Diaries show Plath's manic highs, lows

from: The Edmonton Journal - March 23, 2000

U.S. poet Sylvia Plath was alternately "apple pie happy" or smothered in despair before her 1963 suicide, her diaries, to be published in full for the first time next month, reveal. The diaries, extracts of which are being serialized in London's Guardian newspaper this week, provide new details about Plath and her turbulent marriage to British poet Ted Hughes. Plath gassed herself in her kitchen at 30, a few months after Hughes left her for another woman.

At the time of her death, Plath had just one book published in her name. But a decade later, she was considered a feminist martyr, the mourned and beloved author of the Ariel poems and the novel The Bell Jar.

The Guardian began the second instalment of its extracts from The Journals of Sylvia Plath with a July 22, 1956, entry, as Plath revels in the joy of being a newlywed.

"Living with (Ted) is like being told a perpetual story: his mind is the biggest, most imaginative I have ever met," Plath wrote a month after their wedding.

"I could live in its growing countries forever." But, one day later, her tone turned darker, as she wrote about being "alone ... The hurt going in, clean as a razor, and the dark blood welling."

After going for a walk with her husband, Plath described themselves as "two silent strangers. Going back, there is the growing sickness, the separate sleep, and the sour waking. And all the time the wrongness growing, creeping, choking the house ... Sun falls off-key on eyes asquint and the world has grown crooked and sour as a lemon overnight."

Following Plath's death, many of her fans blamed Hughes for driving Plath to her death and then censoring her memory.

Hughes, who went on to become Britain's poet laureate and died in 1998, said little in public about their marriage. But months before he died of cancer, he published Birthday Letters, a poetic account of their relationship that revealed the obvious depth of his love for her. Critics gave it rave reviews and a reassessment of the famous relationship began.

Despite the often stark nature of her poetry and prose, Plath reveals in her diaries a depression equally balanced by a strong manic side.

"It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous and positive and despairing negative; whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it," Plath wrote on June 20, 1958. "I am now flooded with despair, almost hysteria, as if I were smothering."

She pleaded with herself to pursue her own writing. "If I write 11 more good poems I will have a book," she said, pledging to write in secret and show her work to no one. After Plath's death, Hughes maintained control over her journals and permitted only a much-edited version to be published in 1982.

The couple's children are now permitting publication of the complete diaries.

The Journals of Sylvia Plath, edited by Karen Kukil, will be published April 3.

Caption Photo: File Photo / British poet Ted Hughes and his wife, writer Sylvia Plath.

Copyright Edmonton Journal 2000

»Return to Articles & Criticism