Sylvia Plath – wordsmith extraordinaire

I must admit after reading The Bell Jar years ago, I avoided other works by Sylvia Plath for a long time. It was one of the most depressing books I’d ever read, so much blood, torment, anguish, rejection, more blood and mental isolation. I’m a happy endings kind of girl, call me shallow and weak.

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But Sylvia Plath, American poet, novelist and short story writer was articulate, passionate and complicated. She was a gifted student who’d won numerous awards and had published stories and poetry in national magazines while still in her teens. As a child, Sylvia read very early and wrote complete poems by the age of five.

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However, her literary gifts came at a very high price.  Fifty years ago in 1963, Sylvia Plath killed herself at 30 years of age, suffering from depression. So tragic that self-doubt could eat at one so talented. Life was indeed too short for a clever woman who may have been better assisted and more vocal in today’s world.

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But this post isn’t really about Sylvia Plath’s life, but the words she used. I’d like to share the fresh and insightful ways she could put words together, I don’t think she’d mind. Her words are economical, chosen to create a rich yet poignant (and not always dark) imagery. Plath used verbs in unusual ways too. Is there a word for that?

Here are some random, scattered examples (it’s not a poem) of her word-smithing I’ve kept, creativity I aspire to –

  • “The womb rattles its pod.”
  • “How you insert yourself between myself and myself.”
  • “You are sunk in your seven chins, still as a ham.”
  • “The wheels, two rubber grubs, bite their sweet tails.”
  • “The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair, tearing off my voice.”
  • “The dull bells tongue the hour.”
  • “My singing makes you roar. I rock you like a boat.”
  • “And a sky like a pig’s backside, an utter lack of attention.”
  • “The impotent husband slumps out for coffee.”
  • “Shifting my clarities.”
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What lines of poetry rock your boat?

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16 Responses to Sylvia Plath – wordsmith extraordinaire

  1. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
    But I have promises to keep
    And miles to go before I sleep
    (Going from memory)

  2. And miles to go before I sleep. I love his rhythm, and The Road Not Taken, obviously from previous post, or are you being clever? Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  3. She really was extraordinarily talented. I love her poem blackberries. The way she killed herself – and the fact that she did – as a mom of young children almost angers me but I don’t dwell on it. Women who do that are obviously terribly unhealthy in the mind. So tragic.

  4. suzjones says:

    Hi Susan,
    I’ve nominated you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award should you wish to accept it. If you don’t then I’m fine with that 🙂 Thanks for following my blog 🙂

  5. Thanks again for the nomination Suz (as I mentioned on your blog)!! I value and enjoy our interactions and love your A-Z about you. Keep up your great posts!!:)

  6. Sweet potato post? No! I love the underrated sweet potato. Am looking into why your blog isn’t appearing. 🙂

  7. Casey says:

    I read The Bell Jar with interest. I can relate a lot to her dark side. My difficulties have arisen from a very difficult, invalidating upbringing (deep family dysfunction). For me, becoming a mother of three girls brought up a whole host of buried pain and I was, for the longest time, mothering without a map. I can relate a lot to her life and her struggles, but unlike her, have an extremely strong will to live. Even at my lowest points, I’d found reasons to keep going on.

    I can only read her journalis and letters a little bit at a time. It stirs up a lot in me, so I take it slow. I totally understand the desire to develop as an individual, apart from husband and children. But I focus more on striking a balance of needs for the five of us in my family. It’s not always easy.

    I can’t say which lines of poetry have rocked my boat, because I haven’t delved deeply into her poetry yet as I’m still reading her journals and letters (slowly). I’ll try to come back here and quote my favorites though, when I do.

    It was really nice of DIana to share my link about Sylvia with you. Growing up, of course, I never really knew that I would find I had much in common with Slyvia, but it turns out, I did. I have deep empathy for her, because, as I know first hand, no one spends time in childhood thinking about all the ways to make themselves miserable as adults. Things happen and we don’t always have the understanding or the tools to deal with them. We are all muddling along as best we can, though I’m very grateful I have access to a wider perspective by talking to other people across the globe. Some things I struggle with are universal, others, a little more unique, but I know I’m not alone. I think that helps a lot.

    Blessings to you and yours,


    • Hello Casey, thanks for visiting. The Bell Jar reminds me how powerful a mother’s rejection can be. Mothering without a map are powerful words, and yes, being able to have real conversations with understanding people can help a lot. I hope your struggles are lessening and your path clearer as you journey away from your childhood. You sound resilient, and that’s a huge bonus. We’re never as alone as we think we are, now there’s a challenging title for a post. Diana has some wonderful, interesting posts! Best wishes to you. 🙂

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