Thursday, June 14, 2007

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.


Blogger KGMom said...

Ginnie--yet another famous person you have not only crossed paths with, but knew.
As a college English prof, I occasionally get to teach a lit course, and I always teach some Sylvia Plath poems. Years ago, I read A. Alvarez's book THE SAVAGE GOD, about literary suicides. So, I have some affinity to Sylvia.
I watched the movie SYLVIA recently, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, who I thought portrayed Sylvia well. You would know whether she portrayed her accurately.
Such a young life, and so sad that she felt there were no other options than to die.
Thanks for sharing your remembrances of her.

6:25 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

As I went through so many college English/Lit classes, the name of Sylvia Plath never crossed the lips of any of my teachers. I have never read her poetry, but I think I should. How interesting a llife you have led, Ginnie!

8:56 AM  
Blogger Maya's Granny said...

She a lovely woman and a good poet. How sad that a person could be so hurt that she would need to take her own life.

3:35 PM  
Blogger dmmgmfm said...

You have led an amazing life, Ginnie. I love reading about it. Thank you.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

Your list of famous aquaintences grows and what an awesome addition. And a sad one.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Suzy said...

Ginnie, this is quite the story. Sylvia Plath was popular among my (female) high school classmates ... for better or worse! I read The Bell Jar in my first year of college; I don't think I quite understood it at that unripe age. Being older, a wife, and a parent, as well as someone who suffers from chronic depression, I think it would make more sense now.

9:00 PM  
Blogger An Irish Friend of Bill said...

I knew sylvias daughter Freida in college in London. You know, ginnie, i'm pretty sure its a LONG time, but i can't for the life of me remember how long you've been in recovery. would you remind me please? If you dont want to say, thats OK too..

9:36 AM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

To "An Irish Friend of Bill"....that is so exciting to me that you knew kindof keeps Sylvia alive for me. Thanks for sharing that and, as to the length of my sobriety, I just passed 18 years last Friday !!

12:15 PM  
Anonymous schmidleysscribblins, said...

I don't know whether I had begun to read blogs when you wrote this, but I find it interesting to know someone who knew her.

The poem "Daddy" still haunts me. We dicusssed it in class and could not decide if she was referring to Ted Hughes, her own father or Hitler. What do you think? My own father certainly left me very sad, but how awful to feel your daddy bit your pretty red heart in two. Dianne

7:28 AM  
Blogger boston12855 said...

Ginny - What a moving and profound remembrance! I, too, had Mr. Crockett at Wellesley High, but it was 22 years after you left the hallowed halls of the old majestic building on Seaver Street. Like you and Sylvia, Mr. Crockett left an indelible mark on my life. In the end, I became a teacher because of him (I am now in year 35 in the classroom at The Greenwich Country Day School.) I think of Sylvia quite often when I stay at my home in Eastham on the Cape, just down the road on the Bay Side where Sylvia and Ted lived for two months during the summer of 1957. Warren Plath is a neighbor. When I visit Rock Harbor or walk the beaches at Nauset, I am reminded that Sylvia also found such vistas sacred as well. By the way, I also loved your post on the Totem Pole! Mom and Dad had their first date their together in 1939, when they danced to Glenn Miller and His Orchestra! God bless you, my fellow Wellesleyite - and, as Mr. Crockett would surely say, keep writing!

10:46 PM  

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