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Existential Angst
by Shona Caroll

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

Sylvia Plath, Daddy

Sylvia Plath wrote her first poem when she was eight years old. She was a model daughter who excelled in school, was popular with the other children and on the surface everything as just fine.

That's what everyone thought.

She was a perfectionist but under all that perfection...there lived a much traumatized young girl. After the death of her father (he died when she was ten) she seemed to have sunk in to lower depts. During the summer following her junior year at Smith - having returned from a stay at New York City, where she had been a student guest editor at Mademoiselle Magazine, Sylvia Plath attempted and very nearly succeeded in taking her own life by drowning a whole bottle of sleeping pills (only eight pills were left in the bottle). She had returned from the New York exhausted both mentally and physically but, she was excited at the prospect of being admitted to a Harvard summer class on writing. When she received word she had not been accepted, Sylvia Plath secured her own fate.

On 24 August 1953, Plath left a note for her mother saying, "Have gone for a long walk. Will be home tomorrow." She took a blanket, a bottle of sleeping pills, a glass of water with her down the stairs to the cellar. There she crept into a small entrance to the crawl space underneath the porch. She began swallowing the pills in gulps of water and nearly immediately fell unconscious. This was to be her first attempt at suicide and definitely not her last.

‘The Bell Jar' published in 1963 and is an autobiographical novel about her experiences in New York and her attempt at suicide. Her recovery period was a staple diet of electroshock and psychotherapy, and following that she returned to Smith and graduated in 1955 - after which she began to climb the literary ladder towards success and academic heights.

In1956 she married Ted Hughes who was a fellow poet from England, and in 1960 her first book ‘The Colossus' was published in England. The poems in this book not only show her dedication as a poet, but also highlight her poignant style and poetic genius that was to later reveal itself more profusely.

Less than two years after the birth of their first child Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes began to face difficulties in their marriage. By the winter (one of the coldest recorded till date in England) of 1963 Plath was living in a small London flat with her two small children and hardly any money, Plath and her children were without a telephone and the heat was poor or non-existent. During this time her poetry reflected her mental anxiety and personal turmoil. She wrote between four and eight in the morning (usually before her children awakened) and these last few poems are somehow much deeper, edged, and barbed. In these poems death is given a somewhat metaphysical stature where you can see the poet is toying with the idea of dying.

On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath killed her self with the help of cooking gas. She placed her head in a gas oven after sealing the rooms between herself and her children. She left a note for the man who lived downstairs, Mr. Trevor Thomas, to call her doctor. The gas seeped through the floor and knocked Mr. Thomas out cold for several hours. A girl was to arrive at nine o'clock that morning to help Plath take care of her children. Arriving punctually at 9, the girl could not get into the flat. It has been suggested that Plath's timing and planning of this suicide attempt was too accurate, too simultaneous.

She had previously asked Mr. Thomas what time he would be leaving. Plath must have turned the gas on at a time when Mr. Thomas should have been waking out of his home to begin his day. A note was placed outside his house that read "Call Dr Horder" and left his phone number. These events were very well timed and could have saved Plath's life if the events were to be followed according to her judgment.

Living apart from her husband Ted Hughes and living in one of the worst English winters on record (without proper electricity and heat), Plath was slowly going insane...this must have been her last cry for help.


Unfortunately no one listened.


Sylvia Plath was just 30 years old.

 

Shona Caroll is the editor and chief writer of http://www.abouttexts.com/ a blog dedicated to Literature...and everything else you need to know about your favorite writers, poets and literary figure. Writers are an opinionated lot...come share your view. It would be most welcome!