A Note off Sylvia Plath’s Logbook

A Note about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

 
 

To the Lighthouse: Man struggles to reach strong tower of light in flux of life and time: vision of Mrs. Ramsey: fulfillment at dinnerparty: “flag floated in an element of joy” – partook… of eternity”… there IS a coherence of things, a stability… peace, rest”.

Everything comes together un’ unity: sense that moment IN time is enclosed in timeless eternity-

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Lady Lazarus

 
 

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

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.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart–
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath
23-29 October 1962

Sylvia Plath’s Influence on Popular Culture

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath on The Gilmore Girls, Season 1, Episode 12, Double Date

 
 

Stills and dialogue from Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

 
 

Sylvia is a 2003 British biographical drama film directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, and Michael Gambon. It tells the true story of the romance between prominent poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The film begins with their meeting at Cambridge in 1956 and ends with Sylvia Plath’s suicide in 1963.

 
 

Told through the character of Esther Greenwood, Plath’s semi-autobiographical heroine of The Bell Jar, this play is a revealing and absurd interpretation of the legendary poet’s life in the moments before her death.

 
 

The Simpsons, season 20, episode 11  titled How The Test Won

 
 

 
 

“…I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter
I am all the things that you regret
A truth that washes that learnt how to spell…”

Manic Street Preachers

Faster

(Ninth track from their 1994 studio album, The Holy Bible)

 
 

Manic Street Preachers’ song The Girl Who Wanted To Be God it’s another reference to Sylvia Plath. It’s actually a reference to a line she wrote about herself – “I think I would like to call myself “the girl who wanted to be God.”  It was included in their 1996 studio album, Everything Must Go. The working title of this album was Sounds in the Grass, named after a series of paintings by Jackson Pollock.

 
 

Dance in the Dark, the song by American recording artist Lady Gaga, from her third EP The Fame Monster, refers to famous people who met with a tragic end of their lives, including Plath.

 
 

Gold (2001), second studio album by Ryan Adams. The ninth song from this studio album was titled after her

Wuthering Heights

 
 

The horizons ring me like faggots,
Tilted and disparate, and always unstable.
Touched by a match, they might warm me,
And their fine lines singe
The air to orange
Before the distances they pin evaporate,
Weighting the pale sky with a soldier color.
But they only dissolve and dissolve
Like a series of promises, as I step forward.

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.

The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.

I come to wheel ruts, and water
Limpid as the solitudes
That flee through my fingers.
Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass;
Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves.
Of people and the air only
Remembers a few odd syllables.
It rehearses them moaningly:
Black stone, black stone.

The sky leans on me, me, the one upright
Among all horizontals.
The grass is beating its head distractedly.
It is too delicate
For a life in such company;
Darkness terrifies it.
Now, in valleys narrow
And black as purses, the house lights
Gleam like small change.

Sylvia Plath

A Smile Fell in the Grass

 
 

The Night Dances

A smile fell in the grass.
Irretrievable!

And how will your night dances
Lose themselves. In mathematics?

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, the drenched grass
Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.

Their flesh bears no relation.
Cold folds of ego, the calla,

And the tiger, embellishing itself —-
Spots, and a spread of hot petals.

The comets
Have such a space to cross,

Such coldness, forgetfulness.
So your gestures flake off —-

Warm and human, then their pink light
Bleeding and peeling

Through the black amnesias of heaven.
Why am I given

These lamps, these planets
Falling like blessings, like flakes

Six sided, white
On my eyes, my lips, my hair

Touching and melting.
Nowhere.

Sylvia Plath

On Hot Summer Nights

Fifteen-year-old Sylvia Plath

 
 

“Hear the crickets chirping
In the dewy grass.
Bright little fireflies
Twinkle as they pass.”

 
 

Sylvia Plath‘s first poem was published in The Boston Herald when she was only eight years old. She sent the short poem to the editor with a note to explain that it meant to describe “what I see and hear on hot summer nights.”

