Along with the Spike Milligan books, the mice in the caravan ate my copies of The Colossus, Ariel and The Bell Jar, so there will be some pretty mixed-up rodents out there.
I’m mentioning Sylvia Plath’s poems because of the imprint they left on me at the time, although they are not pieces that I care to return to and dwell on. It was the early 80s, I was drinking too much (like any good student), listening to Joy Division, and of a mind with Plath critic Al Alvarez (of “The Savage God”) who commended those who lived on the edge and took risks of disintegration. I was a whole bunch of joy.
Plath’s imagery isn’t just striking, it can knock you head clean off. There is no doubting the intelligence and power of her work. Nor is there any getting away from its immutable darkness.
From images of blackness, beauty can arise. In the lake of “Crossing The Water”:
“Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.”
Otherwise, her pathological song tolls an awful bell, in whose reverberation you can make out the features of her tyrannical father, Otto.
Rereading these poems, I realize just why they have such preternatural intensity — and why I would be wary of recommending them to anyone of a morbid or depressive disposition.
For Plath, her death by suicide was a given. She even had the timing mapped out (making an attempt every ten years and succeeding at thirty). It gave her a kind of terrible freedom, because nothing in this life could hold her. She was, in her own mind, already dead. It meant that she wrote from the other side. If her voice and poems are unique, it is because her sacrifice was the price.
Personally, I do not believe that art, not even great art, is worth the suffering of such a deeply troubled soul.