03 June 2018

The Curious History of Sylvia Plath's "Mad Girl's Love Song"

Sylvia Plath wrote her most famous villanelle on 21 February 1953 about Myron "Mike" Lotz, of Yale, whom she met over the Thanksgiving holiday in November 1952. I suspect many of us have been in that position before about a love interest; and in fact maybe some of you feel this degree of beautifully painful longing waiting for the next exciting Sylvia Plath Info Blog post? Right…

Anyway, Plath sent the poem off to The New Yorker and Harper's. A typescript copy of "Mad Girl’s Love Song" held by Lilly Library, probably sent by Plath to her mother in her letter dated the same day of composition, includes the following note typed at the top: "this one had the honor of being inspired by one myron lotz…" (Letters of Sylvia Plath, 567).

The poem has quite an interesting publication history. "Mad Girl's Love Song" was first published in the Smith Review (Spring 1953). It then appeared in the August 1953 issue of Mademoiselle.

Mademoiselle authorized "Mad Girl's Love Song" to be reprinted in at least three editions of the Boston Evening American which was then covering Plath's disappearance during her first suicide attempt. It accompanied articles with some lurid headlines. First in "Police, Kin Fear Smith Girl Suicide" (Final Edition), and then in two articles from later editions with headlines "Smith Girl in Coma At Own Home" ((Sports Charts Entries Edition) and (Sports Entries Results Edition). You can see the 256 articles on Plath suicide attempt that I have found here.

After several years off, Plath saw "Mad Girl's Love Song" published along with "Soliloquy of the Solipsist" in Granta, 4 May 1957. In a letter home written on 22 October 1956, Plath called Granta, "the 'new yorker' of Cambridge undergraduate life" (Letters of Sylvia Plath, 1322).

A decade later, after Plath's death, the Estate of Sylvia Plath allowed "Mad Girl's Love Song" to be published in the Harvard Advocate, May 1967. This appearance featured a number of other other poems Plath wrote as an undergraduate at Smith: "Danse Macabre", "Admonition" [from "Trio of Love Songs"], "Doomsday", "Dialogue en Route", and "Circus in Three Rings".

In 1971 it was printed twice. It appeared in Lois Ames' "Afterword" in the American edition of The Bell Jar and in the limited edition Crystal Gazer and Other Poems. Crystal Gazer includes poems written over a ten year period from 1952 to 1962.

After this: Nothing. The poem may have appeared in some anthologies but this is a rabbit hole down which I have no intention to go. "Mad Girl's Love Song" was not included in Plath's Pulitzer Prize winning Collected Poems, either as poem in the "Juvenilia" section or even listed as a poem she wrote in the "Uncollected Juvenilia: A complete list of poems composed before 1956" in the Index; which is thus hardly "complete". Though to be honest this is one of many pre-1956 omissions.

All links accessed 24 December 2017.

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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.
  • 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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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.