18 January 2009

Sylvia Plath: Did you know...

Did you know that a letter from Sylvia Plath to Stevie Smith from November 19, 1962, is reprinted in Smith's Me, Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982). The letter appears on page 6. Also on November 19, 1962, Plath was at work on "Mary's Song", the first poem written after her Ariel period concluded.*

*"Death & Co", written five days earlier, was the last poem she included in her original manuscript of Ariel.


Jim Long said...

Hi, Peter. If I may comment on your footnote suggesting that "Death & Co" was the last poem in the original manuscript collection written "before her Ariel period ended". Even Frieda Hughes, in her Foreword to "Ariel: the restored edition", says that, after April 1962, "from this point, all the poems she wrote were in the distinctive Ariel voice" (p.xii) The condition of the manuscript in the "black spring binder" found on her desk after her death, with multiple titles pages with titles filled in and subsequently changed, suggests that the manuscript was still in development, and that the nineteen poems written after mid-November 1962 were intended to be added to the growing collection. As Frieda herself suggests, "In all, she left around seventy poems in the distinctive Ariel voice"(p.xiii)I believe that this included all of the late poems written right up until a few days before her death, which were added to the binder manuscript for the edition published by Ted Hughes. In other words, I believe that the "Ariel period" lasted right up to the date of her death: there were no poems written "after her Ariel period ended"; it ended at her death. Jim Long, Honolulu Hawaii

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Jim,

Thank you very much for your comment, which I agree with completely. I did not mean to suggest that the Ariel period ended with "Death & Co." I apologize if it came off that way.

We know Plath was forever rearranging her manuscripts looking for the strongest arrangement and selection. The October 1962 outburst is not dissimilar to her creative period at Yaddo in later 1959. These poems comprised much of The Colossus. Similarly, the October 1962 poems would comprise most of Ariel.

I do find the tone of Plath's final poems from January and Febrary 1963 to be quiet different from anything written prior to "Mary's Song". Obviously this is not always the case, I find "The Moon and the Yew Tree" closer in tone and voice to maybe "Mystic." But I see very little in the final poems like "Stopped Dead", "The Rabbit Catcher", "Lesbos", "Lady Lazarus", and the Bee poems...maybe "Gigolo". The October 1962 poems are like something written on a high, on a roll, whereas what came shortly before her death are poems that to me are more assured of themselves. I don't know if I've explained myself well or not. Probably not.

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