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Early Life

Born to middle class parents in Jamaica Plain,

Boston, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath published her
first poem when she was eight in the Boston Herald
(10 August 1941, page B-8). Sensitive, intelligent,
compelled toward perfection in everything she
attempted, she was, on the surface, a model
daughter, popular in school, earning straight A's,
winning the best prizes.

After her brothers
birth, the family
moved to Winthrop,
Massachusetts just
east of Boston. This is
where Plath became
familiar and intimate
with the sea. From an
early age she enjoyed
the sea and could
recognize its beauty &

Sylvia's surface perfection was however underlain by grave personal
discontinuities, some of which doubtless had their origin in the death of
her father (he was a college professor and an expert on bees) when she
was eight.
Otto Plath taught at Boston University (BU). His health began to fail
shortly after the birth of his son Warren in 1935.
Otto Plath was an expert on bees. He wrote a book called Bumblebees
and Their Ways, published in 1934. Sylvia Plath was impressed with her
father's handling of bees. He could catch them and they would not sting!
(He caught only the males; the males do not have stingers.)
Otto Plath died on 5 November 1940, only a week and a half after his
daughters eighth birthday. He died of diabetes mellitus, which at the time
was a very curable disease. Upon his death a friend only asked, "How
could such a brilliant man have been so stupid?"

Smith College
By the time she entered Smith College on a
scholarship in 1950 she already had an
impressive list of publications, and while at Smith she wrote
over four hundred poems.
From around 1944 on, Plath kept a journal. The journals gained
in importance to her in college. She would come to rely heavily
on her journals for inspiration and documentation. She had a
very quick, sharp eye, noting details that most people miss and
take for granted. Her journal became her most trusted friend
and confidant, telling it secrets and presenting a completely
different and real self on those pages. Sometimes she was
blunt, other times candid. She captured ideas for poems and
stories, and detailed her ambitions. One of the more
memorable passages she writes about the joy of picking her
nose. (January 1953)

At this point in her life, the early Smith years, she was writing very
measured, pretty poems. She had the craft of poem making down,
but she did not have the voice. She was working hard on syllabics,
paying close attention on line lengths, stanza lengths and a
myriad of other poetic styles that any apprentice should know.
Plath was different, though, as she worked herself to perfection.
She relied on her thesaurus to push her way through poem after
She emulated Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, and W.H. Auden.
She read Richard Wilbur, Marianne Moore and John Crowe
She also wanted to write short stories for women's magazines
such as the Ladies Home Journal and other influential 1950s
magazines. She was also sending poems and stories out
regularly, facing rejection most of the time. She did, however,
receive some success.

The Bell Jar
During the summer following her junior year at Smith, having returned from a stay in
New York City where she had been a student ``guest editor'' at Mademoiselle
Magazine, Sylvia nearly succeeded in killing herself by swallowing sleeping pills.
She later described this experience in an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar,
published in 1963. The events of this very important month are well covered in her
novel, The Bell Jar. A breakdown followed.
She returned from the New York exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically.
She was banking on being admitted to a Harvard summer class on writing. When
she received word she had not been accepted, Sylvia Plath's fate was also secured.
Her journals end abruptly in July. For details of the summer of 1953, readers must
rely on information Plath put down in a few letters to friends and in her novel, The
Bell Jar.

