It is difficult to separate someone’s personal tragedy from their art. You cannot be oblivious to the darkness that peeks out from their masterpieces, especially if they were not even trying to conceal it in the first place. I remember struggling with The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath a few years ago. I had read it for my virtual book club, but I couldn’t bring myself to show up (virtually) for its discussion. Simply put, it had left me feeling wretched! The book had such a melancholic tone throughout, with no hope of anything getting any better. All I could do was empathise with the protagonist as she kept going deeper into throes of depression, but I also could not help but get frustrated by things getting bleaker with every turn of the page. I have a habit of reading books more than once, but I have not been able to pick up The Bell Jar again. No matter how much I want to.
A few days ago, I discovered a Sylvia Plath’s poem that made me want to read more. The poem is called Daddy and is quite famous, but somehow, I had never heard of it before, even though I was familiar with some of her poems. I discovered her collection of poems titled, Ariel, and immediately purchased it from the bookstore. Her poetry is as melancholic as her prose, maybe even more so, but boy, is it exquisite!
Her words are a cry for help and a reckoning at the same time. You feel her pain and despair but get taken aback by how observant she was of everything around her! She has written about everyday little things of life, vices of the society, and feminism with such shocking clarity that it makes you realise how deeply she had felt everything she wrote about, and how insightful she was! In every poem of hers in this collection, the flow is effortless, words are spellbinding, and in spite of palpable despair and a lingering feeling of impending doom, there is ethereal beauty. My favourite poems from the book are Ariel, Lay Lazarus, Daddy, Tulips, A Birthday Present, Getting There, Kindness and Edge. I am sharing excerpts from Lady Lazarus and Tulips.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
(Excerpts from the collection of poems, Ariel by Sylvia Plath)
If you find The Bell Jar gut-wrenching, this collection can completely crush you, but it is worth it. You get a chance to see the world through her eyes while you, along with her, try to make peace with the tragedy of it all. You cannot.