In Memory of my High School Classmate...Sylvia Plath
The year was 1963. I was living in NY City with my husband and 3 children. It was a snowy February day and the morning mail had just arrived. As I opened a letter from my mother a newspaper clipping fell to the floor. Even at that distance I could make out a young woman with two small children but, it was when I held it closer that I recognized the shy warmth of the woman’s smile.
“Why, it’s Sylvia”, I thought and I wondered what new honors she had attained. Then the ugly words of the headline became clear to me...”the LATE Sylvia Plath Hughes”.
I stared out the window at the swirling snow and suddenly I remembered another winter’s day six years earlier. My husband and I were enjoying the Christmas sights at Boston’s famous Louisburg Square. Suddenly I heard a familiar laugh and turned to see Sylvia walking hand in hand with her new husband, British poet Ted Hughes. She had never looked lovelier. Her head was bare and the snow tangled in her long hair and formed a lacy halo which she broke apart with each toss of her head.
It had been almost 7 years since we had sat side by side in Mr. Crockett’s English class at Wellesley High School...but those years faded away as we introduced our husbands and got caught up on the news. It soon became too cold to stand still so we hugged goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Of course we never did
Now, as I sat with the clipping in my hand I forced myself to concentrate on what was written there. It was an excerpt from “The Observer Weekend Review of London” and was entitled “A Poet’s Epitaph” by the British critic A. Alvarez. In part he wrote:
“It was only recently that the peculiar intensity of her genius found it’s perfect expression...she was systematically probing that narrow, violent area between the viable and the impossible, between experience which can be transmitted intopoetry and that which is overwhelming. It represents a totally new breakthrough in modern verse, and establishes her, I think, as the most gifted poet of our time. The loss to literature is inestimable.”
As I read these words I couldn’t help but think of the Sylvia I had known. She had always been intense and, to the high-school standards of the time, I suppose a bit peculiar too. (A suicide attempt in the early 50’s just reinforced her differences.) She was a very pretty girl, fun-loving and flirty...which I’m sure was a cover-up for the deeper feelings that she wasn’t able to share with us, although she tried so very hard to be accepted.
44 years have passed since Sylvia died but I remember her fondly and rue the fact that we (her classmates and I) let her pass through our lives without getting to know her better.