Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh, Sylvia

When choosing a topic for my research paper, I finally settled on Sylvia Plath's poetry. I know that sounds trite and so overdone, but I feel like I must. When I was in high school, some of my more literary girlfriends were bordering on obsessed with the tragedy of Sylvia Plath. They went on and on about Plath's brilliant expression of her pain in life, always talking about how they, too, would "eat men like air." I never took the bait. Honestly, I was far too busy plotting my own suicide attempts to be fascinated with the poet who stuck her head in an oven. Depression is very self-centered that way.

Now, almost twenty years later, I feel like I've conquered the demon that is Depression - or at least trapped him in a cage where I can poke him with a stick if he threatens to cause trouble. Now I feel like I have the distance I need to even approach Sylvia Plath. Now I've lived longer than seventeen years, and I understand more about the life of a wife and mother that Sylvia chronicled in much of her poetry. Now, I get it.

Don't get me wrong. I actually think some of her poetry is horrible and disjointed. I don't know that she would be so popular if she had lived, or even if she had died in a less spectacular fashion like a car accident or a heart attack. On the other hand, some of her poetry has a clarity and a brutal truth that is hard to find in the world today.

Also, I understand her. I understand not wanting to be alone, but sometimes feeling that men are more trouble than they're worth. I understand motherhood being the pinnacle of accomplishment and simultaneously being the shackles that hinder moving forward. I understand never feeling good enough, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.

I've been reading her journals, and I am struck by her overwhelming intelligence. (Supposedly, she had an IQ of around 160.) The journal is sprinkled with little pep talks she is constantly giving herself, trying to stay one step ahead of the demon. I find myself feeling strangely maternal towards this woman who would be around seventy-five if she were still with us. I want so badly to take her by the hand and tell her it will all be okay, that she is not the only person in the world that feels this way. Sometimes, that's all it takes - just knowing that you're not the only one.

So, even if five or six angst-ridden young women in my class choose to research Sylvia Plath, I don't care. Even if my instructor is sick and tired of reading about Plath's tortured soul, I'm doing it anyway. The truth is, they don't matter any more. This is between me and Sylvia now.


Jody said...

Hmm. I think you might be on to something re: experiencing motherhood and maturity. I was in love with her poetry in high school, too, but I've just recently read The Bell Jar, and suddenly things make more sense. Her poetry is not just words on a page anymore, it's something living and breathing.

Good luck with the paper!

UnPlugged or UnHinged? said...

Kudos for writing with conviction, regardless of what others think. "To thine own self be true," and all that.