Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Letters Home" by Sylvia Plath

On this the week before the anniversary of Plath's infamous end (47 years ago this Friday), I've found my own appropriate ending to one facet of what looks like a life-long study for me.  With the steam of my second cup of coffee warming my hands, I wander from window to window in this bucolic life, musing upon my morning's completion of Plath's Letters Home.

I've been putting off finishing the last five pages for the last five weeks now...for whatever reason.  I've not wanted to lose her, I suppose...hoping instead to linger just a bit longer in her life, but this morning it felt appropriate, good even, to lose her; as natural and inevitable as losing the cherry blossoms in early summer or losing the youthful elasticity in the skin around the eyes.

One of the major benefits to all of this Sylvia Plath research and exposure has been the destigmatization of the morbid darkness surrounding her public persona.  One quite acutely sees this in Letters.  She wrote her mother just about once a week from the time she left for Smith College up to one week before her death, and these notes are eerily optimistic and down-right cheerful.  The most fascinating part of this lies in the comparison to her own journals (which I am also about 5 pages from finishing and have been for 6 months now).  In one day, she will have written an assuring epistle to her mother  whilst confessing to her own diary of her existential angst and deep-seeded fear of failure. 

This does not, however, create in Plath a disingenuous voice; rather it is a stunning and accurate expose on the paradoxical nature of soul.  OF COURSE I would tread lightly writing a letter to my mother (who incidentally had found me [Plath] under the stairs in a first suicide attempt at age 20) about my depression or loss of hope.  One major factor in depression is the notion of being a terrible burden upon loved ones.  If one survives a suicide attempt, how much greater is the penchant towards a codependent reassurance of joy, hope, and life?!  I even think these jolly letters home were for Sylvia a promotion of health...if she spent time writing others of her being well, surely she would come to believe some of it herself.

Another impressive note is the post-script her mother wrote at the end of Letters Home.  Simply put, it revealed that Aurelia Plath had understood it as a day that was harder than most.  

"Her physical energies had been depleted by illness, anxiety and overwork, and although she had for so long managed to be gallant and equal to the life-experience, some darker day than usual had temporarily made it seem impossible to pursue" (500).

I find this approach refreshing and maternal somehow.  It seems that perhaps Aurelia didn't spend her time looking for signs that she should not have missed as a mother (or at least not when publishing this book, some 12 years later) that would tell her that Sylvia was in real danger.  Instead, she seems to have known that some days are harder than others and one day Sylvia simply couldn't manage.  It's in some way freeing.

Life is perspective.  As Plath wrote after a particularly despairing day, realizing she has been looking at things all wrong, "If I can write, I don't care what happens.  I feel like an idiot who has been obediently digging up pieces of coal in an immense mine and has just realized that there is no need to do this, but that one can fly all day and  night on great wings in clear blue air through brightly colored magic and weird worlds [emphasis mine]" (336).  I don't think she meant that a simple change in attitude can make the difference, but that her talent for imagination held for her a new world in which to escape and rejuvenate her soul.  Incidentally in her later days, she was so overwhelmed with her newly-found single parent duties that she sacrificed 5-8 hours of what used to be writing time in an effort to reestablish a home for her two babies in the wake of she and Ted's separation and eventual divorce.  She says, "I would smother if I didn't write" (208), full well knowing she could not cope with this world without her soulful outlet.
image courtesy of the amazingly talented honeypie  }

Which lends itself to us how?  Perhaps those of us who live less loudly than she (in that we feel things deeply  but are less inclined to take the physical destinies into our own hands), we can find a warning.  If we continue to ignore our soul's calling, there is a kind of spiritual death that awaits us.  We must honor the imagination in all aspects of life (this is obviously wrought with Thomas Moore), listen to our outlets, care for our desires, indulge in our whimsy, and be willing to sacrifice the status quo.  That is, of course, unless we would rather be the walking dead upon this earth.

And so with that, I bid adieu to this rich piece of literary history.  To SP, I say that your life and death was not in vain, that you were a brilliant and doting mother, that your mysteries will remain vast and inspiring and in your own words, that you "are a woman and glad of it, and [your] songs will be of fertility of the earth and the people in it through waste, sorrow and death" (256).

Life awaits,


Iscah Mara said...

it was like listening to your sister-soul. you've lived with her for so long now and so intimately that i can hear her voice through you, and in fact, will most likely always hear you when i read her.

The Good Which said...

That tree is fucking fantastic!

Down and Out Chic said...

you have definitely hit on a good point when you write about the paradox that depression offers...that feeling of being a burden and never wanting to bring someone down with you (unless you're a narcissist and depressed and then that's a whole other story). it's amazing that we often can't tell the truly depressed from the healthy individual until we've been allowed a peek into their world, their true world, and into the darkness. i've decided i can only check your blog on saturday morning when i have a moment to actually think about what you're saying. it's a real treat.

mme. bookling said...

christina, you flatter me with your presence. don't worry, i am not usually saying anything of substance save once or twice a year. :)

she said...

this is truly inspiring, heartbreaking, and beautiful to read my friend.

Lizzy Derksen said...

Finally - another woman who finds Plath such a wise, dear friend, who doesn't associate her with emo girls, but with spirit and genius.