Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time

by Po, Editor-in-Chief

4/2 - Richard Siken Tells Me We'll Never Get Used To It, by Po, EIC
4/3 - William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say, by Layah, CD
4/4 - We Are All Writers On the Same Dreadful Typewriter 
as Allen Ginsberg, by Jenny, EE
4/5 - Pablo Neruda and the Quest for Surrender, by Elie, ME
4/6 - Let's Shake the Dust, Anis Mojgani, by Layah, CD
4/11 - Terrence Hayes, Kanye West, and How to Get Through Winter
by Elie, ME
4/12 - Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time, by Po, EIC

Sylvia Plath was a woman and now she is dead.

Sylvia Plath, age 21

That’s usually the gist of what people write about her. Mother of two. Head in the oven. Dying is an art, like everything else.

You don’t want to read another article about Sylvia Plath. I know this. Plath, dead. Plath, depressed. Plath, morosely scribbling line after line of her sadness so that we can all call it “revolutionary.”

Truth be told, I’d love to write one of those articles. You all know me well enough by now to know that. But this isn’t one of those. This is about the beauty in her words. The beauty of her work. She wasn’t the only one with depression. But she was the only one who wrote about it, like this. Who was a woman unafraid to write through it, about it, surrounding it. And that makes the difference.

In the version of Ariel I own, her daughter writes in the introduction: she wasted nothing of what she felt. So I understand that. Like Lizzie Wurtzel in Prozac Nation – That is all I want in life: for this pain to seem purposeful.

Her daughter writes a lot of other truths in that introduction. All the agonies and furies, she writes. Urgency, freedom, force.

[my copy of Ariel]

I was obsessed with Sylvia Plath for a short time when I was a very young teenager. And then I started growing and in my mind, she didn’t.
I mean she was dead.
I mean she was static.

I mean I didn’t realize poetry is never static.

* * *

A few months ago I was reading Ariel in a bookstore cafe on Newbury Street in Boston at the bar. “You have to separate her from her work,” the waiter I was talking to told me. He loved Plath; I was struggling with how mundane her sadness seemed while my desperation was clawing, throbbing, screaming. My English professor said the same thing. But I can’t. It’s impossible. I’m a writer, you’re a writer – we know this. You’re hidden in your work. And completely exposed. That juxtaposition.

(The irony of the fact that the only place I hung out in Boston was on Newbury Street. New. Bury.)

I want to show you the beauty of her work but there are too many examples. Like when she said extravagant, like torture. Or when she said love is a shadow. Or mostly: how I would like to believe in tenderness.

* * *

A smile fell in the grass.

And how will your night dances
Lose themselves. In mathematics?

Such pure leaps and spirals —-
Surely they travel

The world forever, I shall not entirely
Sit emptied of beauties, the gift

Of your small breath, the drenched grass
Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.

Their flesh bears no relation.
Cold folds of ego, the calla,

And the tiger, embellishing itself —-
Spots, and a spread of hot petals.

The comets
Have such a space to cross,

Such coldness, forgetfulness.
So your gestures flake off —-

Warm and human, then their pink light
Bleeding and peeling

Through the black amnesias of heaven.
Why am I given

These lamps, these planets
Falling like blessings, like flakes

Six sided, white
On my eyes, my lips, my hair

Touching and melting.

-“The Night Dances”

* * *

Sylvia Plath was in love with someone who couldn’t draw himself away from someone else. So I don’t know if you can really fault her for not being able to draw herself away from her sadness, her pain. Sylvia Plath was tossed into this world with a madness, a sorrow, that was etched into her skin from birth. So I don’t know if you can really fault her for trying to put it on paper.

Plath knew that poetry isn’t static. This is what it is to be complete. It is horrible. To be finished, to be done, is never truly possible. The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right. Or mostly: I die with variety.

The comets – they have such a space to cross.

You know what I mean?

* * *

That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough

– “Lesbos,” 53-60

Plath’s descriptors are terrifying, lovely, and very ugly at times. But I don’t know how to describe that night at the harbor last year any better than she does. That night you told me I don’t think this is going to work and cried for hours on that bench. That was the first time, but we kept on doing it, over and over, back and forth and together again, and then not. Love is a shadow, and shadows are poetry, and poetry is never static. We kept picking up handfuls, loving it. Do you remember?

* * *

Sylvia Plath was a woman and now she is dead. But she knew that life was poetry, from the mundane to the beautiful to the terrifyingly sad, and that poetry is never static, even in death. In the infamous “Daddy,” she writes: I have had to kill you. You died before I had time.  Everyone says she’s talking about her father, then her husband; these external forces with such a grip on her life. Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. But I would like to believe she’s talking about poetry. I would like to believe the greatest disappointment for Plath wasn’t measuring up to herself, not anyone else. I would like to believe she saw poetry in its purest form: life. Hers died before she had time. She died before I did, too.

I guess I still would like to believe in tenderness.

Ariel is available for purchase on Amazon here.
Listen to Plath read "Daddy" here. 


  1. […] by Layah, CD 4/11 – Terrence Hayes, Kanye West, and How to Get Through Winter, by Elie, ME 4/12 – Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time, by Po, EIC  4/16 – Billy Corgan Blinks With Fists, by Jenny, EE 4/17 – Andrea Gibson Just Takes […]

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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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