Thursday, September 12, 2013

Plath: Introduction to Collected Poems and "Juvenile"

While reading the introduction to The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, I was struck by the thought that she never threw out any of her poetry. The introduction claims, "With one or two exceptions, she[Sylvia] brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail".  Such dedication to your work, to being an artist, is unimaginable. As a writer myself, though I focus more on novels than poetry, I have countless "first chapters" and once or twice have scrapped entire projects after working on them for months. It is truly amazing the herculean amount of effort it must have taken in order to get some kind of end product out of every single thing she ever started. This amount of dedication and commitment really had me thinking about Sylvia Plath as a person. What was the most important thing in her life? What gave her a purpose, and why did that purpose leave? Obviously she was very committed to her art and her craft.

Her dedication to her poetry was so enormous. She was so tenacious by never giving up, only throwing out a sentence here or there. Why were her professional career goals given so much more effort than her personal life? She would never give up when it came to her own poems, yet she gave up on her marriage and on her very life in the end. Or did she put the same amount of dedication into both pursuits, and only truly gave up her life because of the amount of effort put into a failed marriage? Plath lived in a time when women were still expected to give up careers after marriage, yet she continued to work on poems, and her husband "allowed" it. I guess that in a way, I am wondering why the marriage went wrong. On paper, it seems like Plath and Hughes were the "it" couple of their time; forward thinkers in their own right, and so completely on the same page when it came to poetry.

She had to have had some kind of confidence and self-worth derived from her professional life, yet it was the personal life that caught up to her in the end. Was she simply bearing the brunt of a marriage gone wrong? I suppose those thoughts can wait for later. Now, I'm diving into Plath's "Juvenila" poetry. These poems were written pre-marriage, and Plath herself never really looked back at them once she had moved on. She probably would never want to republish them, but I think they are a great way to see how she developed as a poet during her lifetime.

I focused on Family Reunion for a bit of close reading. For me, family reunions call to mind crisp Pennsylvania air in the Fall. My family had our family reunion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania every year until I was 16, and the matriarch of our family passed away. In my mind, I see blue shirts that say "Hensel" on them in white. I think of potato sack races, with the dry scritch of canvas along brittle, dried grass. Over all of my memories though, there is a warm sense of family and peace. It seems that young Sylvia Plath and I have much different feelings when it comes to our own family reunions.

The language, to me, was tricky. You almost get the sense that Sylvia enjoys family reunions, or believes that she should. Sentences end in benevolent words like greeting, cousins are described as "pink" and "pleasing". Yet "screams of greeting" aren't very positive depictions of a welcoming family. the "clash of people meeting" is a rather volatile and almost dangerous way of saying that people are coming together.

The most visual representation of what I mean is here:
The doorbell rends the noonday heat
With copper claws;
 A second's pause.
 The dull drums of my pulses beat
Against a silence wearing thin.

I found a sense of uneasiness within the poem. You can almost hear a jarring screech of a doorbell as you read the it. This unease is fully captured in the end of the poem when Sylvia states," I cast off my identity/And make the fatal plunge." The feeling of giving up oneself in order to interact with the family is a difficult one. Not being true to yourself and your personality can be like a small death, compounded upon when you cannot be honest with those closest to you.

I found this excellent reading of Family Reunion on Youtube and wanted to share. I think the girl who narrates it really makes it cultural and has such an interesting way of enunciating that it really makes the poem feel more cultural, more ethnic, and almost more meaningful because of that.

1 comment:

  1. I am very glad you chose to include the excerpt from the introduction of The Collected Poems in this post. My book has not arrived yet so I have not had the opportunity to read the intro. Professor Daumer mentioned in class that Hughes had taken the liberty of editing and/or rearranging Plath's work after she died and before he allowed her work to be published. Knowing now that Plath not just completed but perfected almost all of her poems, I find myself even more upset with Hughes' editing.

    None the less, I agree with you that it is almost unfathomable that she was able to complete so much. Her dedication is truly a new found source of inspiration for me.