Uncommon Response

Assia Wevill

 
 

Assia Wevill was Sylvia Plath’s polar opposite: raven-haired, magnetic, cosmopolitan–and, though multilingual and brilliantly well read, unambitious as a poet. But the women have one thing in common: Each killed herself when she was abandoned by Ted Hughes.

Born in 1927 Berlin, Assia Gutmann fled the Nazis with her Russian Jewish father and German mother to Tel Aviv, eventually marrying a British soldier. She was on her third husband, the poet David Wevill, by the time she met Ted and Sylvia, who were taken with the couple–especially Assia, a vibrant embodiment of the prewar European culture that so fascinated them. It was while the Wevills were visiting in Devon in May 1962, as Hughes later wrote that “the dreamer in me/fell in love with her”. When he was next in London, he left a note at the office where Assia worked as a copywriter: “I have come to see you, despite all marriages”. She responded with a blade of grass dipped in Dior perfume.

 
 

Bibliography:

Lover of Unreason; Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival, and Ted Hughes’s Doomed Love
By Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev
(Carroll & Graf)

Ring of Grass

“Here on this ring of grass we have sat together, bound by the tremendous power of some inner compulsion. The trees wave, the clouds pass. The time approaches when these soliloquies shall be shared.”

Virginia Woolf

The Waves

 
 

A group at Garsington Manor, country home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, near Oxford. Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Mrs. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell.

 
 

Picnic party at Sussex. F. Birrell, Clive Bell,  Julian Bell, Duncan Grant, Angelica Bell, Angus Davidson, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Quentin Bell and others Bloomsbury members. 

 
 

Lesser known members: Ralph Partridge, Noel Carrington, Catherine Carrington and Frances Partridge

 
 

The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set—was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists,the best known members of which included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London, during the first half of the 20th century. According to Ian Ousby, “although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts”. Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality.

A Life in the Theatre

‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.’

William Shakespeare

As You Like It

 
 

 
 

Music wakes us. Music makes us see the hidden, join the broken. Look and listen. See the flowers, how they ray their redness, whiteness, silverness and blue.

 
 

 
 

We act different parts; but are the same.

 
 

 
 

Books are the mirrors of the soul

 
 

 
 

She liked to leave a theatre knowing exactly what was meant…

 
 

 
 

They never pulled the curtains till it was too dark to see, nor shut the windows till it was too cold. Why shut out the day before it was over? The flowers were still bright; the birds chirped. You could see more in the evening often when nothing interrupted, when there was no fish to order, no telephone to answer. Mrs. Swithin stopped by the great picture of Venice–school of Canaletto. Possibly in the hood of the gondola there was a little figure–a woman, veiled; or a man?

 
 

Kate Moss photographed by Bruce Weber and styled by Joe McKenna. Vogue Italia. October 1996.

 
 

Then the curtain rose. They spoke.

Virginia Woolf

“Between the Acts”

After Manet’s Masterpiece

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, with Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, 1865-1866

 
 

Manet’s painting inspired Picasso to a cycle of 27 paintings, 140 drawings, 3 linogravures and cardboard marquettes for sculpture carried out between 1949 and 1962

 
 

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Picnic on the Grass), a 1959 film directed by Jean Renoir

 
 

Jim Lee’s version for Cosmopolitan, June 1974

 
 

Déjeuner sur l’herbe, a photograph by Jonathan Charles, 1974

 
 

Title, and features similar front cover art, of British bigband the New Jazz Orchestra on Verve Records,1969

 
 

See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy! (1981) is the second studio album by pop rock group Bow Wow Wow. The album was the first release by the group to chart, at #192 on the Billboard 200. Posing nude is lead singer Annabella Lwin, who was fifteen at the time of the album’s release. The Andy Earl cover caused outrage that led to an investigation by Scotland Yard, instigated by Lwin’s mother and never appeared on UK and US releases.

