Dear Poetry Aficionados,
Poetry & Poets in Rags blog
In all the nearly 10 years of Poetry & Poets in Rags, there has never been a bigger poet or poetry story than has taken place this week, the golden anniversary of the death of Sylvia Plath. The articles have been coming from the finest newspapers everywhere, some written by the world's finest poetry journalists and biographers, and thus we are given a great breadth of understanding on the life, death, and poetry of who may end up being considered the greatest poet of the past hundred years or more. In point, the last link in the clutch of links in News at Eleven (Adam Kirsch covers this in Great Regulars as well), is about how scant were her obituaries 50 year ago. Needless to say, her poetry and legacy has taken hold from the smallest of seeds. She is and will remain a great and historic poet.
Here is one obit, in which her mother, Aurelia Plath, was mistaken about the cause of her death:
Mrs. Sylvia (Plath) Hughes, daughter of Mrs. Aurelia S. Plath of 26 Elmwood Road, Wellesley, died in London, England, on February 11 of virus pneumonia. Mrs. Hughes' brother, Warren J. Plath of Cambridge and Wellesley, flew overseas with his wife to attend the funeral on February 18. (from The Wellesley Townsman ~February 27, 1963)
It may be that we all have been mistaken. The inquest into her death was short, and maybe her mother's instincts were correct, that Sylvia would not have killed herself. She had attempted before, but it was an attempt, which is what most female suicides are. Males tend to go through with it, whereas women tend to use it in desperation, a sort of cry for help. Al Alvarez and others thought that she intended to be discovered. The vast majority of females suicides do not result in death, and many of those deaths come from miscalculations, such as with Alvarez' hypothesis, that her discoverer did not arrive. Whether he is right or wrong, who could that have been?
If we take a step back from the psychology of it, and look at what took place, what she supposedly did makes no sense. They say she stuck her head in the oven after turning it on. You do not need to have your head in the oven to die from the gas, which she certainly would have known if she were attempting, because they say she sealed her very young children, Frieda and Nicholas, in a bedroom, so that they would not become victims of the gas. It is not that she laid her head on the open door of the oven, as if to be close to her source of death. She supposedly stuck her head inside the oven, something a murderer would more likely do, an easy position to hold someone in until unconsciousness, before sealing off the children's room.
Compound her unlikely method of suicide with her husband's next partner's, Assia Wevill, who is purported to have committed suicide from the gas of an oven too. Only she had taken a sleeping pill and was in bed with her and Ted Hughes' daughter Shura, who died from the gas as well. One might guess that she must have been trying to get back at Ted with the way she killed herself. Yet we know that she too would statistically attempt without succeeding. We have two less-than-likely suicides, Plath and Wevill, women in relationship with the same family, done with a remarkably similar M.O.
Lest we suspect Ted as the one prime suspect, he was in Soho at the time, and is more apt to be blamed for her suicide, as he was cheating on her with Wevill. We know that Plath did not fit in well with the Hughes family. It seems no one liked her, that her friends were all outside the family. In just another tragic aspect of this scene, Olwyn Hughes, Ted's sister, who may be Plath's greatest detractor of all, became Sylvia's literary executor, therefore, controlling purse strings, and thus the greatest stream of the story we have about Plath's life and death.
Let's not willy-nilly assume that she was murdered, but let's not willy-nilly assume suicide either. Let's assume the open case. If Plath was murdered, the same person who plotted the crime, or hired someone to commit it, is the person who killed Wevill and 4-year-old Shura. I sooner believe murder than suicide. It also gives us a fresh reading of Plath's poetry. It does not take the depression aspect away, but it adds the hostility of her in-laws, and her being away from her mother, who as we know, could not believe that she could take her own life.
One of her last poems, "Sheep in Fog", could, then, be about her fear of being killed. The line, "People or stars/Regard me sadly, I disappoint them," now has us consider who would regard her so sadly. That poem ends, "They threaten/To let me through to a heaven/Starless and fatherless, a dark water." Who is "they"? The people from earlier in the poem? No?
In another of her final poems, "Child", she says she wants to fill the child's eye with images "grand and classical//Not this troublous/Wringing of hands, this dark/Ceiling without a star." Was the family situation her children were in, along with or instead of her depression, the cause of the dark ceiling without a star?
Here I have taken great liberties in explication of her poetry. But so have the people who see her final poems as suicide notes of sorts. Let's begin a new inquest, and consider them evidence of a possible murder, the victim speaking from beyond the grave.
We have many more important articles this week. I leave them to your discovery. We also have IBPC winners to announce, and I will do that next week.
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