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Biography of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

Sylvia started her life in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. During her early childhood, Sylvia's father Otto suffered from a lengthy illness. Otto, certain he had cancer, did not seek treatment initially. When he finally did see a doctor, a case of diabetes was diagnosed but by that time his illness was advanced. His end was fraught with suffering which included the amputation of a leg. Reference to the leg is made in "Daddy" Otto died just days past Sylvia's 8th birthday.

Sylvia was an excellent student and in 1950 she was accepted into Smith College on a scholarship. She was at the top of her class and should logically have been very happy. That was not the case. She lived in fear that it would be found out that she wasn't the perfectly happy person she tried to project. In 1952 she won the first prize of $500 from Mademoiselle magazine for her short story "Sunday at the Minton’s". The following June 1953, Sylvia was a guest editor at the Mademoiselle New York offices, which she later wrote about in The Bell Jar. She came home from New York in a state of exhaustion and depression. She was counting on being accepted into Frank O'Connor's creative writing course at Harvard and when she wasn't, she went into a state of withdrawal. She was distraught, scared inside, unable to sleep or function, but still determined to show the world a brave face. On August 24th, unable to carry on any longer, she attempted suicide. For the next months she was institutionalised at Maclean Hospital and was treated with insulin therapy and shock treatments. During this period of hospitalisation, Sylvia unknowingly was collecting material for her novel The Bell Jar and short story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams".

In October 1955, Sylvia attended Newnham College at Cambridge University on a Fulbright scholarship. After a series of go nowhere relationships and numerous blind dates, Sylvia met Ted Hughes at a St. Botolph's party on February 25, 1956. They were married on a rainy day in London on June 16th of the same year and honeymooned in Benidorm, Spain. Ted Hughes describes the details of their wedding beautifully in his poem "A Pink Wool Knitted Dress" in Birthday Letters.

After the conclusion of her studies at Cambridge in the spring of 1957, Sylvia was asked to teach English at Smith College, where she had taken her undergraduate studies. Sylvia returned to America, bringing her husband with her. Her mother, Aurelia Plath, made them a present of a vacation on Cape Cod. Sylvia was excited at the prospect of teaching English, an obvious favorite subject area. She wasn't long on the faculty when she felt overwhelmed. She chastised herself for presuming that she could teach. The preparatory work was exhausting and she perceived the faculty's coldness to her. She had dreamed of giving marvellous lectures and leisurely writing her book. As was her lot, she must be brilliant and make it look as "easy as pie". She was sick frequently and most unhappy. When the year was over, she did not return. The College was very satisfied with Sylvia's performance, but Sylvia felt she had failed and she wouldn't go back for another year. Already Sylvia was beginning to have doubts about Ted's love for her. She needed constantly to be reassured. Sylvia took a less taxing clerical position as a receptionist in the psychiatric clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and continued with her writing. In early December of 1958 she began to secretly see Ruth Boucher, her therapist from McLean, where she had been hospitalized after her earlier suicide attempt in the summer of 1953. She also attended an evening poetry class, which was given by Robert Lowell, whose confessional style influenced Sylvia’s poetry.

In December 1959 Sylvia and Ted returned to England. Sylvia was pregnant and due to give birth in the spring of 1960. On April 1st, Frieda Rebecca was born. During her pregnancy, on February 10th, Sylvia signed a contract with William Heinemann Ltd. to publish The Colossus, which was to come out in October 1960. Outwardly Sylvia showed amazing energy. She scoured and scrubbed their London flat, wanting a pretty home for herself, her husband and their yet to be born baby. Inwardly she felt exhausted and barely able to carry on, but unwilling to let the world know and her circumstances pressed in on her. She wanted everything, and the writing was her outlet and her curse. It was both her salvation and her undoing.

The following February 1961 a miscarriage left Sylvia feeling depressed. She wrote of it in a poem "Parliament Hill Fields".

