Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780571197040
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber

Meet the Author

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath
She appeared soft, and was known for the way her difficult, emotionally ravaged life bled itself onto the page. But Sylvia Plath was and is powerful, a fact evident in her poems, her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, and the success of the major motion picture, Sylvia starring Gwenyth Paltrow.

Biography

"I was supposed to be having the time of my life," Sylvia Plath writes as her alter ego Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. Like Esther, Plath was a bright young woman who had earned scholarships and awards, and had all the talent to back them up, and saw this—but could never enjoy it. Her struggles with depression were in fact what often motivated her to write, until she committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.

Plath is among the best-known confessional poets, coming from a school (at its peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s) that left few stones unturned when it came to self-examination and revelation. Though not always bald or literal in her expression, Plath chronicled her flirtation with death—and with life—in her poems. She writes in "Lady Lazarus," a verse about a woman rising from the dead yet again, "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell./I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I've a call." She has an ability to convey deep, almost frightening emotion, but do it in a deceptively lilting, almost-but-not-quite humorous language.

"Lady Lazarus" was published in Ariel (1965), a collection that appeared posthumously, as did other well-known collections such as Crossing the Water (1971), Winter Trees (1972) and Collected Poems (1981), for which Plath was awarded the Pulitzer. Though not all death and despair, Ariel stands out among Plath's works because it represented a departure from the first collection that was published while she was still alive, The Colossus and Other Poems, but primarily because it was such an intimate record of the end of her life. As poet Bob Hass remarked in a PBS interview, "Readers in general discovered this book [Ariel] of a young woman with two babies, whose husband had left her, living in a cold house, trying to be a mom, trying to be a writer, trying to put her life together, who didn't make it—who killed herself—and wrote poems full of rage, bravery, and it electrified people."

Plath's father died when she was eight years old, an event from which the poet never quite seemed to recover. She writes in Ariel's "Daddy": "At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do." Oddly (or perhaps appropriately) for a woman so devastatingly able to feel and react to people, Plath often writes about humans as objects, things that make noise, can be broken or repaired, marked in a continuum from birth to expiration. A child on the floor is like "an unstrung puppet"; cats howl "like women, or damaged instruments"; people are compared to statues. The technique provides a twisted understatement to the emotional effects Plath writes about, in a world where even the states of love and motherhood are accompanied by darkness.

Whereas Plath's poems often seem strange and dreamlike, The Bell Jar is direct and accessible. It ranks with Catcher in the Rye in both literary achievement and status. Plath gets across not only what it feels like to struggle with the most deadly and devastating emotions, but also how hapless and impotent the people around her are in coping with her. She portrays a woman at odds with the world, but does so without affect or pretension. It's no wonder the book has become a classic, particularly among young female readers. At times of despair, readers find comfort and empathy in Plath's words. All of her painfully wrought "confessions" are of us, for us.

Good To Know

Plath married fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she met while studying in Cambridge. At the time Plath killed herself, Hughes had left her for another woman (who also eventually killed herself). He wrote about his relationship with Sylvia in Birthday Letters, an autobiographical collection of poems published just before he died in 1998.

Plath was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia (2003), a film produced by the BBC and Focus Features. The Bell Jar was adapted to the screen by director Larry Peerce in 1979.

The Colossus was Plath's literary debut in 1960, but she also published A Winter Ship that same year, anonymously. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas.