 
 

Still from The Simpsons

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 1999 ad campaign photographed by Mario Sorrenti

 
 

Untitled (after Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe), Julie Rrap, 2002

 
 

Star Wars Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, after Manet, by Philip Bond, 2009

 
 

Babar the Elephant after Manet, possibly by the fictional character’s author, Jean de Brunnhoff

 
 

Graphic art by Stano Masar

 
 

Les Trois Femmes Noires, Mickalene Thomas, 2010

 
 

Secret Garden II: Versailles. Dior Fall-Winter 2013 ad campaign by Inez Van Lamsweerde y Vinoodh Matadin

The Dream of All Painters

The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized. The crowd has kept itself moreover from judging The Luncheon on the Grass like a veritable work of art should be judged; they see in it only some people who are having a picnic, finishing bathing, and they believed that the artist had placed an obscene intent in the disposition of the subject, while the artist had simply sought to obtain vibrant oppositions and a straightforward audience. Painters, especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter, do not have this preoccupation with the subject which torments the crowd above all; the subject, for them, is merely a pretext to paint, while for the crowd, the subject alone exists. Thus, assuredly, the nude woman of The Luncheon on the Grass is only there to furnish the artist the occasion to paint a bit of flesh. That which must be seen in the painting is not a luncheon on the grass; it is the entire landscape, with its vigors and its finesses, with its foregrounds so large, so solid, and its backgrounds of a light delicateness; it is this firm modeled flesh under great spots of light, these tissues supple and strong, and particularly this delicious silhouette of a woman wearing a chemise who makes, in the background, an adorable dapple of white in the milieu of green leaves. It is, in short, this vast ensemble, full of atmosphere, this corner of nature rendered with a simplicity so just, all of this admirable page in which an artist has placed all the particular and rare elements which are in him”.

Émile Zola
Zola presents a fictionalized version of the painting and the controversy surrounding it in his novel L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece).

A Statement in Favor of Individual Freedom

 
 

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy.

Odilon Redon, for example, did not like it. There is a discussion of it, from this point of view, in Marcel Proust‘s Remembrance of Things Past. One interpretation of the work is that it depicts the rampant prostitution that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne, a large park at the western outskirts of Paris, at the time. This prostitution was common knowledge in Paris, but was considered a taboo subject unsuitable for a painting.

It is not a realist painting in the social or political sense of Honoré Daumier, but it is a statement in favor of the artist’s individual freedom. The shock value of a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men, which was an affront to the propriety of the time, was accentuated by the familiarity of the figures. Manet’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, both posed for the nude woman, who has Meurent’s face, but Leenhoff’s plumper body. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men are Manet’s brother Gustave Manet and his future brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. They are dressed like young dandies. The men seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman’s clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth – giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad “photographic” light, which casts almost no shadows; the lighting of the scene, in fact, is inconsistent and unnatural. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, of a kind normally worn indoors.

 
 

Judgement of Paris (circa 1515). Engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi to a design by Raphael

 
 

As with the later Olympia (1865), and other works, Manet’s composition reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi‘s engraving The Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) after a drawing by Raphael.

Scholars also cite two works as important precedents for Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, The Pastoral Concert, 1508, attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione, and Giorgione’s The Tempest, both of which are famous Renaissance paintings.

 
 

The Pastoral Concert (c. 1509), attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione

 
 

The subject was perhaps the allegory of poetry and music: the two women would be an imaginary apparition representing the ideal beauty, stemming from the two men’s fantasy and inspiration. The woman with the glass vase would be the muse of tragic poetry, while the other one would be that of the pastoral poetry. Of the two playing men, the one with the lute would represent the exalted lyric poetry, the other being an ordinary lyricist, according to the distinction made by Aristotle in his Poetics. Another interpretation suggests that the painting is an evocation of the four elements of the natural world (water, fire, earth and air) and their harmonic relationship.

 
 

Giorgione, The Tempest (circa 1508)

 
 

There is no contemporary textual explanation for The Tempest, and ultimately, no definitive reading or interpretation. To some it represents the flight into Egypt; to others, a scene from classical mythology (Paris and Oenone) or from an ancient Greek pastoral novel. According to the Italian scholar Salvatore Settis, the desert city would represent the Paradise, the two characters being Adam and Eve with their son Cain: the lightning, as in ancient Greek and Hebrew times, would represent God who has just ousted them from Eden. Others have proposed a moral allegorical reading, or concluded that Giorgione had no particular subject in mind.