In August 1961 the Hughes family moved to a Devon farm and Sylvia was isolated. Ted had become more removed from her. A son Nicholas Farrar was born on January 17th, 1962. In July, Sylvia discovered Ted's affair with Assia Wevill. Sylvia and Ted separated in September. In the following month Sylvia wrote at least 26 of the Ariel poems.

In December 1962, Sylvia took the children with her to London and moved into an apartment at 23 Fitzroy Road, which was the former home of poet William Butler Yeats. The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in January 1963. On February 11, 1963 Sylvia gave up her life.

Concluding remarks
Although Sylvia Plath's life was brief in conventional terms, her life was rich in experiences. She received accolades in the form of prizes, awards, and scholarships. She had literary successes, although none so great as those that were endowed on her post-humously. In 1982 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her Collected Poems.

Sylvia Plath was many things to many people; she was daughter, sister, student and teacher, wife and mother, and finally a writer. In death, she continues to influence people for more than her literary excellence.

She was a bright, intelligent, and determined young woman with a need to succeed and a burning desire to write. Sylvia had other needs that clashed with her literary ambitions. She dreamed of the comfort of a home of her own where she could belong and be loved for herself. She wanted a good husband and children. In school and outside of it, she was a high achiever never being able to quite reach the very high expectations she set for herself. No one was able to drive Sylvia more than herself. She knew self-doubt and depression. Yet to the world she presented a carefree, it's so easy attitude. In reality she worked, pushing herself relentlessly, whether in her studies, her teaching, in her relationships or her writing. Only those nearest to her knew how troubled Sylvia's life was.


Biography by: This biography was written by Joan Welz of the University of Alberta, as part of a Master's Degree in Library and Information Studies.


121 Poems written by Sylvia Plath

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | Page Views | Comments | [First Lines]