Read More Show Less
    1. Also Known As:
      Victoria Lucas (pseudonym)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      February 11, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Preface ix
Publisher's Note xi
THE JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH
JOURNAL July 1950 - July 1953, 3
Wellesley, Massachusetts, 8
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (first year), 23
Wellesley & Swampscott, Massachusetts (summer 1951), 62
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (sophomore), 97
Wellesley & Cape Cod, Massachusetts (summer 1952), 108
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (junior), 149
Wellesley, Massachusetts (summer 1953), 185
JOURNAL 22 November 1955 - 18 April 1956, 189
Newnham College, Cambridge, England, 191
JOURNAL 15 July 1956, 237
Benidorm, Spain (honeymoon), 239
JOURNAL 22 July 1956 - 26 August 1956, 245
Benidorm, Spain, 247
`Sketchbook of a Spanish Summer', 261
JOURNAL 3 January 1957 - 11 March 1957, 265
Cambridge, England, 267
`Fish and Chip Shop', 276
JOURNAL 15 July 1957 - 21 August 1957, 281
Cape Cod,Massachusetts, 283
JOURNAL 28 August 1957 - 14 October 1958, 299
Northampton, Massachusetts, 301
Boston, Massachusetts, 417
JOURNAL 12 December 1958 - 15 November 1959, 427
Boston, Massachusetts (therapy notes), 429
Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York, 501
APPENDICES
1 JOURNAL F RAGMENT 17 - 19 October 1951, 533
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
2 BACK TO SCHOOL COMMANDMENTS 538
3 JOURNAL FRAGMENTS 24 March 1953 - 9 April 1953, 539
4 JOURNAL FRAGMENT 19 June 1953, 541
Mademoiselle, New York, New York
5 LETTER June - July 1953, 543
Wellesley, Massachusetts
6 JOURNAL FRAGMENT 31 December 1955 - 1 January 1956, 547
Nice, France (winter vacation)
7 JOURNAL 26 March 1956 - 5 April 1956, 552
Paris, France (spring vacation)
8 JOURNAL FRAGMENT 1 April 1956, 569
9 JOURNAL FRAGMENT 16 April 1956, 570
10 JOURNAL 26 June 1956 - 6 March 1961, 571
`The Inmate', London, England, 1961, 599
11 JOURNAL June 1957 - June 1960, 609
12 LETTER 1 October 1957, 618
13 JOURNAL FRAGMENT 5 November 1957, 622
14 HOSPITAL NOTES 624
15 JOURNAL 1962, 630
North Tawton, Devonshire, England
Notes 675
Acknowledgments 705
Index 707
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First Chapter




Chapter One


1.

July 1950 — I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. Now I know how people can live without books, without college. When one is so tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I'd call myself a fool to ask for more ...


* * *


2.

Ilo asked me today in the strawberry field, "Do you like the Renaissance painters? Raphael and Michelangelo? I copied some of Michelangelo once. And what do you think of Picasso ... These painters who make a circle and a little board going down for a leg?" We worked side by side in the rows, and he would be quiet for a while, then suddenly burst out with conversation, speaking with his thick German accent. He straightened up, his tan, intelligent face crinkling up with laughter. His chunky, muscular body was bronzed, and his blonde hair tucked up under a white handkerchief around his head. He said, "You like Frank Sinatra? So sendimental, so romandic, so moonlight night, Ja?"


* * *


3.

— A sudden slant of bluish light across the floor of a vacant room. And I knew it was not the streetlight, but the moon. What is more wonderful than to be a virgin, clean and sound and young, on such a night? ... (being raped.)


* * *


4.

— Tonight wasawful. It was the combination of everything. Of the play "Goodbye My Fancy," of wanting, in a juvenile way, to be, like the heroine, a reporter in the trenches, to be loved by a man who admired me, who understood me as much as I understood myself. And then there was Jack, who tried so hard to be nice, who was hurt when I said all he wanted was to make out. There was the dinner at the country club, the affluence of money everywhere. And then there was the record ... the one so good for dancing. I forgot that it was the one until Louie Armstrong began to sing in a voice husky with regret, "I've flown around the world in a plane, settled revolutions in Spain, the North pole I have charted ... still I can't get started with you." Jack said: "Ever heard it before?" So I smiled, "Oh, yes." It was Bob. That settled things for me - - - a crazy record, and it was our long talks, his listening and understanding. And I knew I loved him.


* * *


5.

— Tonight I saw Mary. Jack and I were pushing out of the theater in a current of people, and she was edging the other way in a dark blue jacket. I hardly recognized her with her eyes downcast, her face made up. But beautiful. "I've been looking all over for you," I said. "Mary. Call me, write me." She smiled, a little like the Mary I used to know, and she was gone. I knew I would never have a friend quite like her. So I went out in a white dress, a white coat, with a rich boy. And I hated myself for my hypocrasy. I love Mary. Betsy is nothing but fun; hysterical fun. Mary is me ... what I would be if I had been born of Italian parents on Linden Street. She is something vital, an artist's model, life. She can be rude, undependable, and she is more to me than all the pretty, well-to-do, artificial girls I could ever meet. Maybe it's my ego. Maybe I crave someone who will never be my rival. But with her I can be honest. She could be a prostitute, and I would not give a damn; I'll never deny her as a friend ...


