Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Letters of Slyvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940 to 1956 (edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen Kukil, 1456 pages, 2017)

October 27, 1932

February 11, 1963

"Her poetry escapes ordinary analysis in the way clairvoyance and mediumship do: her psychic gifts, at almost any time, were strong enough to make her frequently wish to be rid of them. In her poetry, in other words, she had free and controlled access to depths formerly reserved to the primitive ecstatic priests, shamans and Holymen.” - Ted Hughes


You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.   
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.   
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.   
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna   
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck   
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.   
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.   
Every woman adores a Fascist,   
The boot in the face, the brute   
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   
But no less a devil for that, no not   
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.   
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,   
And they stuck me together with glue.   
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.   
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,   
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you   
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Of late I am more and more drawn to the Reading of the deepest poetry I can find.  Maybe I had to become old to respond, I am not sure. Maybe I'm seeking maximum compression and am seeking access to Orphic depths, to wisdom born of deep feeling and pain, to those whose senses are widely open.  For sure I find this in Plath. (I hope no one minds me including her poem in this post, it is found on lots of websites).

The first Volume of The Collected Letters of Sylvia Plath, 1940 to 1956 is very obviously a work of great love, I'm very grateful to have been given a review copy of this magnificent book.  

Most of the letters, from a total of 120 correspondents, have never been seen before.  They include letters from her years at Smith College, her summer internship in New York City, letters telling her mother about the amazing poet whom she has fallen in love with, Ted Hughes.  There are fascinating letters about her tour of Europe.  The most moving and poignant of the letters are about the early years of her marriage to Ted Hughes. (She met Hughes at a party in Cambridge February 25, 1956, they married June 16, 1956.) When I read her gushing letters, mostly to her mother, about Hughes I could not avoid the impact of knowing what was to come.  Sixteen letters from Plath to Hughes from the period when circumstances, making a living, took them apart after their marriage are included.  We seem struggling to make a living while cherishing their art.

There is a splendid introduction, a preface by her daughter Frieda Hughes and a very well done index.  There are twenty Two previously unpublished photographs and several line drawings by Plath.

This collection is essential reading for all who love Plath.  The literary world should be grateful for the hard and brilliant work of the editors.

Coming out in late October, this book would make a great Christmas gift for any of her fans, from readers to scholars.  All libraries who have the budget should acquire this volume.

Mel u


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, I have read this poem more than once and each time I have interpreted it differently, be it as a metaphor for the holocaust or autobiographical, perhaps her perception of her deceased father. It's difficult to tell. But a powerful poem it is, nonetheless.

Mel u said...

Prashant Trikannad. This is a very powerful poem, it is almost as if she sees her father's Germanic heritage as implicating him in the Holocaust. Thanks very much for your comment

Buried In Print said...

I'm not a huge Plath fan but I have two friends who have been passionate about her, so I bought a copy of her journals (unabridged) and read them earlier this year; it was an interesting experience and I can imagine that having the letters to read alongside would've made it even more interesting, offering another layer of her with the more private one of her diaries. You're right: this would make a great gift for fans!