Rereading Plath

I just read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition. My parents gave me this copy, at my request, years ago. I think the hard copy (which I have) was published in 2004, so it might have been that year. While I have skimmed it many times, I hadn’t  really read it cover to cover until now.

But don’t think I’m a newcomer to Ariel, Plath’s final and most groundbreaking poetry. While I am not a Plath expert, especially since I have not been involved with the academic world for many years, I do have a lot of experience with Plath’s work.

For instance, I performed an oral explication of the poem “Fever 103” for my master’s thesis. This one will always be my favorite Plath poem.

Then for my PhD dissertation, I wrote a chapter about Plath and the “carnivalesque.”  But my favorite experience was writing a chapter,  “Higgledy Piggledy Gobbledygoo: The Rotted Residue of Nursery Rhyme in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry” for Betty Greenway’s Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers .

More recently, I’ve had two poems published at Plath Poetry Project; I find her work helps open the floodgates of imagination.

I believe that Plath is one of the greatest 20th century poets in the English language. We could debate the possibility of a few others being in her league, but not many.

Don’t think I don’t see her flaws. For one thing, there are her personal flaws. She was not always the nicest person, and she could be a crazy bitch. She didn’t really try too hard to make herself a better person, just a better writer. If I had known her in person, I doubt I would have liked her.

Her writing has some flaws, too, but mainly because EVERYTHING is out there in public. If she had lived, she would not necessarily have published everything–and even if she had there are poems I believe she would have later revised or withdrawn from future editions of her books.

Back to the book I’m reading. Ariel was published posthumously, after Plath committed suicide, by the way. You need to know that to see where I am going with this.

This newer copy of Ariel includes all the poems Plath intended in the collection in the order she intended them. The original publication of Ariel featured a collection arranged and edited by her estranged husband, English poet Ted Hughes.

I experienced a very distorting and disturbing ride reading the collection Plath’s way.

I have always kind of hated Hughes for cheating on Plath, which started the beginning of her end. But he did a great job putting Ariel together–a much better job than the poet herself. Maybe she was too close to the project. Maybe she would have rearranged everything herself if she had lived. But Hughes did it and he did it well.

The collection as Plath left it has a lot of rot in it, if you ask me. Many of the poems do not seem strong. Poems that are in the Hughes version do not seem strong now. I can only conclude that the placement of the poems within the collection guide our reading. Surrounding poems add to the appreciation of particular poems.

I think “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are absolutely brilliant. So are a few others. But some others, hmm. I see her trying out images in some poems and then using them much better in others.

The biggest annoyance (actually makes me really angry) is the way Plath uses the black or African body as metaphor. In “The Jailer,” she includes the line: “Pretending I am a negress with pink paws.” This is no brilliant metaphor; rather, it’s stooping low to grab at an old-time stereotype, a vision of the “black body” as animalistic. No no no no.

There has been a helluva lot of discussion about her use of Holocaust victim imagery in her most famous–and other–poems. But those are not relying on old stereotypes, but rather employing poetic conceit, a term that means a metaphor that is stretched a bit extra and might even be shocking or strange, but that works. John Donne was the master of conceit, and he was one of Plath’s inspirations.

So I am disappointed to read this version. Plath’s latter poetry blew open American poetry, and for that she must be honored. But let’s be honest about the poems like “The Jailer” that just might suck.

Thank you, Ted Hughes.

NEVER thought I’d write those words.



OK, I don’t expect you to go another week without a Perry photo! Sometimes he is naughty, trying to instigate the other cats to play when they want to rest, so I zip him into his little playpen (which I have shown you before). So now if he’s naughty he runs into his little CUBE instead of the playpen because he thinks I will think he’s in time out, but in reality he can get out on his own. HAHAHAHAHA. He is so smart. And a nut.


And you might want to see another pic of my granddaughter Riley.

CUTE!!!!!!! But what do you think? Can you tell what breeds of dog went into making up this pretty girl? The shelter told my daughter she was part Australian shepherd. HAHAHA.

I think that might be a no. What breed dogs do YOU see in Riley? She is four months old and weighs ten pounds. I won’t tell you where my daughter and her fiance are leaning at this point because I don’t want to sway your opinion.


Filed under #amrevising, #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

58 responses to “Rereading Plath

  1. Interestingly I haven’t read much of Plath – rather more of Hughes. Therefore an enlightening post.

  2. Ah, an equal opportunity post in many ways. Cats and a dog, allowing for forgiving Hughes and seeing the flaws in Plath making for a well balanced post. I have limited exposure to Sylvia Plath but am on a powerful poetry reading jag of late so will find her in the library and give her a go.