* * *


6.

— Today is the first of August. It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: After a heavy rainfall, poems titled RAIN pour in from across the nation.


7.

— I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love's not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I'll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time ...


* * *


8.

— With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can't start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It's like quicksand ... hopeless from the start. A story, a picture, can renew sensation a little, but not enough, not enough. Nothing is real except the present, and already, I feel the weight of centuries smothering me. Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash, come and are gone, continuous quicksand. And I don't want to die.


* * *


9.

— Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to. I've just got to put down what happened to me this afternoon. I can't tell mother; not yet, anyway. She was in my room when I came home, fussing with clothes, and she didn't even sense that something had happened. She just kept scolding and chattering on and on. So I couldn't stop her and tell her. No matter how it comes out, I have to write it.

    It rained all afternoon at the farm, and I was cold and wet, my hair under a silk print kerchief, my red ski jacket over my sweatshirt. I had worked hard on beans all afternoon and picked over three bushels. Since it was five o'clock, people were leaving, and I was waiting beside the cars for my ride home. Kathy had just come up, and as she got on her bike she called, "Here comes Ilo."

    I looked, and sure enough, there he was, coming up the road in his old khaki shirt with his familiar white handkerchief tied around his head. I was on conversational terms with him since that day we worked together in the strawberry field. He had given me a pen and ink sketch of the farm, drawn with detail and assurance. Now he was working on a sketch of one of the boys.

    So I called, "Have you finished John's picture?"

    "Oh, ya, ya," he smiled. "Come and see. Your last chance." He had promised to show it to me when he was done, so I ran out and got in step with him on his way to the barn. That's where he lives.

    On the way, we passed Mary Coffee. I felt her looking at me rather strangely. Somehow I couldn't meet her eyes.

    "Hullo, Mary," Ilo said.

    "Hello, Ilo," Mary said in an oddly colorless voice.

    We walked by Ginny, Sally, and a crowd of kids keeping dry in the tractor shed. A roar went up as we passed. A singsong, "Oh, Sylvia." My cheeks burned.

    "Why do they have to tease me?" I asked. Ilo just laughed. He was walking very fast.

    "We're going home in a little while," Milton yelled from the washroom.

    I nodded and kept walking, looking at the ground. Then we were at the barn, a huge place, a giant high ceilinged room smelling of horses and damp hay. It was dim inside; I thought I saw the figure of a person on the other side of the stalls, but I couldn't be sure. Without saying a word, Ilo had begun to mount a narrow flight of wooden stairs.

    "You live up there? All these stairs?"

    He kept walking up, so I followed him, hesitating at the top.

    "Come in, come in," he said, opening a door. The picture was there, in his room. I walked over the threshold. It was a narrow place with two windows, a table full of drawing things, and a cot, covered with a dark blanket. Oranges and milk were set out on a table with a radio.

    "Here," he held out the picture. It was a fine pencil sketch of John's head.

    "Why, how do you do it? With the side of the pencil?"

    It seemed of no significance then, but now I remember how Ilo had shut the door, had turned on the radio so that music came out.

    He talked very fast, showing me a pencil. "See, here the lead comes out, any size." I was very conscious of his nearness. His blue eyes were startlingly close, looking at me boldly, with flecks of laughter in them.

    "I really have to go. They will be waiting. The picture was lovely."

    Smiling, he was between me and the door. A motion. His hand closed around my arm. And suddenly his mouth was on mine, hard, vehement, his tongue darting between my lips, his arms like iron around me.

    "Ilo, Ilo!" I don't know whether I screamed or whispered, struggling to break free, my hands striking wildly, futiley against his great strength. At last he let me go, and stood back. I held my hand against my mouth, warm and bruised from his kiss. He looked at me quizzically, with something like surprised amusement as he saw that I was crying, frightened. No one ever kissed me that way before, and I stood there, flooded with longing, electric, shivering.

    "Why, why," he made sympathetic, depreciating little noises. "I get you some water."

