Sylvia Plath: A Brilliant but Tortured 20th Century American Poet
One of Americas best known twentieth century poets, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) lived an artistically productive but tragic life, and committed suicide in 1963 while separated from her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes. Before her death at age 30, Sylvia Plath had suffered a bout of severe depression for several months, the likely result of her separation from Ted Hughes and her strong suspicion of his adultery with the English poet Assia Wevill (“Sylvia Plath”; “Sylvia Plath, 1932-1963” 2). Sylvia Plath had also made several previous suicide attempts, beginning at age 20, or perhaps even earlier, always precipitated by the spells of depression and debilitating self-doubt that dogged the poet from early adolescence on (Neurotic Poets, Sylvia Plath 6-7). As Plath wrote, in her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, published in January 1963, less than a month before her suicide, in describing a suicide attempt by her main character Esther Greenwood:
It would take two motions. One wrist, then the other wrist. Three motions, if you
Counted changing the razor from hand to hand. Then I would step into the tub and lie down. (165)
According to a posthumously-produced video biography of Plath, numerous critics and biographers of hers have suggested that Sylvia Plath tended to romanticize the idea of suicide, both in her writing and in her own life (“Sylvia Plath”). As Clarissa Roche, an American friend of the poet and her husbands living near them in London at the time recalls, in that video biography: “Sylvia loved to show her wrists.
She spoke of having a go at suicide, like someone has a go at tournament tennis” (“Sylvia Plath”). Additionally, one of Sylvia Plaths better-known poems, Lady Lazarus, from her posthumously-published Ariel collection (1965) describes a female speaker defiantly rising, like Lazarus, from each of several suicide attempts:
Is an art, like everything else
I do it exceptionally well
I do it so it feels like hell
I do it so it feels real
I guess youd say I have a call [HIDDEN]
Another well-known Sylvia Plath poem, Daddy, also from Plaths 1965 Ariel collection, alludes to the suicide attempt of the speaker, at age 20 (Plaths own age when she had her first nervous breakdown and subsequently made her first documented suicide attempt ), based on a wish to join her deceased father in death:
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
But they pulled me out of the sack
And they stuck me together with glue (57-62)
Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 to Otto Plath, a Polish immigrant to the United States of German background, and Aurelia Shober Plath, a first-generation American whose parents had come from Austria (Neurotic Poets 1). Sylvias beloved father, Otto, died of complications in 1940, which left the eight-year-old Sylvia deeply depressed, and may have been a catalyst, as well, for the poets lifelong struggles with depression (“Sylvia Plath”). The video “Sylvia Plath” also describes Aurelia Plath as being excessively pushy and ambitious for.