Throughout July and early August, Plath
tells us in The Bell Jar that she could
neither read nor sleep nor write. In an
interview given to the Voices & Visions
audio/video series, Aurelia Plath tells us
that her daughter could in fact read, and
that she meticulously read Freud's
Abnormal Psychology. Plath, however,
felt despondent.
On 24 August 1953, she left a note
saying, "Have gone for a long walk. Will
be home tomorrow." She took a blanket,
a bottle of sleeping pills, a glass of water
with her down the stairs to the cellar.
There she crept into a two and a half-
foot entrance to the crawl space
underneath the screened in porch. She
began swallowing the pills in gulps of
water and fell unconscious.
Her mother began a search for her,
assisted by Sylvias friends, the police,
neighbours and Boy Scouts. She was
found two days later. She recovered in
hospital and underwent electroshock
Her recovery was not easy, but Plath
pulled through and was readmitted to
Smith for the spring 1954 semester. This
is really the beginning of Sylvia Plath,
Two years later, she
graduated summa cum
laude and also won a
Fulbright Scholarship to
study at Newnham
College, Cambridge
Over the summer before
she left she had several
lovers, but broke her
attachments before
going to England.
Cambridge University
Sylvia found it difficult
adjusting to life in England,
and re-established her
relationship with Richard
Sassoon, who was living in
Paris. He eventually broke
up with her.
She found the cold winters
difficult and became ill and
depressed. She began to
visit a psychiatrist. Sylvia
was also lonely. To be 23
and single in 1953 was
considered to be passed
her prime.

Ted Hughes
After her first meeting with the psychiatrist, Plath
bought a magazine and read the work of a poet
called Ted Hughes. Plath was told of a party that
evening celebrating the publication of this new
magazine to be held at Falcon Yard.
The meeting of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is
probably the best-known meeting of two aspiring
poets in the 20th century. Plath walked into the
room with a date named Hamish and quickly began
enquiring as to Hughes' whereabouts. She found
him, recited some of his poems, which in the few
hours since first reading them had memorized.
According to her journals and letters, they were
dancing and stamping and yelling and drinking and
then he kissed her on the neck and she bit Hughes
on the cheek, and he bled. No matter what sort of
hyperbole was used in the retelling of their meeting,
it was dramatic and life changing. Hughes' voice
boomed like the thunder of God, and his Yorkshire
accent was deep and intense. She wrote the poem
"Pursuit" to him and in the poem she calls him a
panther. It is also in this poem that Plath
announces with some clairvoyance that "One day
I'll have my death of him." Sylvia Plath and Ted
Hughes both found influences in W.B Yeats, Dylan
Thomas and D. H. Lawrence, to name a few.
Hughes read these poets as well and also Hopkins,
Blake, Chaucer and Shakespeare. There is no
doubt that Hughes helped Plath achieve the major
poetic voice she would later find. The voice might
have always been in Plath, the talent and drive was
certainly there.

