The colour of Sylvia Plath

The Colourful Words of Sylvia Plath

SP’s words are often a veil behind her mental condition … the heaven and hell extremes of bi-polar can be seen in her poems … the following are some lines from her work … some of those extremes often expressed in extremely colourful  ‘I want to be noticed’ words …

From ‘Street Song’ –

By a mad miracle I go intact
Among the common rout
Thronging sidewalk, street,
And bickering shops;
Nobody blinks a lid, gapes,
Or cries that this raw flesh
Reeks of the butcher’s cleaver,
Its heart and guts hung hooked
And bloodied as a cow’s split frame
Parcelled out by white-jacketed assassins.

… in this early piece written in 1956 when she was in her early twenties she confesses her extreme difference compared to ordinary people (if there are any ordinary people out there!) …and  it doesn’t say a great deal in appreciation to the treatment received by the medical world … strong words – ‘reeks of the butcher’s cleaver’.

I guess she was lucky to live as long as she did … and much later in ‘Lady Lazarus’ (written at the time of her last birthday in Oct 1962) – she reflects back on the time she nearly didn’t make … but like Lazarus she did return from the dead –

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air

To me these are strong positive ‘I am I’ words and of course a statement for female assertion at a time when woman were far more secondary than they are today.

Men did not feature strongly in her life … at the stage of writing this poem Ted Hughes had left for another woman … her father had died when she was age of 8 … and her early childhood days had Hitler and his mob in the background. Coupled to the competitive nature of a poet wanting to be heard in her own right – and note the support given to TH in establishing his name in ‘The Hawk and the Rain’.

Unfortunately there would be no second Lazarus event in that dreadful cold London winter of 1963 … that would be an unheard of extreme.

She often felt caught by her condition … there is no way out in that black world … at least that is often the way the depressed feel …

From ‘Apprehensions’ –

A gray wall now, clawed and bloody.
Is there no way out of the mind?
Steps at my back spiral into a well.
There are no trees, or birds in this well,
There is only a sourness.

Fortunately there was also a white side to her black days … the high shining glimpse that momentarily dazzles the heart in stunned amazement … seen in such poems as ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ –

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Ted Hughes remarks on her depressive condition in strong words too … the following lines are taken from his ‘Birthday Letters’ sequence …

From ‘Dream Life’ –

As if you descended in each night’s sleep
Into your father’s grave 

From ‘ The Blackbird’ –

You were the jailbird of your murderer –
 Which imprisoned you

You may think the SP colour should be blue … but this is not the case and TH defines her emphatically with the colour red  …

From ‘Red’ the last poem in the ‘Birthday Letters’ sequence –

Red was your colour.

Everything you painted you painted white
Then splashed it with roses, defeated it,
Leaned over it, dripping roses,
Weeping roses, and more roses,
Then sometimes, among them, a little bluebird.

… and echoing TH…  as he so aptly states …

But the jewel you lost was blue.

My tribute on this her birthday …

A Red Remembrance

In the red glow of morning
the unquenchable shivering
flames of life fracture
into a remembrance
on this red-letter day.

Your red passion for life
rendered rare colourful words.

And as the sun-flame blood rays
rescind in evening light to
open again
on the unseen world
you are remembered.

Red was your colour
and red remembered.

I must end this post on a very positive note. Here is that opening line in relation to motherhood from her first ‘Ariel’ poem – ‘Morning Song’ …

Love set you going like a fat gold watch

… and reading it back to you SP – you are indeed still going strong!

A thank you for the indefatigable legacy of your words.

Richard Scutter


This is a link to a previous SP Birthday Post which include a link to an interview by the BBC with SP at the time of her last birthday in October 1962

Your word in my ear ...

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