    • Oh, I like! this take on the post. Maybe try the original Ariel version? Or else her collected volume because it has everything including her early stuff like “The Colossus.” Good to read that before getting to “Daddy.” I am balanced today trala!

  3. I share your opinion of Plath’s work. Thanks for being so honest. The pup and Perry are cute. Thanks, Luanne.

  4. Not very knowledgeable about dogs but before you said 10 lbs., I thought maybe some Rotti (just by coloring). Maybe some sort of herding dog. In any case very, very cute. I have a feeling that dog will get away with stuff because of the cuteness factor! Perry is cute. Is there a cat in the basket in the back?

  5. I really not familiar enough with Plath’s work to comment on what you’ve said, but I will have to explore.
    I have no idea about the dog breeds, but both dogs and Perry are cuties (of course).

    • Yes, they are cuties for sure. The dog is a mystery because everybody has a different opinion. Oh, yes, definitely read Plath, Merril. Start either with the original Ariel OR the Collected Poems.

  6. I have little knowledge about Plath’s work….sorry. Hum…maybe a Border Collie/Australian mix?

    • LOL, the vet said she would probably only get to 18-20 pounds max. Hard to see those dogs at that size. It’s so confoooosing!But she is cute!

  7. I was interested to read your take on Plath – respecting your work as I do. I have never understood her – When I tried to read her (Years and years ago) I felt she was probably mentally unbalanced and that was too hard for me to be around. I’ve never gone back for a second try. I don’t know what Riley is, but she’s awfully cute. Does she have particularly big paws or is it my imagination? And yes, those ears are so adorable! Is there some German Shepherd in the mix?

    • She definitely had mental issues, but I don’t think they affected her poetry very much. She was very professional and hardworking with her writing. I suspect she was bipolar, based on reading first hand accounts of her personal behavior, but I am not her therapist and never met her. She was only thirty when she died so she hadn’t even finished “growing into herself.” While I don’t think her mental illness surfaces in the poetry, I do think there is a lot of anger in her especially later work.
      Haha, I do think Riley has big paws for her size. She is the exact same proportion she was at two months old, just doubled her size. So hard to figure out what she is. Also, her brother was a lot bigger and looked different, and the vet said her mom might have been keeping company with more than one male. German Shepherd–bingo, that is one that the kids suspect. BUT she is so tiny for that.

  8. OMG what a sweet puppy!!!!!! I love cats and adore dogs, have had several when young, with same colouring as this one! It’s the colouring of a Rottweiler, but – she looks too little, so I don’t know! But so sweet!

    Ah, poor Sylvia P. Alas – I was never able to get into poetry, finding that it’s so personal/subjective, that it’s impenetrable to me. I liken it to jazz, which I also can’t get into. But Sylvia… I loved her The Bell Jar. So sad, to lose her. Sniff.

    • Oh interesting about jazz and poetry! I’ve never heard that before, but I can see that–especially free verse. The Bell Jar was such an interesting book. I mean, it was almost a potboiler in some minds, really, but so many especially women relate to it. 30 years old. What a waste.
      Riley is SO sweet! They need to get her a DNA test because she is a big mystery!

  9. I think Plath’s judgment was distorted at that time. Please forgive her as you have partly forgiven Hughes.

    What an adorable little pooch. I could not begin to guess except “small dog.”

    Hello to Perry and the whole gang at your place.

    • Oh, I don’t hold any of it against her at all. I think her illness spiraled out of control when she could not get proper medical care that winter. And she might have reorganized the book before sending it out (which she did not do–the sending out). Poets often need help organizing collections.
      Write me about your TRIP.

  10. I can’t really speak to the Plath review – I’m afraid my memory has blocked her – but I will speak to the cuteness of Perry and Riley! Too precious. That Perry is a clever boy. And I’m thinking some form of terrier of schnauzer mix for Riley. I’m definitely not thinking Australian shepherd. Whatever, she will bring joy along with her cuteness. I am sure of that!

    • I am learning that terriers abound in places I didn’t really think of. I think of terriers like wirehaired and Schnauzers and such. But chihuahuas and pitbulls, etc., are all terriers! Riley is such a pill. She has kept them RUNNING, but now that she’s over 4 months she’s getting a little better. They were calling her “the terror”!!!

