20 March 2017

Sylvia Plath's Yale Colossus

In addition to a typescript copy of Sylvia Plath's Circus in Three Rings that she compiled in Spring 1955 as she was preparing to graduate from Smith College, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington, has a typescript copy of Plath's The Colossus and other poems in Box 8, Folder 8, that she submitted, like other collections, to the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Plath considered marketing a book to the Yale Series of Younger Poets starting in 1955, around the time she assembled her Circus in Three Rings. Also, she intended to send something to them in June 1956. Whether these first two happened or not I am not sure. Plath did submit Two Lovers and a Beachcomber on 16 February 1957 (rejected 8 August 1957) and The Bull of Bendylaw and other Poems circa late February or early March 1959 (rejected 6 June 1959). If she missed 1958 who can really be surprised because of her teaching workload.

Plath appears to have submitted the Colossus manuscript to the Yale Series sometime in February 1960, possibly within a week or two of signing the contract with Heinemann for their edition of the book. Mrs. Plath let her daughter know that she had received an acknowledgement of receipt of the manuscript by mid-March 1960.

With the typescript of The Colossus at the Lilly is an unsigned rejection notice from the Yale University Press dated 2 August 1960. Plath had listed the return address as Wellesley so the book was sent back there. She wrote her mother on 16-17 August 1960 and told her that when it was returned to "Keep the ms. & use it for scrap." The winner that year was Alan Dugan. The previous winners that Plath went up against were: John Ashbery (1956), James Wright (1957), John Hollander (1958), William Dickey (1959), and George Starbuck (1960), whom she lost to "by a whispers". Except for Plath, not many misses there!

As I did with Circus in Three Rings below is a list of the poems in this Yale submission followed by a exact or circa date of creation for each.

The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sow, before January 14, 1957
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
Owl, June 26, 1958
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Thin People, late 1957
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
Maudlin, Fall 1956
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
Ouija, August 1957
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958
Spinster, October 19, 1956
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959

Here are the poems in chronological order of their creation date. Or, rather, as chronological as I can make them at this point:

Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Spinster, October 19, 1956
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
Maudlin, Fall 1956

Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958

Sow, before January 14, 1957
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Ouija, August 1957
The Thin People, late 1957

Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
Owl, June 26, 1958
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958

Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959

Now, back to the manuscript of the book… First off, the title page has a corner missing. It appears to have been cut, cleanly, at some point. Plath typed her Wellesley return address at the top right and hand wrote her name beneath. However, some text is missing due to the cut. This is how it reads:

26 Elmwo
Wellesley,
Sylvia Pl

A bit of the second "o" in "Elmwood" is visible as is a bit of the "a" in "Plath" is visible, too.

The list of acknowledgements on page 3 that Plath typed at the beginning is capital I Impressive. But it, as well as the quality of the poetry, was not enough to sway her jurors. Comparing this Yale submission with the contents of the book as Heinemann published it shows that like the crab in "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" Plath was ever the fiddler. There are two additional poems in the Yale manuscript and, as well, some shuffled around poems.

Present in the Yale submission, but absent from her Heinemann manuscript, are the poems "Owl" and "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats". Also, in the Yale manuscript, "The Bull of Bendylaw" and "All the Dead Dears" are flipped. Additionally, the other notable poem is "Spinster" which is located in The Colossus after "Moonrise", while in the Yale manuscript it is four poems lower down.

What can we make of Plath adding the two poems ("Owl" and "Ella Mason") to this manuscript? Are they more "American"? What do they add?

All links accessed 7 March 2017.

10 March 2017

The Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath Archive

Western Massachusetts bookseller, Ken Lopez, is selling a major collection of Sylvia Plath materials. The Harriet Rosenstein Sylvia Plath Archive is listed on his website with a sale price of $875,000. A hefty sum for, frankly, a hefty amount of important Plath and Plath-related documents. The news has me feeling like a kind outside of candy store. I can see inside, but cannot get it.


The highlight of the collections are the letters and other papers that originated with Plath's "psychiatrist" Dr Ruth Beuscher Barnhouse. Included here are 14 letters from Plath to Beuscher (as was her then surname), from 18 February 1960 to 4 February 1963. Lopez estimates the 45 pages of letters consists of "about 18,000 words". In addition to the letters, there are files related to Plath's treatment at McLean Hospital from 1953-1954. Normally off-limits, these documents may reveal quite a bit about Plath's decision to attempt suicide in 1953, as well as perhaps divulge other biographical information about a period that is generally skinny on information.



