The Relationship We Often Overlook

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As the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide approaches, Ruth Padel urges us to look past the poet’s almost mythological life and death and pay closer attention to her brilliant style, arguing that “Plath’s human relationships with father, mother and husband have often obscured the most important relationship a poet has as a poet – with words”:

If you burn away the glamour of myth, you can focus on Plath’s mastery of voice, her address, subjects and images, and on what we learn from her work not about individual psyches but the roles that words play in our constant repositioning of inner and outer, self and world. What poems like “Ariel” and “Elm” actually do (rather than what they reflect, or express) – their shape, beat and energy, their notions, short-circuits and folding mirrors – is to find new ways of putting absolute voice into absolute silence; of laying daredevil verbal shapes on the white space of a page.

(Audio: Sylvia Plath reading her poem “A Birthday Present,” via Brain Pickings)