  11. I’m leaning toward Rottweiler, Doberman and German Shepard! And the photo of Perry is priceless…
    I read Sylvia Plath’s work in college and also her biography…your insights add another literary layer.

    • LOL! Those are all big dogs. She’s a little one!
      Thank you re my boy Perry. His is such a dear heart!
      Thank you re the Plath, too. I spent so much time with “Plath” years ago that I can hardly believe it today.

  12. I agree with anotetohuguette. Your animal photos are so adorable.

  13. very Interesting to read !

  14. Amy

    I haven’t read Ariel since college, but the poem Daddy has stuck with me. I should probably go back and see what I think all these years later.

    The cat gets a time out? Poor baby! Such a cutie!! As for the puppy, I see shepherd and Rottweiler or Doberman markings, but perhaps there’s also some chihauhau, given the tiny size. Can you imagine that mating?

    • Oh, you are a smarty pants. D and future SIL now think Riley is part Chihauhau, too. I am guessing she is many types of dogs and that both parents were mutts.
      Yes, see what you think. Read Fever 103 if you get a chance. Love that poem.

  15. My human likes Plath, too. Have you read the two volumes of letters? It’s as close to an autobiography that we’ll ever come to I suppose. Perry is a cutie.

  16. I’m not a big Plath fan, but I appreciate a few of her poems. Of course, I haven’t studied her as you have. But I am a big Perry fan! 😍 And Riley is cute as a button!

    • As long as you are a Perry fan!!! I can’t imagine how someone could not be! Riley is such a cutie pie. So far she is still in proportion with her 2 month old looks, so we will see!

  17. It’s always interesting to read a complete section in one or two sittings, and it is an entirely different experience than reading the poems individually at long intervals. I haven’t thought about her much lately, but your post brings back those moments when I delved into her work. I never read your dissertation chapter about her! Love to Perry and all the cats!

    • The chapter was very into Bakhtin’s theories of the carnival and the grotesque. it was a lot of fun to read Plath that way! I will huge all the kitties for you!!! xo

  18. “The Bell Jar” – a life changer.

  19. Interestingly I haven’t read much of Plath before this.

  20. Luanne, a learned article and although I haven’t read much of Plath’s work you have me intrigued. I studied Ted Hughes and I had to smile at your:
    “Thank you, Ted Hughes.

    NEVER thought I’d write those words.” Quite!

    I love the photos … absolutely adorable!

  21. Eh, aside from reading bits of Plath poetry in college assignments, I know of her mostly through The Bell Jar, and I read that so long ago. I vaguely remember feeling disturbed by it, reading it during a time when I felt depressed and lonely. I just finished reading your linked post and listening to Plath read Fever 103. Now, let me show my ignorance about poetry: how does a poet decide where to break lines? I read along with Plath’s reading and found it interesting how she would sometimes read broken lines as one, other times allow the break to be a pause in her reading. I loved her reading but it’s why I never know how to “hear” a poem when I only have the printed version in front of me. As for Riley: I know nothing about dogs but I do know she is adorable 🙂 As is Perry! I recently washed a cushioned cube we’ve had for years. It’s been sitting atop our cedar chest for a long time and Maxine (our Tuxedo) used to sleep in it occasionally. There’s two cut-out holes, adjacent to each other, which gives the occupying cat a chance to see if anyone (i.e., another cat) is sneaking up on her. After I washed it, I put on the living room floor. Wendy has tried to claim it by scratching around inside and leaving her scent, but Max is currently the primary resident. It’s a nice alternative if the day is kind of chilly and there’s no sun patches on the couch 😉

  22. Plath had me at the red solider blood in one of her poems. I was a teen then, and really haven’t thought much more about her work since building my education of the canon. I did watch the movie, but even it didn’t stick with me.

    The doggy — totally adorable <3 As for guessing, well, pointy ears and color of a German Shepherd, but eyes and snout like a Chihuahua. I dunno. I'm not good at this. My dog is part German Shepherd and she looks like a Golden. Some people say Golden, some say Chow, but she's only 38lbs, and she tracks like a hound, so who knows. I don't care to know. She's muttastic!

    I laugh at Perry in his cube, because my kids got so used to taking a moment to calm down in The Quiet Chair (time-out) that the girls all went there on purpose to take a moment when they were distraught! And my son won't even put a plant in the corner of a room, since corners are evil. LOL

Leave a Reply