Lopez's description of the collection and inventory leaves a little to be desired. He writes, "In an interview given less than a year before her death in 1999, Ruth Barnhouse claimed that she had 'burned the dozens of letters she received from Plath while she lived in England.' This was not true."  However, Lopez's claim is not, itself, true. Plath likely wrote at least 11 letters from circa 27 September 1954 to circa 21 May 1956. The evidence of these letters exists in two places: Plath's own letters to her mother, and her pocket calendars held by the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington. Plath used these pocket calendars to track many things: dates, meals, cultural events, school obligations and letters sent (actual and/or intended). The pocket calendars end around December 1956, so who knows how many additional letters were sent from Cambridge, Northampton, and even Boston between then and December 1959.


The letters from Plath to Beuscher are undoubtedly going to be some serious, heavy, and emotional reading. The experiences Plath endured and the nature of the trust between herself and the recipient means that these letters will represent a style of writing that has no parallel. However it must also be remembered that the very nature of the relationship between Plath and Beuscher has been severely criticized. Some of the letters listed in the inventory will be included in the two-volume Letters of Sylvia Plath. However, some are new. In addition to the Ruth Beuscher letters, the letters to Elizabeth and David Compton, Suzette and Helder Macedo, David Freeman, some Melvin Woody, and Shirley and Perry Norton, would be new to the editors (me and Karen V. Kukil). There are also many letters to and from Harriet Rosenstein.


Another aspect of this archive that is tantalyzing are the interview notes, audio tapes, and correspondence Rosenstein accumulated in the early 1970s as she was at work on her unrealized biography of Sylvia Plath. Consider that these were obtained within a decade of Plath's death before so much time elapsed and memories were jumbled or forgotten. Lopez astutely writes, Rosenstein "was able to interview many people who knew Plath in widely different capacities, many of whom are no longer living and whose knowledge of Plath and views about her or her work may or may not have been preserved over time by some other means." It is conceivable that personal stories and anecdotes obtained by Rosenstein about Plath will clash with information presented in later biographies. I think in particular of Jillian Becker's papers which is impressive in its size and includes many interviews, letters, a chronology of Plath's last week and a copy of the coroner's report which has since been destroyed as part of regular records disposal p.


A notable absence is Eddie Cohen, but otherwise there are the "usual" suspects such as Marcia Brown Stern, Elizabeth Sigmund, Clarissa Roche, etc. The people from Devon would be really wonderful to "hear", and, as well, Patrcia O'Neil Pratson on Plath's first suicide attempt. Present also are some of the more peripheral acquaintances such as Iko Meshoulam, Christopher Levenson, and Plath's London neighbors. You have to wonder what W.S. Merwin said, considering he was not among those recorded! Those audio tapes need to be digitized for preservation purposes!



I would love the opportunity to go through everything to correct some mistakes in Lopez's inventory. We have to hope that these materials find their way to a research library. And, as well, that the letters are made available to be included in the forthcoming Letters of Sylvia Plath. It may be advantageous for them to know which letters are in the book and which (other than the obvious ones) are not.


In the scan above from Lopez's web page, we can see a portion the blue aerogramme containing the postmark. This must be a scan of Plath's last letter to Dr. Beuscher, which Plath dated 4 February 1963. Plath wrote a few other letters that day. The letters to Aurelia Plath and Marcia Brown Stern are also blue aerogrammes and were postmarked 5 February 1963 at 1:45 pm from London NW1. Beneath each postmark is the letter B. The letter from Plath to Father Michael Carey was sent to Oxford, and the envelope was not apparently retained. But the postmark in the above letter is for 12:45 on 8 February 1963 and also with the letter B in London NW1. Why did Plath hold on to this letter for four days before mailing it? Was it posted at the same time on the 8th as her "last letter" to Ted Hughes? Or, did Plath write it after the 4th and misdate it? It is possible some of the contents of the letter may answer this.

All links accessed 9 March 2017.

01 March 2017

Sylvia Plath's Circus Three Rings

One of the most fascinating aspects of studying Sylvia Plath's poems, particularly the late poems, is considering them through the lens of their creation date. That is one way to read them, and in doing so you can sometimes see her using words and images in a consistent fashion, but also seeing how she progresses through her subjects. For example, if you read the October 1962 poems in chronological order you can see Plath reshaping her self, if you will, in her "Bee" poems written from 3 to 9 October. After reestablishing that self (a poetic selfie?), she turns to shed external, familial subjects (burdens) like her father and mother "Daddy" and "Medusa" respectively, written back-to-back as it were on 12 and 16 October. (Plath had spent the weekend after writing "Daddy" out of town in Cornwall.) But yet the poems read quite differently when done so in the published book format. Though written second, "Medusa" appears first in Ariel: The Restored Edition, separated from "Daddy" by six poems: "Purdah" (29 October 1962), "The Moon and the Yew Tree" (22 October 1961), "A Birthday Present" (30 September 1962), "Letter in November" (11 November 1962), "Amnesiac" (21 October 1962) and "The Rival" (July 1961).

