Trigger warning: mentions of suicide
Sylvia Plath, born on the 27th October 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts to Otto Plath and Aurelia Schober. was one of the most admired poets of the 20th century. Her poems were a reflection of her mental anguish, her disturbed marriage with Ted Hughes (also a poet) and her conflicts with her family. She was described by Joyce Carol Oates as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English.”
The American poet attended Smith College, a private college for women in liberal arts. She was an excellent student, and the editor of The Smith Review(the newsletter of Smith college). It was during this phase that Plath first attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills after not being able to meet Dylan Thomas, one of her favourite poets and later being refused entry in the Harvard writing seminar. All the heartbreaking events in her life during this period were later used as an inspiration in her only novel, The Bell Jar.
Plath’s professional career started in 1958/59, but her poems were better when she started to learn poetry with the help of Anne Sexton. She then chose poetry as her career, but it was not sufficient to make ends meet,forcing her into part time jobs as well. Sexton was one of Plath’s good friends. Both had many things in common. They would often discuss how they would attempt suicide. Both of them succumbed to depression.. Both Anne and Sylvia were confessional poets and their struggle with attempts to escape reality could be seen in their work.
Not to forget, Plath was already a clinically depressed adult since college and had received Electroconvulsive Therapy multiple times.
After recovering from her series of traumatic events, Sylvia Plath completed her degree and went on to study at Cambridge University. This was where she met the love of her life, Ted Hughes. The couple later moved to London, where Plath wrote ‘The Colossus’. After the birth of their daughter, the couple migrated to Devon where she completed her novel ‘The Bell Jar’. When their second child was born, Ted Hughes left Plath. His argument being that he did not want to share the responsibility of housework since Plath was a serious advocate for equality. After his departure, Plath added poems like ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Fever 103’, ‘Purdah’, to her anthology, amongst others.
During her lifetime, she published The Bell Jar (a novel) and The Colossus ( a poetry volume), both of which received good reviews. Her other works such as Ariel, Double Exposure, etc. have also gained her recognition making her one of the best female poets of America in the 20th century. Her poems were always characterized as a mixture of the depression and anger she had within her. Her pieces were always condemning the double standards of society, mistrust, anxiety, etc.
And here you come, with a cup of tea
Wreathed in steam.
The blood jet is poetry,
There is no stopping it.
You hand me two children, two roses.
from “Kindness”, written February 1, 1963. Ariel
Despite her success, depression did not seem to leave Sylvia alone. She attempted suicide many times after her first attempt. Her life was one long battle for survival. And her depression was at its peak after her marriage with Ted Hughes broke. Left alone with two children to handle, Plath found no other way but to commit suicide. She was found dead on the 11th of February 1963. Plath was just 30 years old at the time. Her losses had made her so weak that she fell for depression, anxiety and was troubled at all times. Her grave can be found at Heptonstall church, West Yorkshire England.
The daughter of Plath and Hughes, Freida Hughes is a writer and artist. Their son, Nicholas Hughes is no more after he hanged himself following a long battle with depression.
Some critics lauded her as a confessional poet. Her poetry made life and death inseparable. Her work had the feel of alienation and self-destruction to which many people in their mid-20s related to. Even though Sylvia Plath left this world much too soon, her work stays and continues to inspire many people.