    He poured me out a glass, and I drank it. He opened the door, and I stumbled blindly downstairs, past Maybelle and Robert, the little colored children, who called my name in the corrupted way kids have of pronouncing things. Past Mary Lou, their mother, who stood there, a silent, dark presence.

    And I was outdoors. A truck was going by. Coming from behind the barn. In it was Bernie - - - the horrible, short, muscular boy from the washroom. His eyes glittered with malicious delight, and he drove fast, so I could not catch up with him. Had he been in the barn? Had he seen Ilo shut the door, seen me come out? I think he must have.

    I walked up past the washroom to the cars. Bernie yelled out, "Why are you crying?" I wasn't crying. Kenny and Freddy came by on the tractor. A group of boys, going home, looked at me with a light flickering somewhere in their eyes. "Did he kiss you?" one asked, with a knowing smile.

    I felt sick. I couldn't have spoken if someone had talked to me. My voice was stuck in my throat, thick and furry.

    Mr. Tompkins came up to the pump to watch Kenny and Freddy run the old stock car. They were nice, but they knew. They all must know.

    "There's cutie pie," Kenny said.

    "Cutie pie and angel face." Freddy said.

    So I stood there, arms folded, staring at the whirring engine, smiling as if I was all right, as if nothing had happened.

    Milton sat in the rumble seat with me going home. David drove, and Andy was in front. They all looked at me with that dancing light in their eyes. David said in a stiff, strained voice, "Everybody in the washroom was watching you go into the barn and making wisecracks."

    Milton asked about the picture. We talked a little about art and drawing. They were all so nice. I think they may have been relieved at my narrow escape; they may have expected me to cry. They knew, though, they knew.

    So I'm home. And tomorrow I have to face the whole damn farm. Good Lord, It might have happened in a dream. Now I can almost believe it did. But tomorrow my name will be on the tip of every tongue. I wish I could be smart, or flip, but I'm too scared. If only he hadn't kissed me. I'll have to lie and say he didn't. But they know. They all know. And what am I against so many ...?


* * *


10.

— This morning I had my two left wisdom teeth out. At 9 A.M. I walked into the dentist's office. Quickly, with a heavy sense of impending doom, I sat in the chair after a rapid, furtive glance around the room for any obvious instruments of torture such as a pneumatic drill or a gas mask. No such thing. The doctor pinned the bib around my neck; I was just about prepared for him to stick an apple in my mouth and strew sprigs of parsley on my head. But no. All he did was ask, "Gas or novacaine?" (Gas or novacaine. Heh, heh! Would like to see what we have on stock, madam? Death by fire or water, by the bullet or the noose. Anything to please the customer.) "Gas," I said firmly. The nurse sneaked up behind me, put a rubber oval over my nose, the tubes of it cutting pleasantly into my cheek. "Breathe easily." The gas sifted in, strange and sickeningly sweet. I tried not to fight it. The dentist put something in my mouth, and the gas began to come in in big gulps. I had been staring at the light. It quivered, shook, broke into little pieces. The whole constellation of little iridescent fragments started to swing in a rhythmic arc, slow at first, then faster, faster. I didn't have to try hard to breathe now; something was pumping at my lungs, giving forth an odd, breathy wheeze as I exhaled. I felt my mouth cracking up into a smile. So that's how it was ... so simple, and no one had told me. I had to write it, to describe how it was, before I went under. I fancied my right hand was the tip of the arc, curved up, but just as my hand got into position, the arc would swing the other way, gaining momentum. How clever of them, I thought. They kept the feeling all secret; they wouldn't even let you write it down. And then I was on a pirate ship, the captain's face peering at me from behind the wheel, as he swung it, steering. There were columns of black, and green leaves, and he was saying loudly, "All right, close down easily, easily." Then the sunlight burst into the room through the venetian blinds; I breathed hard, filling my lungs with air. I could see my feet, my arms; there I was. I tried hard to get back in my body again ... it was such a long way to my feet. I lifted my hands, to my head; they shook. It was all over ... till next Saturday. —


* * *


11.