First LineComments
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; Comments and analysis of Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath 195 Comments
'Perspective betrays with its dichotomy: Comments and analysis of Love Is A Parallax by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
(1)
(Rock Lake, Canada) Comments and analysis of Two Campers In Cloud Country by Sylvia Plath 18 Comments
(1) Comments and analysis of Two Views Of A Cadaver Room by Sylvia Plath 28 Comments
Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit. Comments and analysis of Pursuit by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
For Leonard Baskin Comments and analysis of Sculptor by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
for Ruth Fainlight Comments and analysis of Elm by Sylvia Plath 293 Comments
for Susan O'Neill Roe Comments and analysis of Cut by Sylvia Plath 150 Comments
A dream tree, Polly's tree: Comments and analysis of Polly's Tree by Sylvia Plath 7 Comments
A Poem for Three Voices Comments and analysis of Three Women by Sylvia Plath 65 Comments
A smile fell in the grass. Comments and analysis of The Night Dances by Sylvia Plath 275 Comments
All summer we moved in a villa brimful of echos, Comments and analysis of The Other Two by Sylvia Plath 7 Comments
Among orange-tile rooftops
As the gods began one world, and man another, Comments and analysis of Snakecharmer by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Axes Comments and analysis of Words by Sylvia Plath 9 Comments
Bare-handed, I hand the combs. Comments and analysis of Stings by Sylvia Plath 235 Comments
Better that every fiber crack Comments and analysis of Monologue At 3 AM by Sylvia Plath 246 Comments
Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people. Comments and analysis of Crossing The Water by Sylvia Plath 13 Comments
Blameless as daylight I stood looking Comments and analysis of The Eye-Mote by Sylvia Plath 22 Comments
But I would rather be horizontal. Comments and analysis of I Am Vertical by Sylvia Plath 104 Comments
Clownlike, happiest on your hands, Comments and analysis of You're by Sylvia Plath 98 Comments
Color floods to the spot, dull purple. Comments and analysis of Contusion by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Color of lemon, mango, peach, Comments and analysis of Southern Sunrise by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Compelled by calamity's magnet Comments and analysis of Aftermath by Sylvia Plath 8 Comments
Day of mist: day of tarnish Comments and analysis of Resolve by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts. Comments and analysis of Poppies In October by Sylvia Plath 12 Comments
First, are you our sort of a person? Comments and analysis of The Applicant by Sylvia Plath 28 Comments
From my rented attic with no earth Comments and analysis of Landowners by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
God knows how our neighbor managed to breed Comments and analysis of Sow by Sylvia Plath 10 Comments
Haunched like a faun, he hooed Comments and analysis of Faun by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
Here are two pupils Comments and analysis of On Looking Into The Eyes Of A Demon Lover by Sylvia Plath 26 Comments
How far is it? Comments and analysis of Getting There by Sylvia Plath 5 Comments
How this tart fable instructs Comments and analysis of Virgin In A Tree by Sylvia Plath 20 Comments
I am a miner. The light burns blue. Comments and analysis of Nick And The Candlestick by Sylvia Plath 38 Comments
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Comments and analysis of Mirror by Sylvia Plath 386 Comments
I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus Comments and analysis of Last Words by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
I have done it again. Comments and analysis of Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath 342 Comments
I have no wit, I have no words, no tears; Comments and analysis of A Better Resurrection by Sylvia Plath 545 Comments
I ordered this, clean wood box Comments and analysis of The Arrival Of The Bee Box by Sylvia Plath 121 Comments
I shall never get out of this! There are two of me now: Comments and analysis of In Plaster by Sylvia Plath 483 Comments
I shall never get you put together entirely, Comments and analysis of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath 479 Comments
I'm a riddle in nine syllables, Comments and analysis of Metaphors by Sylvia Plath 444 Comments
If the moon smiled, she would resemble you. Comments and analysis of The Rival by Sylvia Plath 12 Comments
In Benidorm there are melons, Comments and analysis of Fiesta Melons by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
In ruck and quibble of courtfolk Comments and analysis of The Queen's Complaint by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
In the dour ages Comments and analysis of A Lesson In Vengeance by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
In the rectory garden on his evening walk Comments and analysis of Dialogue Between Ghost And Priest by Sylvia Plath 275 Comments
It happens. Will it go on? ---- Comments and analysis of Paralytic by Sylvia Plath 7 Comments
It is no night to drown in: Comments and analysis of Lorelei by Sylvia Plath 17 Comments
It was not a heart, beating. Comments and analysis of Night Shift by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
Jade -- Comments and analysis of Purdah by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
Kindness glides about my house. Comments and analysis of Kindness by Sylvia Plath 344 Comments
Lady, your room is lousy with flowers. Comments and analysis of Leaving Early by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
Little poppies, little hell flames, Comments and analysis of Poppies In July by Sylvia Plath 5 Comments
Love set you going like a fat gold watch. Comments and analysis of Morning Song by Sylvia Plath 137 Comments
Love, the world Comments and analysis of Letter In November by Sylvia Plath 24 Comments
Mayday: two came to field in such wise : Comments and analysis of Bucolics by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
Mother, mother, what ill-bred aunt Comments and analysis of The Disquieting Muses by Sylvia Plath 300 Comments
My thoughts are crabbed and sallow, Comments and analysis of Jilted by Sylvia Plath 13 Comments
