Google “Sylvia Plath” and you will find a plethora of articles, opinions and reviews not only regarding her poetry but also the tragic experience that was her life. For those who don’t know about Sylvia, she was an American born writer, and in her early life it seemed she had the world at her feet. Despite having faced depression which led her to attempt to kill herself multiple times she excelled in all she endeavoured to create, and married the acclaimed poet Ted Hughes.
The tragedy struck amidst rumours of infidelity and the ensuing split with Hughes when Sylvia, locking her children in their rooms and securing the gaps in the doors with towels, placed her head in the oven and finally ended it all.
This tragic story has plenty more twists and turns; when reading Sylvia’s poetry, much of the emotion fresh from these events leaks out of the page and stirs a deep empathy within the reader. The rise of the tragic as a popular theme in culture is not new; many of the great singers, actors and writers had their lives cut short and it seems they become even greater posthumously.
Plath is no exception; she herself singularly defined the expectations from a women writer in her generation and for generations to come. The tragedy that resounds in her confessional poems is profound and sincere, yet there is more to be admired from her than the spiralling depression and ensuing tragedy that her life befell.
A backlash hit Ted Hughes after Sylvia’s death for he resulted in destroying much of her last poetry, probably in the last attempt to stop her tragic death being fed upon by critics and readers alike. However, Hughes failed to realise that Sylvia herself was aware of the popularity of tragedy and the content of her sometimes overly-confessional poetry confirms this.
The problem is that many people have mistaken her story for a tragic-romantic one, like that of Romeo and Juliet, an inspiring tale of a heroine who took her own life after being scorned by her lover. They fail to see this story in today’s context: Sylvia suffered with an illness that was not sympathised with or properly understood in her time, she was an exceptional writer, made better by her tortured mind but ultimately she was a helpless woman struggling with her own depression and writing was the only time she could allow it to seep through.
Many of her poems showcase her wit, sarcasm and even an optimism that had been sadly overshadowed by the events of her life. Her gravestone bears the inscription: “Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted” and this summarises the tragic poetess quite fittingly.