15 December 2012

Ann Skea on Sylvia Plath, Ariel, and the Tarot

Ann Skea, a very well-known and well-respected Ted Hughes scholar, has recently begun to look at Sylvia Plath, Ariel, and the Tarot. Readers of this blog and Plath Profiles will know that Julia Gordon-Bramer is also interested in approaching and interpreting Sylvia Plath's works through the lens of Tarot and Cabbala.

Skea writes on her website that this is a work in progress (and helpfully puts the last updated date on the homepage). She says, "It is true that I am best known as a Ted Hughes scholar and I have published widely on his work, including studies of his use of the occult, but the poetic interaction between Hughes and Plath was so close that it is impossible to study Hughes' work without also becoming very familiar with Plath's. So, I was very interested to read Julia Gordon-Bramer's papers on her study of Plath's use of Tarot in her original ordering of the Ariel manuscripts."

Skea will take her approach to the 22 poems which fit the Major Arcana. The first chapter looks at "Morning Song", "The Couriers", and "The Rabbit Catcher". These are the first three poems in Plath's Ariel (that is, Ariel: The Restored Edition). For information about which of Plath's poems match with which card in the Major Arcana, please see Julia Gordon-Bramer's "Sylvia Plath's Spell on Ariel: Conjuring the Perfect Book of Poems Through Mysticism and the Tarot" from Plath Profiles 3. Though, if I read Skea correctly, there may be some differences in the cards or the poems: certainly in the readings of them.

Skea writes "The poems were not, after all, written in the order in which she arranged the manuscripts. And Frieda Hughes, in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition, writes that Plath "last worked on the manuscripts arrangement in mid-November 1962", which suggest that, as with her other books, Plath rearranged the order of the poems several times." If we read Plath's arrangement of the poems as being informed by the Tarot, etc. can there be any possible way to read their individual composition in a similar fashion? I am interested of course in how Plath arranged her poetry collections, but how do we interpret them in the order of the creation/completion? This is something I am growing particularly interested in and I wonder if Tarot plays a role in this? At least, I think a definite narrative is evident where the composition of the poems is concerned...

I think this is a very interesting development in Plath studies because it shows one scholar building on and responding to another. The Tarot (and Cabbala) are not (for me) the easiest things to comprehend and I am looking forward to reading all that I can in the attempt to better understand this way of interpreting not only Sylvia Plath's poems, but possibly also Plath's vision for the arrangement and structure of her magnum opus. I am a big fan of Skea's work on Ted Hughes, and I also believe I'll be a big fan of her work on Sylvia Plath as well.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

I have been in discussion with Dr. Skea over these last couple weeks over this work. We do not see eye-to-eye on the theory of Plath's arrangement, but of course, she is writing about poems that I have not published my interpretations on, and so she can only speculate as to what my supporting details are. I will be submitting my interpretation of "The Couriers" for the next Plath Profiles, and I'm excited for Dr. Skea, and everyone, to more fully understand my position. Besides that, what Plath built into that poem will knock your socks off.

I am truly honored that a renowned scholar such as Dr. Ann Skea is giving my work such serious attention.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thought I'd add to this, answering or commenting on a few of Dr. Skea's statements in her piece:

1.) The pictures Dr. Skea has posted are of some version of the Marseilles Tarot deck. The great amount of evidence I have published and have still to be published suggests that Skea's model is not the deck Plath used. This is important, as much of the imagery Plath draws from leans on artistic images Skea won't see here. Plath's Ariel leans on the Rider-Waite Tarot, the classic modern Tarot deck.

2.) Dr. Skea stresses throughout her piece that my work does not show the path of "Initiation." I never intended that it should, and I disagree that Plath "must follow" the initiate path. I have been a Tarot card reader for 33 years and have never consciously followed this path (although humanity all does it unconsciously).

3.) Dr. Skea doubts Plath could learn the Tarot quickly, probably because she has not tried herself. I learned it in a summer when I was 16. Back then, I used a book, true, but it is rather easy to pick up, especially when one is naturally intuitive.

4. To say that Plath was following Tarot but not Cabala is like saying that one follows Catholicism but not Christianity. The former is structured upon the latter. True, Tarot is not as expansive and its origins are much newer than Cabala/Kabbalah, but this does not mean that the modern Tarot was not designed to correspond with the Qabalah Tree of Life. Note the Q, because that "Qabalah" was created by the Golden Dawn, who also created the Rider-Waite Tarot. Members of the Golden Dawn have included WB Yeats and TS Eliot, two idols of Plath's and Hughes'.

4.) To say the Tarok cards fit the major arcana, yet do not have correspondence with the Cabala is not exactly correct. The Tarok game was not created to correspond, true. But it *does* fit, and that's why the Golden Dawn used its imagery and made it fit even better with their Rider-Waite version.

5.) Plath's Tarot book, The Painted Caravan, stresses the point above.

6.) Dr. Skea has not seen all forty of my interpretations of Plath's poems, as no one has to date because only a select few have been published. I am seeking publication now. I am confident that when she --and everyone-- is able to view the work in its entirety, she will clearly understand the astounding correspondences.

7.) I am looking for my reference that the mountains in the Tarot are specifically Mount Abiegnus, and I am fairly certain that was from a Golden Dawn text. In any case, the name means little, as I said my point has nothing to do with Initiation.