Emile. There it is; his name. And what can I say? I can say he called for me at nine Saturday night, that I was still weak from having two wisdom teeth out that morning. I can say that we went on a double date dancing at Ten Acres, that I drank five glasses, in the course of the evening, to the bottom, of sparkling tawny gingerale, while the others drank beer. But that's not it. Not at all. This is how it was. I dressed slowly, smoothing, perfuming, powdering. I sat upstairs in the moist gray twilight, with the rain trickling down outside, while the family talked and laughed with company down on the porch. This is I, I thought, the American virgin, dressed to seduce. I know I'm in for an evening of sexual pleasure. We go on dates, we play around, and if we're nice girls, we demure at a certain point. And so it goes. We walked into the bar and sat down, two by two. E. and I had the initial strangeness to rub off. We began to talk - - - about the funeral he went to this morning, about his twenty year old cousin who broke his back and is paralyzed for life, about his sister who died of pneumonia at twelve years. "Good lord, we're morbid tonight," he shuddered. And then, "You know something I've always liked ... I mean wanted to like? Dark eyes and blonde hair." So we talked about little things, how words lose their meaning when you repeat them over and over; how all people of the Negro race look alike until you get to know them individually; how we always liked the age we were at best. "I pity Warrie," he said, nodding at the other boy. "He's twenty-two, out of Amherst, and he has to work the rest of his life. When I figure ... only two more years of college."

    "I know, I've always dreaded birthdays."

    "You don't look as young as you are."

    "I don't see," I said, "how people stand being old. Your insides all dry up. When you're young you're so self-reliant. You don't even need much religion."

    "You're not by any chance a Catholic?" He asked as if it were quite unlikely.

    "No. You?"

    "Yes." He said it very low.

    There was more small talk, more laughing, sidelong glances, more of the unspoken physical friction that makes each new conquest so delightful. In the air was the strong smell of masculinity which creates the ideal medium for me to exist in. There was something in Emile tonight, a touch of seriousness, a chemical magnetism, that met my mood the way two pieces of a child's puzzle fit together. He has a fine face, dark hair, and eyes with enormous black pupils; a straight nose, a one-sided flashing grin, a clean-cut chin. He is neatly made, with small, sensitive hands. I knew it would be the way it was. On the dance floor he held me close to him, the hard line of his penis taut against my stomach, my breasts aching firm against his chest. And it was like warm wine flooding through me, a sleepy, electric drowsiness. He nuzzled his face in my hair; kissed my cheek. "Don't look at me," he said. "I've just come out of a swimming pool, hot and wet." (God, I knew it would be like this.) He was looking at me intently, searchingly, and our eyes met. I went under twice; I was drowning; and he flicked his gaze away. On the way to Warrie's at midnight, Emile kissed me in the car, his mouth wet and gentle on mine. At Warrie's, more gingerale, more beer, and dancing with the dim light from the porch, Emile's body warm and firm against mine, rocking back and forth to the soft, erotic music. (Dancing is the normal prelude to intercourse. All the dancing classes when we are too young to understand, and then this.) "You know," Emile looked at me, "we ought to sit down." I shook my head. "No?" he said. "How about some water, then. Feel all right?" (Feel all right. Oh, yes. Yes, thank you.) He steered me out to the kitchen, cool, smelling of linoleum, with the sound of the rain falling outside. I sat and sipped the water he brought me, while he stood looking down, his features strange in the half-light. I put the glass down. "That was quick," he said. "Should I have taken longer?" I stood up and his face moved in, his arms about me. After a while I pushed him away. "The rain's rather nice. It makes you feel good inside, elemental, just to listen." I was backed against the sink; Emile was close, warm, his eyes glittering, his mouth sensuous and lovely. "You," I said deliberately, "don't give a damn about me except physically." Any boy would deny that; any gallant boy; any gallant lier. But Emile shook me, his voice was urgent, "You know, you shouldn't have said that. You know? You know? The truth always hurts." (Even clichés can come in handy.) He grinned, "Don't be bitter; I'm not. Come away from the sink, and watch." He stepped back, drawing me toward him, slapping my stomach away, he kissed me long and sweetly. At last he let go. "There," he said with a quiet smile. "The truth doesn't always hurt, does it?" And so we left. It was pouring rain. In the car he put his arm around me, his head against mine, and we watched the streetlights coming at us, blurred and fluid in the watery dark. As we ran up the walk in the rain, as he came in and had a drink of water, as he kissed me goodnight, I knew that something in me wanted him, for what I'm not sure: He drinks, he smokes, he's Catholic, he runs around with one girl after another, and yet ... I wanted him. "I don't have to tell you it's been nice," I said at the door. "It's been marvelous," he smiled. "I'll call you. Take care." And he was gone. So the rain comes down hard outside my room, and like Eddie Cohen, I say, "... fifteen thousand years - - - of what? We're still nothing but animals." Somewhere, in his room, Emile lies, about to sleep, listening to the rain. God only knows what he's thinking.