The unbelievably awesome Lilly Library at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, holds, among other treasures in Plath mss II, Sylvia Plath's manuscript book collection that she titled Circus and Three Rings and assembled towards the end of her senior year at Smith College in May/June 1955. Most of the poems were written in the final semester, January-April 1955 when Plath was taking a special studies course in poetic composition with Alfred Young Fisher. But, like her later books, Plath mined her older writing too, selecting those poems she felt held up with her more recent work.

Below is a list of the table of contents of the poems in Plath's Circus in Three Rings. The title of the poem is followed by a common and then the date of creation, if known.

I "Green as a melon our sweet world was"
Song of Eve, March 9, 1955
Wayfaring at the Whitney: A Study in Sculptural Dimensions, February 28, 1955
Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light, March 8, 1955
"Go Get the Goodly Squab", April 5-6, 1952
Winter Words, February 1, 1955
Prologue to Spring, February 9, 1955
Apparel for April, February 2, 1955
April Aubade, February 14, 1955

II "My extravagant heart blows up again"
Circus in Three Rings, September 8, 1954; revised 23 April 1955
On Looking Into the Eyes of My Demon Lover, March 6, 1955
The Dream, February 7, 1955
Trio of Love Songs, April 16-17, 1953
Love is a Parallax, 1954-1955
Moonsong at Morning, March 6, 1955
Rondeau Redoublé, January 30, 1955
Second Winter, March 9, 1955
Apotheosis, March 9, 1955
Mad Girl's Love Song, February 21, 1953
Desert Song, April 19, 1955

III "Circling zodiac compels the year"
To Eva Descending the Stair, February 20, 1953
Metamorphoses of the Moon, November 14, 1954
The Princess and the Goblins, February 19, 1955
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, March 22, 1955
Temper of Time, February 1, 1955
Epitaph in Three Parts, February 11, 1955
Ice Age II (All, all is freezing over:... [First Line]), March 2, 1955
Elegy, February 6, 1955
Lament, February 5, 1955
Danse Macabre, January 30, 1955
Doomsday, February 21, 1953

Plath divided the book into three sections. Section I, "Green as a melon our sweet world was" takes its title from Plath's poem "Song of Eve". Section II, "My extravagant heart blows up again" takes its title from Plath's poem "Circus in Three Rings". Section III, "Circling zodiac compels the year" takes its title from Plath's poem "To Eva Descending the Stair".

In creation date order, though, the poems are:

"Go Get the Goodly Squab", April 5-6, 1952

To Eva Descending the Stair, February 20, 1953
Doomsday, February 21, 1953
Mad Girl's Love Song, February 21, 1953

Trio of Love Songs, April 16-17, 1953

Metamorphoses of the Moon, November 14, 1954

Love is a Parallax, 1954-1955

Danse Macabre, January 30, 1955
Rondeau Redoublé, January 30, 1955

Temper of Time, February 1, 1955
Winter Words, February 1, 1955
Apparel for April, February 2, 1955
Lament, February 5, 1955
Elegy, February 6, 1955
The Dream, February 7, 1955
Prologue to Spring, February 9, 1955
Epitaph in Three Parts, February 11, 1955
April Aubade, February 14, 1955
The Princess and the Goblins, February 19, 1955
Wayfaring at the Whitney: A Study in Sculptural Dimensions, February 28, 1955

Ice Age (II) (All, all is freezing over:... [first line]), March 2, 1955
Moonsong at Morning, March 6, 1955
On Looking Into the Eyes of My Demon Lover, March 6, 1955
Black Pine Tree in an Orange Light, March 8, 1955
Apotheosis, March 9, 1955
Second Winter, March 9, 1955
Song of Eve, March 9, 1955
Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, March 22, 1955

Desert Song, April 19, 1955
Circus in Three Rings, September 8, 1954; revised 23 April 1955

So, maybe you want to read Sylvia Plath's Circus in Three Rings? There are two ways to do it. However, though it may a challenge because, of course, not all of the poems are published.
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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." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • 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 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: 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.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (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. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "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. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.

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