Never try to trick me with a kiss Comments and analysis of Never Try To Trick Me With A Kiss by Sylvia Plath 508 Comments
No map traces the street Comments and analysis of The Sleepers by Sylvia Plath 6 Comments
No use whistling for Lyonnesse! Comments and analysis of Lyonnesse by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries, Comments and analysis of Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath 14 Comments
Not easy to state the change you made. Comments and analysis of Love Letter by Sylvia Plath 94 Comments
Now this particular girl Comments and analysis of Spinster by Sylvia Plath 9 Comments
Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs, Comments and analysis of Medusa by Sylvia Plath 62 Comments
Old goatherds swear how all night long they hear Comments and analysis of Goatsucker by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
Old man, you surface seldom. Comments and analysis of Full Fathom Five by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
On the stiff twig up there Comments and analysis of Black Rook In Rainy Weather by Sylvia Plath 483 Comments
Out here there are no hearthstones, Comments and analysis of Sleep In The Mojave Desert by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
Overnight, very Comments and analysis of Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath 405 Comments
Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children. Comments and analysis of The Munich Mannequins by Sylvia Plath 5 Comments
Pocket watch, I tick well.
Pure? What does it mean? Comments and analysis of Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath 80 Comments
Revolving in oval loops of solar speed, Comments and analysis of The Dead by Sylvia Plath 280 Comments
Since Christmas they have lived with us, Comments and analysis of Balloons by Sylvia Plath 10 Comments
Somebody is shooting at something in our town --
Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks, Comments and analysis of Among The Narcissi by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Stasis in darkness. Comments and analysis of Ariel by Sylvia Plath 122 Comments
Summer grows old, cold-blooded mother. Comments and analysis of Frog Autumn by Sylvia Plath 24 Comments
The air is a mill of hooks -- Comments and analysis of Mystic by Sylvia Plath 11 Comments
The black bull bellowed before the sea.
The day you died I went into the dirt, Comments and analysis of Electra On Azalea Path by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
The engine is killing the track, the track is silver,
The hills step off into whiteness. Comments and analysis of Sheep In Fog by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
The horizons ring me like faggots, Comments and analysis of Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath 7 Comments
The night is only a sort of carbon paper, Comments and analysis of Insomniac by Sylvia Plath 6 Comments
The photographic chamber of the eye Comments and analysis of Tale Of A Tub by Sylvia Plath 62 Comments
the slime of all my yesterdays Comments and analysis of April 18 by Sylvia Plath 462 Comments
The smile of iceboxes annihilates me. Comments and analysis of An Appearance by Sylvia Plath 236 Comments
The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat. Comments and analysis of Mary's Song by Sylvia Plath 12 Comments
The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. Comments and analysis of Tulips by Sylvia Plath 41 Comments
The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve. Comments and analysis of Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath 225 Comments
The woman is perfected Comments and analysis of Edge by Sylvia Plath 22 Comments
The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
The word, defining, muzzles; the drawn line Comments and analysis of Poems, Potatoes by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
There is this white wall, above which the sky creates itself -- Comments and analysis of Apprehensions by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis. Comments and analysis of Stillborn by Sylvia Plath 18 Comments
They are always with us, the thin people Comments and analysis of The Thin People by Sylvia Plath 511 Comments
They enter as animals from the outer Comments and analysis of Years by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
This is the easy time, there is nothing doing. Comments and analysis of Wintering by Sylvia Plath 2 Comments
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary Comments and analysis of The Moon And The Yew Tree by Sylvia Plath 52 Comments
This is winter, this is night, small love --
Through frost-thick weather Comments and analysis of Vanity Fair by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Through portico of my elegant house you stalk Comments and analysis of Conversation Among The Ruins by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Touch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball, Comments and analysis of A Life by Sylvia Plath 472 Comments
Two girls there are : within the house Comments and analysis of Two Sisters Of Persephone by Sylvia Plath 473 Comments
Two, of course there are two. Comments and analysis of Death & Co. by Sylvia Plath 3 Comments
Unlucky the hero born Comments and analysis of The Times Are Tidy by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
Viciousness in the kitchen! Comments and analysis of Lesbos by Sylvia Plath 19 Comments
Water in the millrace, through a sluice of stone, Comments and analysis of Winter Landscape, With Rooks by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful? Comments and analysis of A Birthday Present by Sylvia Plath 59 Comments
Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the villagers---- Comments and analysis of The Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath 23 Comments
With white frost gone
You bring me good news from the clinic, Comments and analysis of Face Lift by Sylvia Plath 23 Comments
You come in late, wiping your lips. Comments and analysis of The Other by Sylvia Plath 1 Comment
You do not do, you do not do Comments and analysis of Daddy by Sylvia Plath 327 Comments
You said you would kill it this morning. Comments and analysis of Pheasant by Sylvia Plath 4 Comments
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing. Comments and analysis of Child by Sylvia Plath 85 Comments


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