Plath still needed resolution in her
relationship with Sassoon, and went to
Paris to find him. Sassoon did not want
to be found and Hughes sent Sylvia at
least one love letter while she was there.
After travelling in Italy with another lover,
she flew back to London to be with
Just Married
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes married on Bloomsday 1956 (16 June). Aurelia Plath was there to witness. The
Hugheses spent the summer writing and honeymooning in Spain and France, before visiting Yorkshire, to be with
Ted's parents, who knew nothing of the wedding.
In the autumn, Plath continued studying at Cambridge. Eventually, Plath moved in to a new flat with Ted Hughes.
Ironically, some relatives of Richard Sassoon lived above them. The two poets would study, cook, eat, take walks
and learn to live with each other. Ted Hughes took a job teaching at a local boy's school. This would be one of his
most enjoyable jobs. Plath and Hughes made arrangements to go to America in the summer of 1957.
Immediately upon their meeting, Plath began typing and sending out Hughes's poems publishers in America and
England. Due in part to this work, in early 1957, Ted Hughes won first prize in the New York Poetry Center contests
judged by Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender for his book The Hawk in the Rain. This was a
contest he was unaware he entered. His publishers would be Harper & Row and they would bring the book out that
summer. Plath had been writing some very good poems this English winter, among them "Sow," "The Thin People,"
and "Hardcastle Crags." On 12 March 1957 Plath was offered a teaching position in Freshman English at Smith
The English winter dissolved into a studious spring for Plath as she had to study for her exams at Cambridge. She
worked day in and day out, whilst being a housewife and typing and retyping manuscripts of Ted's poems. Plath
was also writing poems too, like "All the Dead Dears," from this library blitz. Plath submitted a manuscript of poems
to the English faculty called Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea, which had been all but lost until
some time around 1967/8.
After Plath finished her exams, the Hugheses went to Yorkshire to spend time with Ted's family until they sailed for
North America. They took daily walks on the moors. This would be the end of Plath's formal studying and education
as a student. The Hugheses read proofs of The Hawk in the Rain, and Plath cooked for everyone. On 20 June, the
Hugheses sailed out of Southampton on the Queen Elizabeth and arrived in New York a week later.
Cape Cod
After their return, the Hugheses spent several weeks in
Cape Cod.
Sylvia's book of poems, Two Lovers and a Beachcomber
by the Real Sea, was rejected from the Yale Series of
Younger Poets that August. Plath had been writing in the
Ladies' Home Journal style and hoping to have stories
published, but this goal was never achieved.
It was here, however, on the Cape, that Plath visited
Rock Harbor, of which she later wrote about in her poem
"Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor." This poem became her
first New Yorker acceptance.
In late August Plath & Hughes moved to Northampton & to Smith. Plath immediately
began panicking about teaching. She also immediately found teaching to be more
exhausting than she thought it would be. Among her frustrations was the lack of time
for her own writing in any form--journals, poems, stories, and letters. More
importantly, the teachers and other faculty Plath once so admired as a student
turned out to be not as great as colleagues. Plath had extreme paranoia about her
teaching ability and showed this face to nearly no one except her journal and later,
possibly, to her psychiatrist. No one on the faculty that year at Smith could sense the
terrible feelings eating at Plath's mind.
By November, Plath and Hughes had made the tough but crucial decision to leave
academia and turn to a life of writing. In a letter to her brother, Plath justified this
decision saying, "Every time you make a choice you have to sacrifice something."
Still the year passed and she had moments of assuredness, and moments when her
mind became doubting and frail.
That winter Plath suffered a severe illness and was all but bed-ridden for much of
the holiday season.
The new year, 1958, was also stressful for their relationship. On the last day of
school, a well documented day in Plath's Journals, Hughes was to meet with Plath
right after her last class but was no where to be found. Plath looked in the library
reading rooms and in the car but he was not to be found. Plath writes in her journals
that she started walking towards Paradise Pond when she saw her husband coming
up the path, smiling broad and chatting, with a young student, a girl who ran off
immediately when she saw Plath. This incident led to Plath questioning her
reverence of Hughes and also led to quarrels and possibly some violence!
In the summer, they moved into a new flat in Boston. They were to dedicate all their
efforts to writing and sending poems, stories, and other creative writings to different
contests and publishers. Plath took a part-time job at Massachusetts General
Hospital, and this is linked to the creation of her short stories "Johnny Panic and the
Bible of Dreams" and "The Daughter's of Blossom Street", two of her best short
stories. "The Daughters of Blossom Street" was published in London Magazine
under an earlier title, "This Earth Our Hospital". She also began auditing Robert
Lowell's seminar writing course at Boston University, where she met George
Starbuck and Anne Sexton. Free from the restrictions of teaching, Plath found time
to write. She slowly began working her way to better poetry.

1959 brought travel to Plath and Hughes.
They had decided to move back to England. Plath became pregnant and
Hughes wanted the child to be born on his native soil.
That autumn the two poets went to Yaddo, a writer's colony in Saratoga
Springs, New York. This is where Plath finally had a breakthrough. After
getting accustomed to the grounds of the estate Plath was able to mix
personal experience with the current landscape at her disposal. The
poems were inspired by what she was seeing: "Dark Wood, Dark Water"
and "The Manor Garden". She also wrote a poem on the subject of her
father, "The Colossus". This poem later became the title of her first
collection of poems. She read seriously and closely the poetry of
Theodore Roethke. This most evident in her seven-part "Poem for a
Birthday," and in particular, the seventh poem, "The Stones." In December
they sailed again for England.
They couple spent Christmas at Heptonstall. Plath found it difficult to be there, and felt that Olwyn
Hughes, Ted's sister, did not particularly want her company. In January 1960, the Hugheses
settled in the Primrose Hill neighborhood in London.
On 10 February, Plath met with an editor from Heinemann to sign the contract for The Colossus.
They met at the York Minster Pub on Dean Street in Soho.
On 1 April, their first child, Frieda Rebecca, was born.
In August, Plath and Hughes visited Whitby, a coastal town on Yorkshire. Plath wrote about this
visit to Whitby in Letters Home. William Heinemann, Ltd. published Plath's first collection of
poetry, The Colossus & Other Poems on 31 October, the week of her birthday. It received decent
reviews. With the publication of the book and the birth of Frieda, Plath found very little time
otherwise to write. According the list of poems in the Collected Poems, Plath wrote only 12
poems in 1960. Among them, though, are the wonderful poems "You're" and "Candles", and the
eerie "The Hanging Man". There are other poems that Plath began working on, such as "Queen
Mary's Rose Garden". This poem can be found in the 'Notes: 1960' section of the Collected
Poems. In addition to poetry, Plath began to write fiction again. In 1960, she wrote "Day of
Success" and used her visit to Whitby as the setting of a story titled "The Lucky Stone".