Shopping for Images

Allen Ginsberg. Photo credit: Elsa Dorfman

 
 

A Supermarket in California is a poem by American poet Allen Ginsberg first published in Howl and Other Poems in 1956. In the poem, the narrator imagines visiting a supermarket in California where he finds Federico García Lorca and Walt Whitman shopping

 
 

A Supermarket in California

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
boys.

I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
detective.

We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)

Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be
lonely

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

 
 

Ginsberg as portrayed by Richard Avedon

 
 

A Supermarket in California is both an ode to Ginsberg’s poetic hero and major influence, Walt Whitman, as well as an early experimentation with many of the themes that would dominate his work throughout his career. Whitman, who is considered to be America’s first original poet, was an early influence on Ginsberg’s writing. Whitman, a nineteenth century poet, experimented with meter and rhythm and eschewed the structured line and stanza which was the standard form for poetry of his time.

 
 

 
 

Whitman became known as an eccentric, both for his style of writing as well as his lifestyle. Whitman himself was greatly influenced by the Romantic poets and much of his poetry deals with nature and the encroachment of industrialized society on all that is natural and, in Whitman’s thought, good about America. Additionally, Whitman’s poems often glorified a sexually expressive mode of being, using veiled references to promote both a spiritual and sexual freedom. Like Howl, Whitman’s early poetry, including his most famous work, Leaves of Grass was considered pornographic and obscene by nineteenth century standards. Whitman himself is believed to have been homosexual or bisexual, though those assertions are sometimes challenged by modern Whitman scholarship.

Ginsberg sought to continue Whitman’s legacy stylistically and thematically. Ginsberg’s long line was inspired by Whitman’s use of varying lengths of line and breath. Thematically, Ginsberg sought to continue Whitman’s poetic assault upon industrialized society by writing about the consequences of corporate and industrial growth that Whitman could only foresee in his own work. A Supermarket in California, with its depictions of domesticated life symbolized by food placed out of its natural context, deals with such themes. Additionally, A Supermarket… also alludes to a hidden sexualized world, veiled in the language of commonplace things.

Beautiful Dreamers (Dead or Alive)

Beautiful Dreamers (John Kent Harrison, 1990)

 
 

When the superintendent of the Canadian insane asylum, Dr. Maurice Bucke, meets poet Walt Whitman, his life and that of his wife and patients is radically changed. Like Dr. Bucke, Whitman has avant-garde ideas on the subject of mental illness. This movie  is based on true events. Dr. Bucke became an important biographer of Walt Whitman.

 
 

Still from Love and Death on Long Island (Richard Kwietniowski, 1997). Canadian-American actor Jason Priestley as Ronnie Bostock preparing to quote Whitman at his mother’s grave site:

 
 

289. The Untold Want

The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted, Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.

Whitman’s Trilogy

Whitman (Photo series by Anthony Gayton) is a very personal interpretation of three poems by Walt Whitman, namely “Are You The New Person, Drawn Toward Me? ; “Sometimes With The One I Love”; and “To a Western Boy”. The Images were designed to be printed large for exhibition, and do suffer somewhat from being so reduced in size for the internet.

 
 

Whitman, 2005

 
 

45. Are You the New person, Drawn Toward Me?

ARE you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning—I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

 
 

Whitman II, 2005

 
 

68. Sometimes with One I Love

SOMETIMES with one I love, I fill myself with rage, for fear I effuse unreturn’d love;
But now I think there is no unreturn’d love—the pay is certain, one way or another;
(I loved a certain person ardently, and my love was not return’d;
Yet out of that, I have written these songs.)

 
 

Whitman III, 2005

 
 

71. To a Western Boy

O BOY of the West!
To you many things to absorb, I teach, to help you become eleve of
mine:
Yet if blood like mine circle not in your veins;
If you be not silently selected by lovers, and do not silently select
lovers,
Of what use is it that you seek to become eleve of mine?