Friday, July 14, 2006

In Memory of my High School Classmate… Sylvia Plath

The year is 1963 and I was living in NY City with my husband and 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 the young woman with her 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 into
poetry 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.

43 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ginnie...OH WOW...this post of yours is SO ironic!
Just the other day I was doing research on the Internet for my current novel and somehow ended up with info on Sylvia. I'm also originally from Mass. and was quite familiar with her poetry, but didn't know that much about her.
So I ended up going to Amazon and ordering a book her daugher, Linda Gray Sexton, wrote in the early 90's. A memoir about her mother. Not sure if you're familiar with it. I haven't received it yet but am anxious to read it.
I just thought it was SO ironic that I visit your blog this evening and see something else about Sylvia Plath and even more interesting, that she was a classmate of yours.
Great post!

5:46 PM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

Hi Terri: Isn't the internet a great resource? Yes, I knew Sylvia's mother also...but, of course, didn't realize that the two of them were in such conflict. Sylvia belonged to our young peoples group at the Unitarian Church and tried so hard to be part of the "in" gang. But then she would back off when approached. I remember one car trip that we all took going to an outing. She flirted outrageously and then when the boys responded and tried to carry it further she threw herself out of the car...luckily it was at a slow down for construction and she wasn't hurt badly.
"The Silent Woman" by Janet Malcolm is very interesting..not a biography but a book about her afterlife.

4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like she had a very emotionally upsetting life.
Thanks for the name of the book....I'll check it out.

6:15 AM  

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