Medical issues
Sometime in late 1960, Plath became pregnant again and in February she had a miscarriage.
She also had an appendectomy, which left her stitched & hospitalized for a number of weeks. It was the experience
of being hospitalized that charged Plath in a writing frenzy that produced "Tulips" and "In Plaster" and also gave her
momentum on writing a novel.
Sylvia Plath began writing The Bell Jar sometime in March 1961 and she worked like mad for the next seventy days
on the novel. The appendectomy probably frightened Plath, or at least brought back many memories of August
1953 when she was institutionalized. Plath felt the power of childbearing to be enormously inspirational. It no doubt
led her to creativity--if she could create children, why not poems as well? Whilst at the hospital, Plath received a
first reading contract with a check for $100 from The New Yorker. This meant that The New Yorker would read all of
Plath's new poems and have first choice at accepting them for publication.
In 1961 Plath completed 22 poems. Among these are "Morning Song," "Tulips," "In Plaster," "Barren Woman," and
"Parliament Hill Fields," "The Surgeon at 2 a.m.," " I am vertical," "Heavy Woman" and "Insomniac," which won first
prize at the 1962 Cheltenham Festival Poetry Competition. "Tulips" was written within ten days of Plath leaving the
hospital and is, according to Ted Hughes, Plath's first spontaneous poem; the first poem written without laboriously
thumbing the pages of her beaten thesaurus.
Aurelia Plath came to England in mid-June. In July the Hugheses took a holiday in France...a well-documented &
disastrous stay with the Merwins. At the end of this holiday, the Hugheses went house hunting around England,
settling on a house in the southwest. In August, she both completed her novel and moved to North Tawton, Devon.
On 17 January 1962 Plath bore Hughes a son, Nicholas Farrar. Somehow with two children,
writing and cleaning up Court Green, Plath began writing fantastic, powerful poetry sometime
around April. These are the true Ariel poems, and what would lead to the best poems of her life.
Plath wrote the wonderful "Elm" and a series of poems expressing concern for Hughes' treatment
of animals, "The Rabbit Catcher" being the most famous.
May and June seems to have solidified all the troubles the Hugheses would have. Plath became
increasingly suspicious that Ted was having an affair. She wrote the poem "Apprehensions" and
"Event" in May. However, it was not all negative. On 14 May, Knopf published The Colossus and
other poems in the United States. In June, Aurelia Plath came to visit and meet Nicholas. Whilst
Mrs. Plath was in England, Plath found out for certain of her husbands infidelity. It seems to be a
mixed blessing that Aurelia Plath was there. One of Plath's problems with living in Devon (and in
England for that matter) is that she had very few friends, which meant she wrote many letters to
her girlfriends back in the US.
In September 1962, Hughes and Plath went to Ireland for a holiday to mend their relationship.
They stayed at the Old Forge with the poet Richard Murphy in Cleggan, a remote village in the
west of Ireland. While in Ireland, Murphy took the Hugheses to see the Autograph Tree at Coole
Park and Yeats' Tower at Thoor Ballylee in nearby Gort. However, within a day or two of being
there, Hughes left abruptly. Plath returned alone to Devon. Late in the month they decided for a
legal separation, though most of Plath's friends and family were in favor of a divorce.
Poetic rampage
In October, Plath went on a poetic rampage! She wrote over 25 poems during the month. Among
them are "Stings," "Wintering," "The Jailer," "Lesbos," "Lady Lazarus," "Daddy," "Ariel," "The
Applicant," "The Detective," "Cut" and "Nick and the Candlestick", and many more. Most of them
would be published in 1965 as Ariel. The high period of productivity occurred very early in the
morning, before the children rose. Plath began somewhere around four in the morning and wrote
until the children woke. Her letters home during this period also lends a different sort of view.
