Sylvia Plath was a poet, author, and writer of short stories from the United States. She is recognised for developing the confessional poetry genre and is most known for her two published works, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and Ariel (1965), and The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical book that was released just before her passing in 1963.
Published in 1981, The Collected Poems contained previously unpublished poems. The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry was given to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for this book, making her the fourth person to receive it unexpectedly.
Plath, raised in Boston, Massachusetts, acquired qualifications from Smith College and the University of Cambridge in England, where she attended Newnham College. In 1956, she married colleague poet Ted Hughes, who later settled in England after living together in America.
They separated in 1962 after having two children. For most of her adult life, Plath suffered from chronic depression, and she had several sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She committed suicide in 1963.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath was born. She was Otto and Aurelia Plath's first child. Otto, a biology professor at Boston University and entomologist by birth, was married to Aurelia, an immigrant from Austria from a second-generation American family. Their son Warren was born three years later, and the family relocated to Winthrop, Massachusetts, in 1936.
At the age of eight, while still residing there, Plath had her first poem published in the children's section of the Boston Herald. She published her writings and artwork in several regional publications and newspapers, winning awards for both. Her father passed away when she was eight years old due to complications from a foot amputation [foot loss] caused by long-untreated diabetes.
Including Aurelia Plath, the family then relocated to the neighbouring Wellesley, where Plath went to high school. Her first article to be published in a national publication appeared in the Christian Science Monitor right after graduating from high school.
Education and Marriage
Plath enrolled at Smith College in 1950 after finishing high school. She was a brilliant student who went to the editor position at The Smith Review. This college publication led to a tenure as a project assistant at Mademoiselle magazine in New York City, which ultimately turned out to be disappointing. The poet she idolised, Dylan Thomas, was one of the people she missed that summer, and she also had her first experiences with self-harm and rejection from Harvard's writing programme.
At this point, Plath was receiving electroconvulsive therapy to treat her clinical depression, for which she had already received a diagnosis. She made her first official suicide attempt in August 1953, and she survived it, and the following six months saw her receiving extensive mental therapy.
Olive Higgins Prouty, an author who recovered from a mental breakdown, paid for Plath's hospital stay and scholarships. Eventually, Plath could recover, graduate from Smith with the highest honours, and be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Newnham College, one of the only all-female colleges at Cambridge. She won the Glascock Prize in 1955 for her poetry "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea" after graduating from Smith.
Ted Hughes was a poet Plath liked who she met in February 1956 while they were both students at the University of Cambridge. They were married in London in June 1956 after a quick relationship in which they regularly sent poems. They vacationed in France and Spain throughout the summer before returning to Cambridge for Plath's second year of study in the fall. They both developed a deep interest in astrology and other similar paranormal ideas during this time.
After getting married to Hughes, Plath and her husband relocated back to the US in 1957, where Plath started working at Smith. She was frustrated since she had little time to write because of her teaching responsibilities.
They then relocated to Boston, where Plath accepted a position as a receptionist in the psychiatric ward of Massachusetts General Hospital and participated in writing workshops led by poet Robert Lowell in the evenings. She started there to establish the writing style that would later become her trademark.
Out in the world
Plath won a Mademoiselle story contest in August 1952, and in June 1953, the magazine hired her as a guest editor. Her sad memories in New York City inspired her book The Bell Jar (1963). After arriving home, Plath had a terrible mental breakdown because she was sick of being viewed as the typical All-American girl. She attempted suicide and received shock treatments.
She was well enough to go back to Smith College in February 1953. After graduating, she received a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England, wherein she met the poet Ted Hughes, her future husband (1930-1998). In London, England, in June 1956, they were married.
After receiving her doctorate, Plath returned to the United States to take a teaching post at Smith for the 1957-1958 academic year. After a year, she resigned to focus on writing entirely. She took a poetry class for a while taught by American poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977), wherein she met American poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974).
Sexton and Lowell greatly influenced her as she developed as a poet, and they both encouraged her to write about highly personal topics. At Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, Plath and her husband spent two months living and working as writers-in-residence. Many of the poems included in The Colossus (1960), Plath's first collection, were finished there. In 1960, Frieda, her first child, was born. Two years later, Nicholas was welcomed into the family.
Critics commended The Colossus for its "excellent craft" and "obsessing [anxious] feeling of fear and underlying terror" on the position of man in the universe. But it received criticism for lacking a personal voice. It wasn't until Plath's radio drama "Three Women: A Monologue for Three Voices" (1962), which some critics saw as a crucial work, that she started to compose more organic, less narrative (telling a tale) poetry.
Like many of Plath's later poems, "Three Women" has a dramatic form and reflects the profoundly intimate subjects that characterise her writing.
From the age of eight, Plath began to write poetry; her first poem was published in the Boston Traveller. She had posted over 50 short pieces in various magazines by the time she enrolled at Smith College. Plath believed that poetry had been an afterthought and that she should have spent much of her time on prose and stories. Overall though, she had no success with literary publications.
