Monday, February 11, 2013

Sylvia Plath, on the 50th anniversary of her death

Today is the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death. Some people over the years have asked why I have fostered such a weird obsession with her. The reason is very simple: she was the first poet that ever “clicked” with me.  And the poem that caused that “click” was “The Moon and the Yew Tree.”I first read it in high school and I can remember like it was yesterday the first time I read it.  It was a poem that I truly “got.” Later, I wrote my Master’s thesis on how that poem was not only Plath’s transitional poem, but a poem that “allowed” me to write in many ways. This poem, for many years, became the goal of all my own poems. For me, it was, in many ways, the poetic ideal.

While Plath’s poetic career has been overshadowed by a weird mythology, not to mention the scandal and gossip of her private life, the fact remains: she was an incredible poet who wrote poems I still find myself gasping over at moments. Her skill, her vision, her genius are evident in those poems.

I will admit that, for most part, I have outgrown Plath. As contemporary poets go, Elizabeth Bishop’s influence has far outshone Plath’s for me personally. Still, I can’t help but feel a certain need for homage for Plath on this day.  And as I re-read “The Moon and the Yew Tree” today, I am still just as amazed by it as the first time I read it some twenty-seven years ago.

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.


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