Somebody asked about the confessional poets - Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich and the like - and as we all know, the minstrels exist only to serve... :-)
(Poem #53) Winter landscape, with rocks
Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone, plunges headlong into that black pond where, absurd and out-of-season, a single swan floats chaste as snow, taunting the clouded mind which hungers to haul the white reflection down. The austere sun descends above the fen, an orange cyclops-eye, scorning to look longer on this landscape of chagrin; feathered dark in thought, I stalk like a rook, brooding as the winter night comes on. Last summer's reeds are all engraved in ice as is your image in my eye; dry frost glazes the window of my hurt; what solace can be struck from rock to make heart's waste grow green again? Who'd walk in this bleak place?
<biographical note> Born to middle class parents in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath published her first poem when she was eight. Sensitive, intelligent, compelled toward perfection in everything she attempted, she was, on the surface, a model daughter, popular in school, earning straight A's, winning the best prizes. By the time she entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1950 she already had an impressive list of publications, and while at Smith she wrote over four hundred poems. Plath's surface perfection was however underlain by grave personal discontinuities, some of which doubtless had their origin in the death of her father (he was a college professor and an expert on bees) when she was eight. During the summer following her junior year at Smith, having returned from a stay in New York City where she had been a student ``guest editor'' at Mademoiselle Magazine, Plath nearly succeeded in killing herself by swallowing sleeping pills. She later described this experience in an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, published in 1963. After a period of recovery involving electroshock and psychotherapy Plath resumed her pursuit of academic and literary success, graduating from Smith with honors and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cambridge, England. In 1956 she married the English poet Ted Hughes, and in 1960, when she was 28, her first book, The Colossus, was published in England. The poems in this book---formally precise, well wrought---show clearly the dedication with which Plath had served her apprenticeship; yet they give only glimpses of what was to come in the poems she would begin writing early in 1961. She and Hughes settled for a while in an English country village in Devon, but less than two years after the birth of their first child the marriage broke apart. The winter of 1962-63, one of the coldest in centuries, found Plath living in a small London flat, now with two children, ill with flu and low on money. The hardness of her life seemed to increase her need to write, and she often worked between four and eight in the morning, before the children woke, sometimes finishing a poem a day. In these last poems it is as if some deeper, powerful self has grabbed control; death is given a cruel physical allure and psychic pain becomes almost tactile. On February 11, 1963, Plath killed herself with cooking gas at the age of 30. Two years later Ariel, a collection of some of her last poems, was published; this was followed by Crossing the Water and Winter Trees in 1971, and, in 1981, The Collected Poems appeared, edited by Ted Hughes. </note> In general I don't like Plath's poetry. Oh, I admit that she's a great poet, and that she's written some stunningly powerful poetry; there are few pieces of writing as raw and emotionally intense, as visceral, as Plath's work. For Plath, as for all the confessional poets, the need to write was compelling, overpowering - in the catharsis of the written word, they found (for some time, at least) relief from the personal demons that haunted them. But the fact remains, she's not one of my favourite poets. And I don't think I'd be able to do justice to her more important poems - I shall leave that as an exercise for one (or more) of our readers :-) - so I've confined myself to today's poem, somewhat atypical, perhaps, but possibly more accessible. thomas. PS. I will, however, restore the balance by sending you the following short essay, posted anonymously to Usenet: Sylvia Plath - the darkness inside of us Sylvia Plath scares people. When I say "Sylvia is my favorite poet" I get a weird look and a silence. The only poet I have ever really liked, besides my own poetry, was Sylvia's. She was brillant, and in her poetry there is a razor edge, opened to the inside of one's soul. This is what makes people afraid. There is a certain connection in the suicidal. Once you've been there, and are "lucky" enough to have survived, the entire world is shaded in different colors. It follows you insistently, no matter how often you attempt to exorcise your demons throught the pen and the paper. Until you have realised the potential of death, and at the same time, of life, you can not understand the dark beauty of blood, of pills, and of her poetry.