Sylvia Plath - Introduction

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Here is an introduction on the poet Sylvia Plath.


  • 1. Sylvia PlathOct. 27, 1932 - Feb. 11, 1963

2. Biographical Information - Born in Massachusetts to European immigrant parents - Suffered from depression and made several suicide attempts, finally succeeding (failing?) in 1963 when she was 30. - In 1983, she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry. 3. What is Plath famous for? Her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, depicts a talented woman slowly descending into insanity. It is also a standard for feminist literature. Quotes from the novel: - If you expect nothing from anybody you wont ever be disappointed. - The silence depressed me. It wasnt the silence of silence. It was my own silence. - If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things and one time and the same time, then Im neurotic as hell. - The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadnt thought about it. 4. While The Bell Jar is an American literary classic, Plath is known more for her poetry. 5. Plaths struggle with depression Throughout her life, Plath struggled with depression. Because of her emotional state, Plath was institutionalized and underwent shock therapy, which drove her to greater emotional strife. In addition to her alleged suicide attempt when she was 10, she tried to kill herself when she was 19. 6. Recurring Themes While Plaths hundreds of poems focused on different topics, there are three themes that recur throughout her work, often in conjunction with one another: 1. She used her poems to confess 2. She often wrote of overwhelming male (father/husband) figures 3. Birth is also a subject common to her works. 7. Confessional Poetry 8. What is Confessional Poetry?Confessional poetry uses the I. It often deals with subjects not often written about publicly: death, trauma, depression.** from A Brief Guide to Confessional Poetry. 9. Plath on confessional poetry "I think my poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have, but I must say I cannot sympathize with these cries from the heart that are informed by nothing except a needle or a knife, or whatever it is. I believe that one should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrifying, like madness, being tortured, this sort of experience, and one should be able to manipulate these experiences with an informed and intelligent mind."** from Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry: A Reconsideration. 10. Examples of Plaths confessional poetry Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time-Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal - from Daddy* from Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry: A Reconsideration. 11. Watch the following video and answer these questions: 1. What type of poems did Plath begin writing? 2. Explain why Plath believes confessional poetry is important. (She begins speaking about it when she begins speaking about Robert Lowell.) 3. Why does Plath consider say the difference between American and British literature is? NOTE: SORRY FOR THE CRAPPY QUALITY OF THE VIDEO JUST LISTEN TO IT. 12. Father/Husband Overwhelming Influence 13. Otto Plath Born in Glabow, Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1900, when he was 15. He worked as a biology and German professor at Boston University. After incorrectly self-diagnosing himself with lung cancer, Otto Plath died in 1940 due to complications from diabetes. (Sylvia Plath was 8.) FBI files revealed that Otto Plath had pro-Hitler leanings, which show up in Sylvia Plaths poetry.* *FBI files on Sylvia Plaths father shed new light on poet. The Guardian. 14. Ill never speak to God again Plath was devastated by her fathers death believing that he could have prevented his death if he actually seeked treatment. She often compared his death to suicide. When she was 10 years old, Plath allegedly tried to cut her own throat and engaged in what is now called cutting.* In her poem Daddy, Plath wrote, At twenty, I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. * Sylvia Plath tried to slit her own throat after the death of her father, claims new book. The Daily Mail. 15. Sylvia Plath reads Daddy 16. Ted Hughes Born in 1930 and died in 1998. Became British Poet Laureate in 1984 and remained so until his death and is continually called one of the most influential British writers of the 20th Century. Early in his career, Hughes focused on nature and the violence of it, and later on in his career became a modernist poet and often focused on mythological archetypes. He and Sylvia Plath married in 1956 and had two children. 17. That big, dark, hunky boy ''Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes. I started yelling again about his poems and quoting: ''most dear unscratchable diamond'' and he yelled back, colossal, in a voice that should have come from a Pole, 'You like?' and asking me if I wanted brandy, and me yelling yes and backing into the next room ... and bang the door was shut and he was sloshing brandy into a glass and I was sloshing it at the place where my mouth was when I last knew about it. ''We shouted as if in a high wind ... and I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth (omission). ... And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when he came out of the room, blood was running down his face. (Omission.) And I screamed in myself, thinking: oh, to give myself crashing, fighting, to you.'' - from The Journals of Sylvia Plath Click here to read more about their first meeting. 18. Ted Hughes v. Sylvia Plath After their marriage, Hughes, then an up-and-coming poet, began receiving publication and critical success. At one point, he was compared to Modernist giant T.S. Eliot. Plath wondered why her husband had such success, while her collections had been rejected for publication several times. Finally, in 1960, Plath signed a contract with the prestigious The New Yorker magazine for first rights to all of her future works. 19. Ted Hughes and the other woman During the final years of their marriage, Hughes began having an affair with a woman in London, leaving Plath and her children in their countryside home. After five months of separation, Plath killed herself through carbon monoxide poisoning by inhaling gas through a kitchen oven. In a letter after her death, Hughes wrote: Thats the end of my life. The rest is posthumous. Still, many feminists have blamed Hughes for driving Plath to suicide. 20. For a Fatherless SonYou will be aware of an absence, presently, Growing beside you, like a tree, A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree --Balding, gelded by lightning--an illusion, And a sky like a pig's backside, an utter lack of attention. But right now you are dumb. And I love your stupidity, The blind mirror of it. I look in And find no face but my own, and you think that's funny. It is good for me To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung. One day you may touch what's wrong --The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush. Till then your smiles are found money. 21. Birth/Motherhood One of Plaths great fears came from the idea of her possibly being barren: I would bear children until my change of life if that were possible. I want a house of our children, little animals, flowers, vegetables, fruits. I want to be an Earth-Mother in the deepest richest sense. ... And what do I meet in myself? Ash. Ash and more ash. ... Ted should be a patriarch. I a mother.'' 22. Plath had two children: 1. Frieda Hughes (B. 1960) 2. Nicholas Hughes (1960-2009) Plath also miscarried once and wrote several poems about the event. When Plath killed herself, she locked her children in a room and stuffed the door to keep the carbon monoxide from killing them as well. 23. Aurelia Plath Born in 1906 and married Otto Plath, who was 21 years her senior, in 1932. The relationship between her and her daughter, Sylvia, is a complicated one. While they were close, Sylvia often said she hated her mother. Plath wrote the poem Medusa about her mother.