Featured Poem: Pursuit by Sylvia Plath

black panther

Pursuit  is probably the most erotic poem from Sylvia Plath. It was written almost immediately after the great poetess met her handsome husband-to-be, the poet, Ted Hughes. The poem presents the image of the persona (Plath) as being the prey of this powerful, irresistible, and ultimately destructive panther (Hughes).

To see herself as a type of prey to the biggest seducer of Cambridge (1), and to acknowledge the possibility of destruction under the hands (paws?) of this powerful predator is very telling of the gut-pull, the incredible attraction between two of the world’s greatest Literary minds. Plath knows the danger of this attraction, which is why the persona in this piece attempts to run, to bolt each door behind her—all the while knowing that running is futile.

There is also that fear of becoming one of the ‘charred and ravened women,’ which she describes in the poem. But despite this knowledge, this fear, she too is drawn to the panther. Her blood ‘quickens, gonging in (her) ears.’ That, perhaps, shows how the magnetic pull between them is beyond the persona’s control.

And of course, there is that telling second line: “One day I’ll have my death of him.” Self-fulfilling prophecy? That is still debatable. The way I read it, it is Plath’s acknowledgement of the depths of her emotions for Hughes.

 

Pursuit

By Sylvia Plath

 Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.

RACINE

There is a panther stalks me down:

One day I’ll have my death of him;

His greed has set the woods aflame,

He prowls more lordly than the sun.

Most soft, most suavely glides that step,

Advancing always at my back;

From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:

The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.

Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,

Haggard through the hot white noon.

Along red network of his veins

What fires run, what craving wakes?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land

Condemned by our ancestral fault,

Crying: blood, let blood be spilt;

Meat must glut his mouth’s raw wound.

Keen the rending teeth and sweet

The singeing fury of his fur;

His kisses parch, each paw’s a briar,

Doom consummates that appetite.

In the wake of this fierce cat,

Kindled like torches for his joy,

Charred and ravened women lie,

Become his starving body’s bait.

Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade;

Midnight cloaks the sultry grove;

The black marauder, hauled by love

On fluent haunches, keeps my speed.

Behind snarled thickets of my eyes

Lurks the lithe one; in dreams’ ambush

Bright those claws that mar the flesh

And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.

His ardor snares me, lights the trees,

And I run flaring in my skin;

What lull, what cool can lap me in

When burns and brands that yellow gaze?

I hurl my heart to halt his pace,

To quench his thirst I squander blood;

He eats, and still his need seeks food,

Compels a total sacrifice.

His voice waylays me, spells a trance,

The gutted forest falls to ash;

Appalled by secret want, I rush

From such assault of radiance.

Entering the tower of my fears,

I shut my doors on that dark guilt,

I bolt the door, each door I bolt.

Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:

The panther’s tread is on the stairs,

Coming up and up the stairs.

Note: ‘Biggest seducer in Cambridge’ came from the book, ‘Her Husband’ by Diane Middlebrook.

 Image: wallpapers.free-review.net

February 11, 2013: Remembering Sylvia Plath

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Fifty years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, Sylvia Plath brought bread and milk to her sleeping children. She opened their window and closed the door, carefully stuffing towels into the cracks—separating her children from her final, decisive act. She did the same with the kitchen door, carefully, methodically carrying out the operation with the same precision she used in choosing the words to flesh out her worn soul. The oven’s gas taps were turned on, a cloth was placed inside the oven. She laid her head onto the cloth and waited for death to claim her.

THAT is the image of Plath in pop culture. The brilliant poetess who died too soon, head in the oven and children bawling in the next room. THAT image continues to cast its massive shadow on Sylvia Plath’s (and consequently, Ted Hughes’s) exceptional works. It has become almost impossible to separate this tragedy from her poetry, and yet, it is this same tragedy that one must transcend to completely understand her genius. Sylvia Plath is often regarded as one of the most well-known Confessional Poets in the last century. And yet for many, she is simply the mad writer who stuck her head in the oven to die.

So while today may be Sylvia Plath’s 50th death anniversary, for me, I’ll use it to mark the start of my year of celebrating Plath. This year, I plan to go over her works and post poem analyses and reviews. I shall try to see each poem, short story, essay, or novel with a fresh and unbiased eye—hopefully, picking up a thing or two in the process. I end this post with a quote from Plath:

 

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – from The Bell Jar

Featured Poem: Mad Girl’s Love Song – Sylvia Plath

I don’t think this poem and its poetess need much introduction. Perhaps just a few words on why I love this piece. Though vastly different from Sylvia Plath’s latter works like Daddy, Fever 103, and Ariel, I think this piece is just as valuable as her most well-known poems. This early villanelle is one of her most structured works. To me, set Mad Girl’s Love Song beside any of her last poems and you can definitely see Plath’s progression as a poet.

That and I do love Sylvia Plath and villanelles.

 

Mad Girl’s Love Song

By Sylvia Plath (1951)

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,

And arbitrary darkness gallops in:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed

And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:

Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,

But I grow old and I forget your name.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;

At least when spring comes they roar back again.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

 

 

Image: Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1851/1852)

7 Books that Changed My Life

To quote James Bryce: “The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” To me, the following books are wellsprings of information. In them are endless lessons on writing, life, faith, love, and everything in between. I don’t think it’s possible to outgrow or get tired of any of these books.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order), the 7 books that changed my life: 

#1: Letters to A Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke

First Read: Freshman Year, College (2003)

Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” might’ve gotten me started on poetry, but it was Rilke’s letters which brought out my passion in writing. This collection of letters from Rilke gives some of the most poignant and practical advice on becoming a writer. With every letter Rilke writes to the “young poet”, Franz Xaver Kappus, we’re also somewhat privy to the innermost musings of one of the most beloved literary figures of the 20th century.

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Featured Poem#1: Mirror – Sylvia Plath

Every writer (successful, aspiring, failed, or whatnot) has an interesting anecdote on that “something” that got him/her started on writing. My “something” was Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”. I don’t remember much of the details. I know it was in high school at my Creative Writing class under my then-favorite teacher. I remember him handing out copies of this poem and later, reading the poem out loud to a quiet audience.

Don’t get me wrong. There was no lightning bolt. No lightbulb. No sirens. No Eurekas! No exclamation points. There was just this stillness. This incredible stillness. It was dread, resignation, elation, calm, peace, understanding, and truth (a glimpse of the absolute truth?) all rolled into one. It was a lingering ache that stayed for days.

I knew. I didn’t want to be a writer, I needed to be one. I realized that it didn’t matter what I did in the mean time, I would always go back to writing. To borrow from Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Muss es sein? Ja, es muss sein!”

Reading this poem ten years later, it still makes me feel the same way.

Mirror – Sylvia Plath

I am silver an exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful,

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.