Archive for the ‘Sylvia Plath’ Category

Winter dawn is the color of metal,

The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.


                             ~ Sylvia Plath


“The Frosty Morning” by Nikolay Dubovskoy, 1894

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I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. 

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. 

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.


~ From The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, born on this day in 1932



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Little poppies, little hell flames,

Do you do no harm?


You flicker. I cannot touch you.

I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.


And it exhausts me to watch you

Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.


A mouth just bloodied.

Little bloody skirts!


There are fumes that I cannot touch.

Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?


If I could bleed, or sleep!—

If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!


Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,

Dulling and stilling.


But colorless. Colorless.


~ Sylvia Plath, from Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1992)


“Oriental Poppies” by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

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Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.

Nor the woman in the ambulance

Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly –


A gift, a love gift

Utterly unasked for

By a sky


Palely and flamily

Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes

Dulled to a halt under bowlers.


O my god, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.


                                                  ~ Sylvia Plath, born on this day in 1932


"Oriental Poppies" by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

“Oriental Poppies” by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

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Winter dawn is the color of metal,

The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.


                        ~ Sylvia Plath


"The Frosty Morning" by Nikolay Dubovskoy, 1894

“The Frosty Morning” by Nikolay Dubovskoy, 1894

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“Blackberry Girl” by John George Brown, 1875

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,

Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,

A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea

Somewhere at the end of it, heaving.  Blackberries

Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes

Ebon in the hedges, fat

With blue-red juices.  These they squander on my fingers.

I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.

They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.


Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks –

Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.

Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.

I do not think the sea will appear at all.

The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.

I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,

Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.

The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.

One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.


The only thing to come now is the sea.

From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,

Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.

These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.

I follow the sheep path between them.  A last hook brings me

To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock

That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space

Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths

Beating and beating at an intractable metal.


                 ~ Sylvia Plath, born on this day in 1932


Image by Lewis Clarke

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While conducting research for a current essay project on identity and self-definition in the works of Virginia Woolf, I keep stumbling over the roots of Sylvia Plath’s trees – the shriveling figs and ancient yews, black pine and seeding winter trees, the diseased elm, and Polly’s dream tree, a “thicket of sticks” with a larkspur star.  With their multifurcating branches of options and opportunities, decisions and offshoots, Plath uses tree imagery to portray stages of self-consciousness, inner chaos, confusion, isolation, and desolation. 

Obviously, these are not the sort of cheerful trees under which you would spread a blanket and picnic.  However, they aptly convey the paradoxical desires and inner conflict Woolf’s characters (and many of us, I would venture) encounter on the journey to consciousness and self-definition. 

My favorite Woolf tree is the one Lily continually moves in her painting in To the Lighthouse.  Each time she is beset with self-doubt, bowing “like corn under a wind” (usually at the hand of Charles Tansley, who insists that women can neither write nor paint), she rights herself by shifting the tree in her painting: “She must make it once more.  There’s the sprig on the table-cloth; there’s my painting; I must move the tree to the middle; that matters – nothing else.” 

Lily’s spontaneous urge to make a shift in her drawing conveys her need to put order to the swirl of emotions and conflicting desires in her mind.  She begins to realize that her vision requires balance and fusion.  Plath’s trees, conversely, are tragic and dark, representative of the deepest recesses of our thoughts before reconciliation occurs.  And I keep tripping over them.


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.

~ from “The Moon and the Yew Tree” by Sylvia Plath


Reenadinna Yew Wood by Nigel Cox from geograph.org.uk, 2006, with permission by the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0




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