watching South Park. At some point, people decide to go find snacks and drinks and you end up alone with your crush and you suddenly, bravely, think, now or never. And so you tell him, awkwardly, in fits and starts, how you feel about him and then you start to cry because you’re so nervous and you love him so much and anyway how could anyone ever love you back?

Then he takes your hand and, very kindly, tells you what everyone but you already knows – namely that he’s been fucking your best friend for the past three weeks.

That anecdote offers an easy transition into the list of people who you’ve loved but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, love you back. Also included on this list are those who loved you at first but eventually stopped loving you. And then, of course, there are the people who really did love you, but loved you badly, or too much, or not in the way that you needed.

But why didn’t these people love you? They must have had reasons, good reasons, even. What on earth did you do to drive them away? And ohhhh shit here it comes, the list of all your shortcomings. And it’s too late to stop yourself, because you’re already halfway done.

You’re a fucking sneaky bastard, brain. Did you know that?

In the morning, you drag yourself out of bed. The insides of your eyelids feel like cat’s tongues, with all those scratchy little barbs. There’s grit in your mouth, like someone’s tried to bury you in sand. You feel queasy.

You don’t want to eat anything, but you force yourself to, hoping that it’ll give you a boost of energy.

You spend the day downing coffee and you swear to god that if one more person tells you that you should cut caffeine from your diet you’re going to punch them in the face. Caffeine is the only thing that’s currently making your life bearable, and the idea of not drinking it makes you feel like you might want to die.

Everyone has some sort of solution to your sleep problem, but none of them, in your experience, work. Or rather, they work for a few nights, maybe even a few weeks, but then they stop. For all you know they never worked in the first place, and it’s all one big placebo effect. The fact is that you should just stop complaining about how tired you are. You don’t sleep. You’re never going to sleep. End of story.

By the end of the day, you’re so tired you could cry. Sometimes you really do cry, and when your partner asks what’s and you tell him that you’re not sad, you’re just so tired, you feel like a stupid little kid. You spend the evening in a daze on the couch, your brain too fuzzy for activities like reading or conversation. You wish you were dead.

Then ten o’clock comes and it’s like someone’s flipped a switch in your brain. You’re wide awake, wired, even, ready to take on the world. But it’s bedtime, and you have to work in the morning. So you turn off the lights, lie down, and let the whole cycle start all over again.

Man.

Fuck sleep.

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Sylvia

11 Feb

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death.

Is this something that people do? Celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death? Certainly celebrate is the wrong word – mark is probably better, or even observe.

Today I am observing the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death.

It’s no secret that I love Sylvia. I mean, I named my blog after her only novel (actually, I named it after what I would have called my all-girl rock band if I’d had one, but the band was named after the novel, so really it all amounts to the same thing). I’ve read everything she’s ever written. I have a weird sort of embroidered picture of her hanging on my dining room wall.

I’ve even joked about being her reincarnation. I mean, there are a few similarities between us, right?

We’re both depressed, oversharing lady-writers, for one thing. We both come from families whose finances went into decline at some point during our childhoods. Her father died when she was eight; mine left when I was thirteen. Of course you can’t compare death to a divorce, but I think it would be fair to say that those events left us both dealing with what are colloquially referred to as “daddy issues.”

Oh, and my son shares a birthday with her son Nicholas. So there’s that, too.

Of course, this is basically where the similarities end. Sylvia worked hard throughout high school and ended up attending Smith College on a full scholarship. She then went on to receive a Fullbright Scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge. Meanwhile, I burned out early in high school, too tired and sad and stupid to get my shit together, and went from being an honour roll student in grade nine to receiving mostly Cs and Ds in my final year. I did get into Dalhousie University (though just how I managed that, I’m still not sure), and while there had all As and Bs, but still, I was never the academic star that Sylvia was.

Sylvia published her first poem when she was eight, and went on to publish several poems and short stories before she finished university. One of her stories, Sunday At The Mintons, won her a coveted spot as a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine in New York.

I published my first poems and short stories, well, never, and I can’t even properly edit my own stupid blog, let alone a whole magazine. I’ve also never been to New York, although I have watched a lot of Friends and Mad Men, which is basically the same thing, right?

I guess that, all in all, Sylvia and I aren’t much alike, at least not on the surface. But when I read her writing, I feel that, as The Bell Jar‘s Esther Greenwood says about her friend Doreen, everything she writes is like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones.

I get Sylvia Plath. I mean, I get her. I get her dark, sad, humour, and I get her anxieties, and I get her hopelessness. Up until now, I’ve used her as a sort of guide in the darkness, reading and re-reading my well-thumbed copies of her books, looking for passages that will get me through my fits of sadness. A paragraph here, a stanza there, a kind of spiritual sustenance to tide me over until things get better. For most of my adult life, I’ve looked up to her.