She studied English at Smith and took home every major literary and scholarship award. Additionally, she was selected to serve as the summer edition of the Mademoiselle magazine for young women. Upon graduating in 1955, she was awarded the Glascock Prize for "Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea." Later, she wrote for the university publication, Varsity.
1. The Colossus
By the time Plath's debut publishing, The Colossus and Other Poems, was released by Heinemann in the UK in late 1960, she had already been shortlisted for the Yale Younger Poets book contest numerous times. She published poetry in Harper's, The Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement.
She had a deal with The New Yorker, and all of the poems in The Colossus were already published in notable US and British publications. However, Plath's legacy mainly rests on her 1965 collection Ariel, which was released afterwards. Her work is frequently cited for the compelling interplay between its violent or disturbing images and its amusing use of rhyme and alliteration.
Reviews of The Colossus in the UK were primarily favourable, praising Plath's voice as fresh, powerful, unique, and American. Punch's Peter Dickinson referred to the collection as "a genuine find," "exciting to read," and "full of pure, simple lines." The Manchester Guardian's Bernard Bergonzi called the work an "outstanding analytical accomplishment" with a "brilliant talent".
She established herself as a presence in the poetry world by publishing. In 1962, the book was eventually published in America to mixed reviews. Although her artistry was universally acknowledged, her poetry was thought to be more influenced by other poets.
2. The Bell Jar
Her mother tried to stop publishing Plath's semi-autobiographical book, which was released in 1963 and in the US in 1971. She wrote to her mother, explaining how the book was put together, "I've thrown together incidents from my own life and fictionalised them to add colour; it's a potboiler, but I believe it will illustrate how alone a person feels when they are having a breakdown. I tried to imagine my world and the individuals in it as seen from the different lens of a bell jar".
She stated that her book was "an intern work that is autobiographical that I had to make to break free from the past". During her junior year, Plath dated Dick Norton, a senior at Yale. Norton, the model for Buddy in The Bell Jar, developed tuberculosis and received treatment in the Ray Brook Sanatorium in the Saranac Lake area.
Plath injured her leg skiing while in Norton, a circumstance made up in the book. Additionally, Plath used the reader to draw attention to the problem of women working in the 1950s. She firmly felt that women could be writers and editors even though society forced them to work in secretarial positions.
3. Double Exposure
In 1963, after The Bell Jar was published, Plath began working on another literary work titled Double Exposure, which was never published. According to Ted Hughes, in 1979, Plath left behind a typescript of "some 130 pages", but in 1995 he spoke of just "sixty, seventy pages". According to Olwyn Hughes' 2003 report, the typescript might have included the first two chapters and didn't go above sixty pages.
Nine previously unpublished poems from the original Ariel manuscript were included in the UK publications of Winter Trees and Crossing the Water in 1971. Peter Porter, a fellow poet, noted in New Statesman: "The Collected Poems, edited and prefaced by Ted Hughes, was released in 1981 and featured poems written from 1956 till her passing." The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was presented to Plath after her passing. At Virginia Commonwealth University, PhD student Anna Journey discovered Plath's unpublished sonnet "Ennui" in 2006.
The poem was released in the online publication Blackbird when Plath was still a freshman at Smith College.
Throughout her life, Plath battled sadness and thoughts of suicide. She endured a continuous depression phase in the last months of her life, resulting in severe sleeplessness.
She lost over 20 pounds and complained of severe symptoms of depression to her doctor over the months. In February 1963, he gave her an antidepressant and set up a live-in nurse because he could not get her admitted to the hospital for more emergency attention.
When the nurse arrived at the flat on February 11, 1963, she could not enter. They discovered Plath dead when she eventually hired a worker to assist her. She was thirty years old. Hughes was saddened to learn of her passing, even though they had been apart for a while, and he chose the phrase "Even under intense fire, the golden lotus can be planted" for her gravestone.
Plath was laid to rest in Heptonstall, England's St. Thomas the Apostle cemetery. Following her passing, it became customary for Plath's admirers to remove the "Hughes" from her gravestones in retaliation for complaints about Hughes's management of her estate and writings.
In 1998, Hughes released a book that included additional details on his friendship with Plath; at the moment, he was battling a fatal condition and passed away soon after. Her son Nicholas Hughes also passed away in 2009 due to depression, like, his mother.
One of the more well-known authors in American literature, Plath contributed to the reshaping and redefinition of the poetry genre with several of her colleagues. Her work broke through the restrictions and concerns of the time with its raw, emotional visuals and feelings, shining a light on gender and mental illness topics that had not previously received much attention, or at least not in that brutally honest manner.
The legacy of Sylvia Plath is occasionally reduced in pop culture to her battles with mental illness, her darker poems, and her suicide. Of course, Plath was a lot more than that, and people who knew her well did not portray her as constantly depressed and miserable.
Plath's creative legacy lived on not just in her works but in her children: both her children had creative careers, and her daughter, Frieda Hughes, is currently an artist and an author of poetry and children's books.