I was first introduced to the poetry of Sylvia Plath a few years ago. In the most millennial way possible, of course - through her posthumous Twitter account.
When the account first appeared on my timeline, it was recommended alongside “book quotes” and “daily inspiration!!” which tends to be the part of the internet I avoid like plague. That day, I don’t know what it was, but somehow I had the compulsion to follow her anyway, and that’s how @itssylviaplath entered my life.
Now that I think about it, there’s very little I know about the account owner. Besides the fact that they’re not Sylvia Plath herself (she’s been dead since the 20th century), I don’t even know whether they’re directly quoting her writing or just roleplaying as her. (I haven’t read enough of Plath’s work to be able to tell, but I can’t help but think a modern day Sylvia Plath would definitely be a popular Twitter poet.)
But what’s for certain is that the more I learn about Plath, the more I feel like I’m slipping into her skin and walking around in her shoes. Not because her life mirrors mine, oh no that’s not it at all, but because her writing seems to perfectly frame the moments of intense emotion that everybody goes through at some points in their lives. Here’s an example:
“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.”
Plath was well-known to write "confessional" styles of poetry; some call it the most "honest" style of poetry. To read her work is to know her life, and if you're unacquainted, the first thing you should know is that she suffered from both depression and bipolar disorder. In many ways, those ailments were what made her such a dynamic poet.
Her writing was known to be intensely autobiographical and, because of her illnesses, always existed on extreme ends of the spectrum. They expressed her most primal desires, most of all death, but also lust, despair, happiness, salvage; the more tragic, the better. After her death at age 30, her writing went on to become a great source of controversy, but underlying it all was also an undeniable truth.
Her poetry threw open the curtains, the niceties and norms that society hid behind, revealing the conflicting emotions that can make up human life. To quote Denis Donoghue, she “spoke the hectic, uncontrolled things our conscience needed, or thought it needed.” It is impossible to read her poetry and not find an inch in it that resembles ourselves.
About love and expectations:
“There I went again, building up a glamorous picture of a man who would love me passionately the minute he met me, and all out of a few prosy nothings.”
“I must get my soul back from you; I am killing my flesh without it.”
“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
“The trouble about jumping was that if you didn't pick the right number of storeys, you might still be alive when you hit bottom.”
Plath over-romanticised her life so much, the desire for perfection ate away at her. I know that feeling well; of wanting to be special and wanting special things to happen to you, and then the intense disappointment that follows when life does not deliver. I think about this line she’s written that expresses this: “Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.” It is both a demand and a desperate plea. It is a longing for validation.
Former American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky described Plath as someone who “suffered the airless egocentrism of one in love with an ideal self.” I think with social media, more and more people suffer from this everyday. I myself feel sometimes that I am unworthy of what I own, as if the talent that I have is not talent simply because it isn’t enough, or the good looks that I have aren’t good enough simply because there is someone who is better.
I’ve had days when I’m like Sylvia Plath, so obsessed with ideals that reality pales in comparison. Some days were like this:
“I do not love; I do not love anybody except myself. That is a rather shocking thing to admit. I have none of the selfless love of my mother. I have none of the plodding, practical love. . . . . I am, to be blunt and concise, in love only with myself, my puny being with its small inadequate breasts and meager, thin talents. I am capable of affection for those who reflect my own world.”
Sylvia Plath is not a role model by any means. The same mental illness and self-destructive personality that drove her to become so renowned was the same that claimed her life so early in her days. As Donoghue put it, “she showed what self-absorption makes possible in art, and the price that must be paid for it, in the art as clearly as in the death.”
Ultimately, there may be a glory, a warped kind of glory, in living a tragic life, but it saps away the opportunity you could be using to live a better one. Her poetry has accompanied me in times when I felt when nobody understood me, but a life of over-romanticised torment is never one that I want to live forever. After this, I think I’ll just stick to reading my Sylvia Plath, thanks.