12.

· · ·
— There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me, as if something is there, beneath the surface of my understanding, waiting for me to grasp it. It is the same tantalizing sensation when you almost remember a name, but don't quite reach it. I can feel it when I think of human beings, of the hints of evolution suggested by the removal of wisdom teeth, the narrowing of the jaw no longer needed to chew such roughage as it was accustomed to; the gradual disappearance of hair from the human body; the adjustment of the human eye to the fine print, the swift, colored motion of the twentieth century. The feeling comes, vague and nebulous, when I consider the prolonged adolesence of our species; the rites of birth, marriage and death; all the primitive, barbaric ceremonies streamlined to modern times. Almost, I think, the unreasoning, bestial purity was best. Oh, something is there, waiting for me. Perhaps someday the revelation will burst in upon me and I will see the other side of this monumental grotesque joke. And then I'll laugh. And then I'll know what life is. —


* * *


13.

— Tonight I wanted to step outside for a few moments before going to bed; it was so snug and stale-aired in the house. I was in my pajamas, my freshly washed hair up on curlers. So I tried to open the front door. The lock snapped as I turned it; I tried the handle. The door wouldn't open. Annoyed, I turned the handle the other way. No response. I twisted the lock; there were only four possible combinations of handle and lock positions, and still the door stuck, white, blank and enigmatic. I glanced up. Through the glass square, high in the door, I saw a block of sky, pierced by the sharp black points of the pines across the street. And there was the moon, almost full, luminous and yellow, behind the trees. I felt suddenly breathless, stifled. I was trapped, with the tantalizing little square of night above me, and the warm, feminine atmosphere of the house enveloping me in its thick, feathery smothering embrace. —


* * *


14.

— This morning I am at low ebb. I did not sleep well last night, waking, tossing, and dreaming sordid, incoherent little dreams. I awoke, my head heavy, feeling as if I had just emerged from a swim in a pool of warm polluted water. My skin was greasy, my hair stiff, oily, and my hands as if I had touched something slimy and unclean. The thick August air does not help. I sit here lumpishly, an ache at the back of my neck. I feel that even if I washed myself all day in cold clear water, I could not rinse the sticky, untidy film away; nor could I rid my mouth of the furry unpleasant taste of unbrushed teeth. —


* * *


15.

— Tonight, for a moment, all was at peace inside. I came out of the house-across-the-street a little before twelve, sick with unfulfilled longing, alone, self-reviling. And there, miraculously was the August night. It had just rained, and the air was thick with warm damp and fog. The moon, full, pregnant with light, showed strangely from behind the small frequent clouds, poised like a picture puzzle that had been broken, with light in back, outlining each piece. There seemed to be no wind, but the leaves of the trees stirred, restless, and the water fell from them in great drops on the pavement, with a sound like that of people walking down the street. There was the peculiar smell of mould, dead leaves, decay, in the air. The two lights over the front steps were haloed with a hazy nimbus of mist, and strange insects fluttered up against the screen, fragile, wing-thin and blinded, dazed, numbed by the brilliance. Lightning, heat lightning flicked off and on, as if some stage hand were toying with the light switch. Two crickets, deep in the cracks in the granite steps, sang a sweet, haunting-thin trill. And because it was my home, I loved them. The air flowed about me like thick molasses, and the shadows from the moon and street lamp split like schizophrenic blue phantoms, grotesque and faintly repetitious. —


* * *


16.

— Upstairs, in the bright, white, sterile cubicle of the bathroom, smelling of warm flesh and toothpaste, I bent over the washbowl in unthinking ritual, washing the proscribed areas, worshipping the glittering chromium, the light that clattered back and forth, brittle, blinding, from the faucets. Hot and cold; cleanliness coming in smooth scented green bars; hairs in thin, penciled lines, curving on the white enamel; the colored prescriptions, the hard, glassed-in jars, the bottles that can cure the symptoms of a cold or send you to sleep within an hour. And then to bed, in the same potentially fertile air, scented of lavendar, lace curtains and the warm feline odor like musk, waiting to assimilate you - - - everywhere the pallid waiting. And you are the moving epitome of all this. Of you, by you, for you. God, is this all it is, the ricocheting down the corridor of laughter and tears? Of self-worship and self-loathing? Of glory and disgust? —


* * *


17.

