Picking Up Plath Again

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I have been putting off this post for quite awhile, but it only seems fitting. The first time I picked up Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I was 14 years old. After getting about half way through it, it got knocked from its coveted spot on my nightstand, and I never finished it, just as this post has sat tucked away in my drafts folder for quite some time.

But I am a firm believer, that when it comes to reading, writing, and getting inspired, timing is everything. Sometimes we walk the same route hundreds of times, and it is only on the 101 ramble that we discover something new and beautiful.

For a final assignment this semester, I had to do a lesson on the biographical nature of either The Bell Jar or House on Mango Street. I instantly jumped on Plath’s piece, and remembered how I had begun it all those years before. This was a different time in my life, a different moment and age, and it seems Plath found me just when she was supposed to.

I walked to the bookstore, made my purchase, and cracked the spine on my new copy that very day, sitting on the balcony in Sweden, enjoying the first rays of spring sunshine. Plath’s words cut me , left me devastated, left me raw. I connected with her, her honesty, and clarity. I had to keep reminding myself that this “novel” was essentially nonfiction in nature, and that Plath was scared of exposing too much of herself. I recognized that in myself too, I always have. For my presentation I got all hung up on her masks, layers, and facades, and about how the book itself was like a security blanket for her. She got to expose herself, but it felt safer.

For my next class, I used her poem, “Daddy,” as a part of my final paper. I found a clip on Youtube of her reading it, and felt so haunted by her voice, and the eerie, crackly quality of the old tape. It was the voice of a tortured ghost, and I couldn’t get enough. Her poetry, I believe, is even more touching than her prose. It has a rhythm and an elegance to it, yet there is highly personal, heartfelt nature to it as well. It is somehow mechanically beautiful yet poetically  elegant all at the same time. (I suggest listening yourself, here!)

I found Plath, afraid of her own poetic and narrative voice, fearing her future in The Bell Jar, questioning how what her role would be as woman, wife, mother, writer, and I heard Plath’s concerns as if they were my own. It came to me just at the right moment, full of fear, but there was beauty too. Beauty in the fact that we are not alone, and in its best moments, writing takes the universal in me, and connects it to the universal in you. Plath got to leave behind a piece of her soul, and it lives on in everyone who reads and connects with her works.

Have you ever returned to a book, poem, or author to discover that it meant something totally different to you at this time in your life?


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