Tag Archives: Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

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“Great wits are sure to madness near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide…” -John Dryden

A fine example of this is found in the poet, Sylvia Plath. Her life was scarred from the beginning by the death of her father. He died from complications relating to the amputation of his leg. Plath blamed her father for his own death, claiming that his carelessness about his health was the same thing as suicide. Upon first receiving news of his demise, young Sylvia proclaimed “I’ll never speak to God again” Interestingly, one of her most famous works was entitled “Daddy”.

As she grew up, she used writing as a way to express her emotions, mostly through journaling. It wasn’t until college that Plath began to find her voice. During this time, Plath found moderate success publishing her work in magazines and newspapers.  A series of incidents including a rejection letter from a writing program, severe insomnia, relationships with abusive men, and a panic attack all led to a severe case of depression. She was treated with electroconvulsive therapy, which only made things worse. She attempted to kill herself, but was thwarted. She spent several months in a mental health facility. This pattern of feverous spurts of writing followed by severe bouts of maniac depression was one that followed her throughout her entire life. Prior to her death, Plath had written about 40 poems in 4 months, often writing 2 a day. She killed herself at the age of 30.

Speaking of suicide, Plath said “If you have no past or no future, which, after all, is all that the present is made of, why then you may as well dispose of the empty shell of present and commit suicide. But the cold reasoning mass of gray entrail in my cranium which parrots, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ whispers that there is always the turning, the upgrade, the new slant. And so I wait.”

Now, obliviously I disagree with Plath on…well, most fundamental issues. However, she truly was a brilliant writer. Here are some of my favorite quotes from her poetry as well as from her book, The Bell Jar:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

“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 must be lean & write & make worlds beside this to live in.”

“Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.”

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”

“There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. It’s like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction–every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it’s really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and excitement at about a million miles an hour.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

“I want to be important. By being different. And these girls are all the same.”

“I knew chemistry would be worse, because I’d seen a big card of the ninety-odd elements hung up in the chemistry lab, and all the perfectly good words like gold and silver and cobalt and aluminum were shortened to ugly abbreviations with different decimal numbers after them.”

“I have done, this year, what I said I would: overcome my fear of facing a blank page day after day, acknowledging myself, in my deepest emotions, a writer, come what may.”

“Living with him is like being told a perpetual story: his mind is the biggest, most imaginative I have ever met. I could live in its growing countries forever.”

“There is a certain unique and strange delight about walking down an empty street alone. There is an off-focus light cast by the moon, and the streetlights are part of the spotlight apparatus on a bare stage set up for you to walk through. You get a feeling of being listened to, so you talk aloud, softly, to see how it sounds.”

“Now I know what loneliness is, I think. Momentary loneliness, anyway. It comes from a vague core of the self – - like a disease of the blood, dispersed throughout the body so that one cannot locate the matrix, the spot of contagion.”

“…we shall board our imagined ship and wildly sail among sacred islands of the mad till death shatters the fabulous stars and makes us real.”

“I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head. Love is an illusion, but I would willingly fall for it if I could believe in it. Now everything seems either far and sad and cold, like a piece of shale at the bottom of a canyon – or warm and near and unthinking, like the pink dogwood.”

“I love him to hell and back and heaven and back, and have and do and will”

“I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.”

“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.”