To look at the Rider-Waite deck, one can easily count the "nine black Alps" (pictures of dark mountains, and the only cards bearing mountains in the major arcana) in the cards of the Fool, Lovers, Hermit, Strength, Temperance, Tower, Star, Moon, and Judgement.

In conclusion, I think it would be much more fair for Dr. Skea to analyze one of my published interpretations of a full poem and evaluate that, versus speculation on what sources I might be using to make my claims because they are not immediate obvious to her.

Dr. Skea is right about "Morning Song," however. Although there is a lot more to it than what she has written. :-)

Anonymous said...

I do not believe T. S. Eliot was a member of the Golden Dawn. He tells readers in his notes to the Waste Land that he has little knowledge of the Tarot cards. While this may or may not be true, it shaped readers' sense of Eliot in the fifties.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

From the T.S. Eliot biography, T.S. Eliot and Use of Memory by Grover C. Smith: http://books.google.com/books?id=fUMJFn-uRZAC&pg=PA132&lpg=PA132&dq=T.S.+Eliot+Golden+Dawn&source=bl&ots=qN87hxOjIZ&sig=2RAYocICB1zOSplvNo9Ahn62LVE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=J8XMUK6eGqOM2gWEhoCgCQ&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=T.S.%20Eliot%20Golden%20Dawn&f=false

Anonymous said...

Ms. Gordon-Bramer, do you take this all too seriously? It seems to me that you act very defensively: and approach this as being in some way a challenge when, in fact, it seems like Dr. Skea has every right to publish on this subject. She certainly has the right to write on it for you do not own "Plath and Tarot", as it were.

-a concerned Sylvia Plath Info Blog reader

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Dear "Anonymous",

One certainly does not "own Plath and Tarot," however I was the first to publish on this subject, to my knowledge, outside of an article by Mary Kurtzman in the TriQuarterly Review years ago.

I have worked on my projects regarding Plath and mysticism now for over six years, and so yes, I do take it quite seriously as it has been a huge investment of time, money and energy, and for me, the most important work of my life. Please be aware that I am also a professional Tarot reader (www.nighttimes.com/tarot.htm), and she has made assumptions about Tarot that are incorrect, as well as about my Plath work.

When people make claims about my work that are inaccurate, from your (I'm assuming it's you) statement about TS Eliot, to Ms. Skea's incorrect comments on the Tarot, I feel I should make a public correction when my name is involved. Especially when my name is throughout the work, and not merely a passing citation. I imagine most others would feel the same. Additionally, the Plath Info Blog is the only place I can make a comment to address this, as her website does not have a comment forum.

I have no problems at all with others publishing within my field; it is highly complimentary. Please also know that I admire Dr. Skea's work, and I have purchased her book and have cited her work on several occasions.

In the name of correcting incorrections, if I were able to edit past comments, I should have said "subconscious" instead of "unconscious," and I should have said "immediately" instead of "immediate." If only edits were allowed! I take my grammar seriously, too. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I noted the grammatical inconsistencies in your comments; perhaps less raw emotion would lend itself to better formed sentences.

No, I am not the same anonymous as posted earlier about T.S. Eliot. I have often heard my American friends say some clever thing about assuming...perhaps you should do less of this?

I think it is naive to 'assume' that because Plath and Hughes had idols in the Golden Dawn that they would have necessarily used their Tarot deck. I find this 'assuming' is something you do a great deal of in your work: that you place a great amount of weight and/or certainty that these correspondences of which you speak should be 'assumed' to be fact. When if fact, you cannot claim something to be that isn't necessarily known. You are very confident-sounding in your work - and in your comments - but the tone overall is very off-putting.

I do not mean to attack you personally ; I understand from being a long time reader of the blog that Mr. Steinberg won't stand for it. I hope that some of the more constructive points in this comment here will saved it from moderation & deletion.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

I back up all of my statements with research, and if I make an assumption, I am clear about it.

I find your tone just as "off-putting" as you find mine. Only I am brave enough to sign my name.

magiciansgirl said...

Kids, kids, can't we all get along. Surely we can have vigorous debate & state our assertions without devolving into what seem to be personal attacks. As a veteran of the Sylvia Plath Forum, I'm all too aware of how these disagreements can play out. As I am friends with both Ann & Julia (and Peter) , I'm looking forward to reading their work here and elsewhere. The subject matter is dense & esoteric, and I think it's difficult to make concise, informed comments on what are at present 'snippets' of work. Lets just give the various parties time to present their views & research and go from there.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Well spoken, Kim! Thank you for your measured comment. I recall the dramatic-days of the Sylvia Plath Forum too, and anonymous was right, that personal attacks will not be tolerated on this blog.

I think Ann and Julia both have vast experience with this most esoteric of topics and I for one eagerly read what they both right. Scholarship builds on itself and it doesn't always agree. We all have the rights to our opinions but what is important is that the writing be clear, as concise or as word as is necessary, well-supported and documented and with evidence to uphold assertions. Where necessary, I feel doubt or speculation must be acknowledged candidly.

Thanks to Ann for her work; and thanks to Julia for for picking up where Kurtzman left off. We all look forward to the work that you will do in this field of study.


Anonymous said...

Dr Gordon-Bramer - How's that whole Ariel-Plath-Apocalypse thing work out? Bunkum.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.