Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sylvia Plath in North Dakota

On Thursday, July 16, 1959, poets Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) and Ted Hughes (1930-1998) passed through Fargo on their cross-country trip. They left Cornucopia, Wisconsin early that morning, eventually taking, no doubt, Highway 10 through Detroit Lakes, etc., passing through Moorhead and Fargo late that afternoon and finally camping out in a grove of trees near the school in a tiny town “just west of

Jamestown,” most likely like the town of Eldridge. Here are photos of the school in Eldridge (from the Ghosts of North Dakota website). That night they watched “thunderstorms along [the] skyline: lightning illuminated columns of clouds.” The next day they passed through Bismarck and camped the next night in Medora.
 
In Fargo, they no doubt took “Front Street” (now Main Avenue) all the way out through West Fargo, where they hopped the very recently completed Interstate-94 to head west.
 
On that day in July, my grandmother, who lived just a block south of Front Street, turned fifty. My mother, who lived in south Fargo, was pregnant with my brother, Jason. My father, who lived in Casselton at the time (a town SP and TH would’ve passed on their way west), was in the last few, unhappy months of his first marriage (they would divorce early in 1960).
 
Plath was the first real poet I "got" when I was a teenager (her poem "The Moon and the Yew Tree" was
the first poem I ever "got"--I've included it here too) and I still have a special place in my affection for her. Plus, I’m a hopeless poetry nerd who finds things like this endlessly fascinating.
 
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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