— A little thing, like children putting flowers in my hair, can fill up the widening cracks in my self-assurance like soothing lanolin. I was sitting out on the steps today, uneasy with fear and discontent. Peter, (the little boy-across-the-street) with the pointed pale face, the grave blue eyes and the slow fragile smile came bringing his adorable sister Libby of the flaxen braids and the firm, lyrically-formed child-body. They stood shyly for a little, and then Peter picked a white petunia and put it in my hair. Thus began an enchanting game, where I sat very still, while Libby ran to and fro gathering petunias, and Peter stood by my side, arranging the blossoms. I closed my eyes to feel more keenly the lovely delicate-child-hands, gently tucking flower after flower into my curls. "And now a white one," the lisp was soft and tender. Pink, crimson, scarlet, white ... the faint pungent odor of the petunias was hushed and sweet. And all my hurts were smoothed away. Something about the frank, guileless blue eyes, the beautiful young bodies, the brief scent of the dying flowers smote me like the clean quick cut of a knife. And the blood of love welled up in my heart with a slow pain.


* * *


18.

— Now I'll never see him again, and maybe it's a good thing. He walked out of my life last night for once and for all. I know with sickening certainty that it's the end. There were just those two dates we had, and the time he came over with the boys, and tonight. Yet I liked him too much - - - way too much, and I ripped him out of my heart so it wouldn't get to hurt me more than it did. Oh, he's magnetic, he's charming; you could fall into his eyes. Let's face it: his sex appeal was unbearably strong. I wanted to know him - - - the thoughts, the ideas behind the handsome, confident, wise-cracking mask. "I've changed," he told me. "You would have liked me three years ago. Now I'm a wiseguy." We sat together for a few hours on the porch, talking, and staring at nothing. Then the friction increased, centered. His nearness was electric in itself. "Can't you see," he said. "I want to kiss you." So he kissed me, hungrily, his eyes shut, his hand warm, curved burning into my stomach. "I wish I hated you," I said. "Why did you come?" "Why? I wanted your company. Alby and Pete were going to the ball game, and I couldn't see that. Warrie and Jerry were going drinking; couldn't see that either." It was past eleven; I walked to the door with him and stepped outside into the cool August night. "Come here," he said. "I'll whisper something: I like you, but not too much. I don't want to like anybody too much." Then it hit me and I just blurted, "I like people too much or not at all. I've got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them." He was definite, "Nobody knows me." So that was it; the end. "Goodbye for good, then," I said. He looked hard at me, a smile twisting his mouth, "You lucky kid; you don't know how lucky you are." I was crying quietly, my face contorted. "Stop it!" The words came like knife thrusts, and then gentleness, "In case I don't see you, have a nice time at Smith." "Have a hell of a nice life," I said. And he walked off down the path with his jaunty, independent stride. And I stood there where he left me, tremulous with love and longing, weeping in the dark. That night it was hard to get to sleep.


* * *


19.

— Today the doorbell rang; it was little Peter. So I came out and sat on the front steps with him. I could sit by the hour listening to his prattling. He was jealous of Bob, asking in a small tight voice, "Who was that boy over your house? Who does he like best, Warren or you?" And then, "He called me pipsqueak. If you had a baby would you call him pipsqueak?" "I'm not tan," he continued. "It's dirt. I don't like the looks of dirt, but I like the feel of it. Clean doesn't feel good because you're all wet." He played with Warren. I went up to my room, and I heard a commotion outside. Peter had climbed to the level of the window in the little maple tree and was shaking the leaves down. —


* * *


20.

From a letter to Ed — "Your letter came just now ... The one about your walk in the city, about war. You don't know quite what it did to me. My mental fear, which can be at times forced into the background, reared up and caught me in the pit of my stomach; it became a physical nausea which wouldn't let me eat breakfast.

