Friday, 28 October 2011


Sylvia Plath in 1953

Sylvia Plath would have been 79 yesterday, had she lived. In honour of her birthday, here is my favourite Plath poem from Ariel:

The Moon and the Yew Tree

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky —-
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness-
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.

And here is my response poem to it, from my new collection The Juno Charm. It was first published in The Chimaera.

Poem Beginning with a Line by Plath

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary,
it keeps me solitary, stumbling inside paranoia.

My anchoritic needs are not a bow to religion,
they are as prosaic as any modern-day hermit’s:

who is there to trust with the black of my heart, when
some trample, some steal what’s mine for their own?


EMC said...

oh, I love SP. Writing a story about her at the moment! My favourite so far, are Lady Lazarus and Daddy. Great response poem, N.

EMC said...

oh, I love SP. Writing a story about her at the moment! My favourite so far, are Lady Lazarus and Daddy. Great response poem, N.


When you're done, I'll swap you my Ted & Assia story for your Sylvia one to read :)

EMC said...

ooh! Look forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, both. I love the idea of beginning a piece of writing with the line of another. I have a story that ends with a line from a Plath poem. Thanks for posting.

Rachel Fenton said...

Stunning poems, both.

Emily said...

Evocative poem as always Nuala! Also love Sylvia Plath- I'll never forget when I first read the Bell Jar and something just resonated with me. Sad to think she would have only been 79 today- quite young really :)


Jill - ooohh, I am fascinated :)

Rachel - ta, muchly!

Emily - I loved The Bell Jar too - it is deep and moving and so well written.
I know, she would've been 80 next year. Hopefully there'll be celebrations.

Anonymous said...

I crept upstairs in the middle of the night to the studio where she was said to work at Yaddo and did a tarot reading.


Wow, Jill. A friend sent me a great postcard from there with some Plath quoted on it - a treasured possession.