21 June 2010

Two Cork Dolls

In October 1961, Sylvia Plath wrote the poem "The Babysitters." In it, she recalls her summer experience from 1951, being a live-in nanny for a well-to-do family in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Swampscott is a short drive from Winthrop. She did this with her great friend Marcia Brown, who nannied for a family a few houses away.

Plath's journals from the summer of 1951 are wonderful reading, you can see Plath's identity developing, the creation of her self, the creation of an author. I have a few pictures of relevant Swampscott locales on my website (though not numbered, please see the 13th-17th photographs). The poem and some of the journal entries work together. For example, in the poem Plath writes, "I remember you playing 'Ja-Da' in a pink piqué dress / On the game-room piano, when the 'big people' were out, / And the maid smoked and shot pool under a green shaded lamp" (Collected Poems 175). In the Journals, entry 96 reads:

"Under the greenshaded lights, Elaine, still in her white maids uniform, was playing pool. Her face was read and shiny as she leaned over the table, trying for a long shot.

"Marcia slouched over the piano, her tan a golden brown against her blue sweater, banging out a jazzy version of 'Ja-Da'." (Unabridged Journals 78-79)

In my previous post, I made reference to Plath's proclivity for eerie harbingers. Her powers or prowess for clairvoyance has been noted. Even in her Journals, Plath discusses a desire to hone her skills. On February 9, 1958, Plath wrote "Maybe I should stay alone, unparalysed, & work myself into mystic & clairvoyant trances..." (Unabridged Journals 327). It does seem to be something she believed possible.

Anyway, in "The Babysitters" was Plath at it again? The poem is about a memory with her friend Marcia Brown; who at that time in 1961 was Marcia Plumer (Plath was a bridesmaid in Marcia's June 15, 1954 wedding in Hanover, NH). In the poem Plath situates Marcia on their rented boat: "You read / Aloud cross-legged on the stern seat, from the Generation of Vipers" (Collected Poems 175). The clairvoyance is in that line, for Marcia went on to marry a man whose last name was Stern.

The drafts for "The Babysitters" are held in Plath Mss at the Lilly Library. It appears to be the last dated poem she wrote before selling her "scraps" to them via London book dealer Ifan Kyrle Fletcher. See Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath for more on "The Babysitters" and Generation of Vipers. And much more, of course.


Julia said...

I love it. I may have to steal that Stern bit from you (giving due credit, of course) and work it in to my work somehow. ;-)

Peter K Steinberg said...

Alright!! Good luck working it into your work.


BridgetAnna said...

This is maybe one of my favorite Plath poems. Anyway, I made a point of looking it up when I was at the Lilly Library in Indiana and seeing her typed-copy first-hand, scratchings-out and scrawlings-in. It was a true delight to see one of my favorite poems, and to hold the very same paper from which it originated.

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