    Let's face it: I'm scared, scared and frozen. First, I guess, I'm afraid for myself ... the old primitive urge for survival. It's getting so I live every moment with terrible intensity. Last night, driving back from Boston, I lay back in the car and let the colored lights come at me, the music from the radio, the reflection of the guy driving. It all flowed over me with a screaming ache of pain ... remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I've taken for granted. When you feel that this may be the good-bye, the last time, it hits you harder.

    I've got to have something. I want to stop it all, the whole monumental grotesque joke, before it's too late. But writing poems and letters doesn't seem to do much good. The big men are all deaf; they don't want to hear the little squeaking as they walk across the street in cleated boots. Ed, I guess this all sounds a bit frantic. I guess I am. When you catch your mother, the childhood symbol of security and rightness, crying desolately in the kitchen; when you look at your tall, dreamy-eyed kid brother and think that all his potentialities in the line of science are going to be cut off before he gets a chance ... it kind of gets you. —


* * *


21.

— Here I sit in the deep cushioned armchair, the crickets rasping, buzzing, chirring outside. It's the library, my favorite room, with the floor a medieval mosaic of flat square stones the color of old book-bindings ... rust, copper, tawny orange, pepper-brown, maroon. And there are deep comfortable maroon leather chairs with the leather peeling off, revealing a marbled pattern of ridiculous pink. The books, all that you would fill your rainy days with, line the shelves; friendly, fingered volumes. So I sit here, smiling as I think in my fragmentary way: "Woman is but an engine of ecstasy, a mimic of the earth from the ends of her curled hair to her red-lacquered nails." Then I think, remembering the family of beautiful children that lie asleep upstairs, "Isn't it better to give in to the pleasant cycles of reproduction, the easy, comforting presence of a man around the house?" I remember Liz, her face white, delicate as an ash on the wind; her red lips staining the cigarette; her full breasts under the taut black jersey. She said to me, "But think how happy you can make a man someday." Yes, I'm thinking, and so far it's all right. But then I do a flipover and reach out in my mind to E., seeing a baseball game, maybe, perhaps watching television, or roaring with careless laughter at some dirty joke with the boys, beer cans lying about green and shiny gold, and ash trays. I spiral back to me, sitting here, swimming, drowning, sick with longing. I have too much conscience injected in me to break customs without disasterous effects; I can only lean enviously against the boundary and hate, hate, hate the boys who can dispel sexual hunger freely, without misgiving, and be whole, while I drag out from date to date in soggy desire, always unfulfilled. The whole thing sickens me. —


* * *


22.

— Yes, I was infatuated with you; I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn't stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren't having any of those. —


* * *


23.

— There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears. —


* * *


Jacket Notes:

Sylvia Plath kept a record of her life from the age of eleven until her death at thirty. The journals are characterized by the vigorous immediacy with which she records her inner thoughts and feelings and the intricacies of her daily life. Apart from being a key source for her early writing, they give us an intimate portrait of the writer who was to produce in the last seven months of her life the extraordinary poems which have secured her reputation as one of the greatest of twentieth-century poets.

Plath's adult years, from 1950 to 1962, are the focus of this edition, which includes an exact transcription of the twenty-three journals and journal fragments owned by Smith College. The collection documents her student days at Smith College (interrupted by her breakdown in 1953) and Newnham College, Cambridge, her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes, and two years of working and living in New England.

This volume also includes the full text of the two journals which Ted Hughes unsealed just before his death in 1998. One dates from August, 1957, when Plath returned to Northampton, Massachusetts, to teach English at Smith College. It chronicles her struggle to reach the decision to concentrate on a writing life rather than a more affluent, academic career, and the couple's stay in Boston, where they became part of the literary scene centred around Robert Lowell. The second journal begins in December 1958 with Plath's private therapy sessions and ends in November 1959 when Plath and Hughes decided to return to England.

The edition ends with a few journal fragments written from the house in Devon, where Plath and Hughes lived with their two children, Frieda and Nicholas, before their marriage unravelled in 1962.

The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 have been edited with notes and a full index by Karen V. Kukil, Associate Curator of Rare Books at Smith College. Supervising the scholarly use of the Sylvia Plath Collection in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College has been one of Ms Kukil's primary responsibilities during the past nine years.

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