Joyce Carol Oates’s extensive essays and reviews of Sylvia Plath’s work.
The poems in this final volume of Sylvia Plath’s work were all written during the last year of her life, and are therefore products of the same anguished, meticulous imagination that created the famous Ariel
Read together, these two excellent books cause us to ask ourselves one of the riddles of life: Why is the experience of one human being so vastly different from that of another? Why, in two sensitive, intelligent, gifted women poets should the energies of art be so differently employed? Where one discovers in nature a “presence” of “something else that went before” (Kumin in “The Presence”), the other discovers a helpless “blue dissolve” and shadows “chanting, but easing nothing” (Plath in “Winter Trees”).
This immensely gifted and ambitious poet, thirty years old, in a paroxysm of domestic unhappiness, emotional crisis, and physical breakdown, gassed herself in the depths of a bitter winter in London 1963, shortly after having written a number of extraordinarily powerful poems—the very poems, white-hot, venomous, self-lacerating, that would make her posthumous fame.
“I am made, crudely, for success,” Plath stated matter-of-factly in her journal in April 1958. Yet Plath could not have foreseen that her success would be almost entirely posthumous, and ironic: for, by killing herself impulsively and dying intestate, she delivered her precious fund of work, as well as her two young children Frieda and Nicholas, into the hands of her estranged husband …
The cult of Plath insists she is a saintly martyr, but of course she is something less dramatic than this, but more valuable. The “I” of the poems is an artful construction, a tragic figure whose tragedy is classical, the result of a limited vision that believed itself the mirror held up to nature …
With the recent death by hanging of Nicholas Hughes, son of Sylvia Plath, the New York Times asks “Why the Plath Legacy Lives”? Joyce Carol Oates notes, The suicide of […]