Remembering Sylvia Plath: A Strong Woman and Writer

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston on October 27, 1932, and is one of the most prominent and celebrated poets of the 20th century.

Although she led a short, tragic life, she established a major following for her confessional poetry and writing style.

Plath's writing career catapulted after she graduated from Smith College and was awarded a prestigious guest editorship at Mademoiselle magazine. Later she earned a Fulbright grant to study at Cambridge University before gaining recognition as an acclaimed poet and professional writer. In 1956, she married fellow poet Ted Hughes and gave birth to two children Frieda and Nicholas shortly after.

During her years as an undergraduate student she suffered from severe depression, which she continued to battle even in the final years of her life, and the illness led to her untimely death. She died on February 11, 1963, at the age of 30.

Below are some excerpts from Plath's most celebrated poems, letters, and her award-winning semi-autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar," where she unravels a complex and engaging emotional journey that illustrates her talent and strength as a writer.

In one of her journal entries, dated June 20, 1958, she writes:

"It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative — whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it." 

And in a selection of letters to her mother Aurelia, Plath displays an enormous amount of ambition and her own journey to self-discovery.

"I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will. But I feel free — unbound by responsibility." 
Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963

"I am afraid of getting older. I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from cooking three meals a day — spare me from the relentless cage of routine and rote."
Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963

"I want to be free — free to know people and their backgrounds — free to move to different parts of the world so I may learn that there are other morals and standards besides my own. I want, I think, to be omniscient… I think I would like to call myself 'The girl who wanted to be God.' Yet if I were not in this body, where would I be — perhaps I am destined to be classified and qualified. But, oh, I cry out against it. I am I — I am powerful — but to what extent? I am I."
Letters Home: Correspondence 1950–1963

Plath described marriage in an unabashed, fearless way and expounds on human nature and the mind in "The Bell Jar."

"So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state."
—"The Bell Jar," Chapter 7

"If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I'm neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days." —"The Bell Jar," Chapter 8

In her poem, "Tulips" she introduces another way of personifying flowers:

"The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds. They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down, Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color, A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck."

In "The Applicant," Plath has no reservations about conveying the many overwhelming stereotypes and expectations of being a woman:

"But in twenty-five years she'll be silver, In fifty, gold. A living doll, everywhere you look. It can sew, it can cook, It can talk, talk, talk."

And in one of her earliest poems, she gives a profound explanation for her determination to be a writer:

"You ask me why I spend my life writing? Do I find entertainment? Is it worthwhile? Above all, does it pay? If not, then, is there a reason? … I write only because There is a voice within me That will not be still."

We hope Plath's strength and courage as a writer continues to inspire women to pursue poetry and venture into the literary world with a determination to succeed.

NEXT: Zadie Smith Talks Writing, Women and Feminism With Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie »

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