But then, for all of my life until now, she’s been older than me. Wiser, hopefully. Maybe even more mature.

What do I do now that I’m about to out-age her? She’ll be thirty years old forever, but I’ll only be thirty for a few more months.

How do I continue to look up to someone who will soon be younger than me? Will I still love her writing in 10 years’ time? In 20? Will I look back someday and, instead of finding inspiration in her words, discover that all along she’s been a boring, self-obsessed, talentless hack?

What happens when you outgrow the people you admire the most? Probably nothing. Probably it’s normal.

But in a strange way I feel that by letting go of Sylvia and moving on, I’ll be abandoning her. In a funny way, I feel that she needs me, as much as I need her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her last few weeks alive. Not much is known about what was going through her mind, since Ted Hughes burned her last journal, but we do have a handful of poems dating from late January and early February and, of course, a few firsthand accounts.

We know that the quality of her poems changed in those last weeks, becoming less about the self, their mood more disembodied, alien. We know that her incandescent poetic rage, that rage that has made her so famous, had begun to fade in her works, replaced by a sort of resigned hopelessness. We know that she worked feverishly, producing poem after poem, trying to translate her tangled thoughts into perfectly-ordered words.

We know that Sylvia went to her doctor and told him that she felt as if she was heading for a breakdown. We know that she began taking antidepressants and sleeping pills. We know that she reached out to her friends, Jillian and Gerry Becker,  for help and a place to stay. We know that several days before she died, her doctor began trying (unsuccessfully) to find her a spot in the hospital.

Each night that she stayed with the Beckers, Sylvia would take her sleeping pills and recite a sort of monologue about all of the people who had wronged her, all the men, beginning with her father, who had deserted her, and how utterly miserable she was. She would go on and on, ignoring any questions that Jillian put to her, as if she was in a trance. Eventually she would pass out.

Having Sylvia stay with them began to be a strain on Jillian – she had to do everything for Sylvia and her children, cleaning, feeding and entertaining them. When Sylvia announced on Sunday, February 10th that she wanted to go home, Jillian didn’t press her to stay. There was supposed to be a nurse coming to help Sylvia the next morning, and besides, surely the doctor would find a hospital bed for her soon. And also, as Jillian said in the article I linked to above, pity tires the heart.

Gerry drove Sylvia home Sunday afternoon, and she wept the whole way there.

That night Sylvia left the window in her children’s room open, and shoved cloths and towels underneath their door. She also placed tape all around the door frame, to stop up the cracks. She then turned the gas taps in her oven on all the way and, placed a little folded cloth in the oven to act as a pillow, and laid down.

She was found the next morning by the nurse and a handyman working on the property who broke into her flat when no one answered the door.

By that point, she’d been dead for several hours.

Her children, though cold from having slept next to an open window in February, were fine.

And pity tires the heart.

I think that there’s a state that you sometimes get into when you’re deeply depressed. You feel as though you’re walking along a sort of knife’s edge between artistic inspiration and suicide. In an instant, all the dead, flat hopelessness you’ve been feeling gives way to an ecstatic misery. You suddenly feel as if you’ve been given a special insight into how the world really is, and you work like mad to get that insight down on paper or on canvas or whatever. And you know that you’re playing a dangerous game, but you also think that it’s worth it.

It’s worth it to go that close to the edge, if there are rare, exotic gifts to bring back.

It’s worth risking death, so that you can tell everyone else what it was like.

It’s worth almost everything, if it means that you’ll write something great.

It’s like circling round and round a black hole, getting a few inches closer each time. You’re discovering all kinds of amazing things that no one has ever known before, but you never imagining that you yourself might be drawn in.

It’s like standing at the edge of a lake of poison, and knowing that the poison, if taken in small enough quantities, will give you brilliance and genius that you’ve only ever dreamed of. The poison, if taken one spoonful at a time, will give you an enormous drive to create. And you want that. Oh, how badly you want that, want all of it.

But even though you know that the poison could kill you, you’re not overly wary of it. You’re that you’ll be able to set limits. You’re confident that you’ll be able to stop when you need to. But after taking one sip, you talk yourself into taking another, and then another. And you feel fine, not sick at all. You drink and drink and drink, and maybe even dive right in.

And it’s not until it’s too late that you realize what a mistake you’ve made.

And maybe there’s no one to save you. Because pity tires the heart.

I am trying so hard not to tire all of your hearts.

Sylvia, I am thinking of you today. I promise that you do not tire my heart.

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