Sylvia Plath churned out her final poems at the remarkable rate of two or three a day, and Robert Lowell
describes them as written by "hardly a person at all ... but one of those super-real, hypnotic, great classical heroines." Even more remarkable, she wrote them during one of the coldest, snowiest winters (1962-63) Londoners have ever known. Snowbound, without central heating, she and her two children spent much of their time sniffling, coughing, or running temperatures (In "Fever 103°" she writes, "I have been flickering, off, on, off on. / The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss."). Pipes froze, lights failed, and candles were unobtainable.
As if these physical privations weren't enough, Plath was out in the cold in another sense--her husband, Ted Hughes, had left her for another woman earlier that year. Despite all this (or perhaps because of it), the Ariel poems dazzle with their lyricism, their surprising and vivid imagery, and their wit. Rather than confining herself to her bleak surroundings, Plath draws from a wide array of experience. In "Berck-Plage," for instance, clouds are "electrifyingly-coloured sherbets, scooped from the freeze." In "The Night Dances," the poet stands crib-side, reveling in her son's own brand of do-si-do: "Such pure leaps and spirals--Surely they travel / The world forever, I shall not entirely / Sit emptied of beauties, the gift / Of your small breath..."
Though at times they present the reader with hopelessness laid bare, these poems also teem with the brightest shards of a life, confounding those who merely look for the words of a gloomy, dispassionate suicide. Plath rose each morning in the final months of her life to "that still blue, almost eternal hour before the baby's cry" and left us these words like "axes/After whose stroke the wood rings..."
From Publishers Weekly
Along with withholding (or allegedly destroying) one of Plaths journals after her death in 1963, Plaths husband, the late English poet laureate Ted Hughes, brought out a version of her second and final book of poems, Ariel, that differed from the manuscript she left on her desk. That editionfor which Hughes dropped 12 poems, added 12 composed a few months later, shifted the poems ordering and included an introduction by Robert Lowellhas become a classic. The present edition restores the 12 missing poems, drops the 12 added ones, and prints the manuscript in Plaths own order, followed by a facsimile of the typescript Plath left, along with a foreword by Plath and Hughess daughter Frieda Hughes (Wooroloo), several hand- and typewritten drafts of the books title poem and notes by David Semanki. The original manuscripts contents have been widely known since Hughes published them in the 1981 Collected Poems, but there is an undeniable thrill to reading Plaths book as she left itthe lacerating "The Rabbit Catcher," left out of the Ted Hughes edition, comes third here, with its rhyme of "force" with "gorse," the flowers of which "had an efficiency, a great beauty,/ And were extravagant, like torture." As to whether this version is a better book, only time will tell. For now, despite Frieda Hughess repeated references to her fathers respect for Plaths work, tally another shot in the Plath wars.
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