There are no known journal entries for this important period. Hughes claims that at least one
journal has been 'lost' and one destroyed. The publication on 3 April 2000 of the unedited
Journals of Sylvia Plath cover the period of 1950-1962, with the later entries from 1962 being
character sketches and possible descriptions for future novels and short stories. Beginning in
June 1962, Plath took meticulous notes on people, houses, feelings, etc. This certainly helped
her creative output and range of controlled emotion in the October poems. This poetic blitzkrieg
continued into November with strong poems like "The Couriers," "Getting There," " Gulliver,"
"Death & Co." and "Winter Trees.
During the month of November, Plath was looking for a flat in London. She was fond of the
Primrose Hill area, where she lived when Frieda was born, and she found a flat there. The ordeal
of securing the flat and starting to pack up Court Green was responsible for a less productive
month after mid-November.
Final Days
Plath and the children moved into the flat in December. She finished only two poems in the month of
December. With the onset of a terrible winter and Plath spending many hours painting and laboring, it is no
surprise. Plath was still sending poems off, as was usual for her, but was finding publishers not too eager to
accept these new, powerful poems. It is as though the publishers somehow were not ready for poems of such
magnitude. Plath was mostly alone, although some friends did visit and she was out when possible. Hughes
visited regularly and often took Frieda and Nicholas to the London Zoo, which was just through the park. Plath
and her children were without a telephone and the heat was poor or non-existent. Plath's friend, the critic A
Alvarez, did come by the apartment on Christmas Eve but could only stay a short while as he had other plans.
Alvarez was the first critic to notice her poems and has been highly influential in Plath studies since---a very
trusted voice.
The winter that would follow would be recorded as one of the coldest to date. Pipes froze and there was plenty
of ice and snow on the ground.
The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas on 14 January 1963 and received mostly
positive reviews, though most appeared after her death. Plath's American publisher, Knopf, had not been
interested with the story, thinking it either too personal or a case study. Reviews were not as positive as she
hoped. Though she called the novel a 'pot-boiler' to nearly everyone who knew of it, its acceptance did weigh
heavily on her. Though not writing poetry, Plath had been writing some non-fiction prose pieces at this time.
But, by late January, she began writing in what was another outburst of poetry, completing twelve new poems
in just fifteen days, all in a brand new voice. This includes the fine poems of February 1963. It had taken Plath
less than two months to begin a new collection of poetry, all in this new voice. This voice was softer and less
angry; very somber and resolved, as though she new she was nearing the end--poems like "Mystic," "Sheep in
Fog," "Kindness," "Gigolo," "Totem," "Child," "The Munich Mannequins," "Paralytic," "Words," "Contusion,"
"Edge" and "Balloons.
The public does not know whether or not she began any poems in the last six days of her life. It is not known
what her Journals say or what is in many of the letters she might have written. We only know it was cold, the
children were sick and Plath was severely depressed. Plath spent most of the last weekend of her life staying
with Jillian and Gerry Becker in North London.
In early morning of 11 February 1963, Plath took her own life. She placed her head
in a gas oven after completely sealing the rooms between herself and her children.
She left a note for the man who lived downstairs, Trevor Thomas, to call her doctor.
However, rather than rising, the gas seeped through the floor and knocked Mr
Thomas out cold for several hours. An au pair girl was to arrive at nine o'clock that
morning to help Plath with the care of her children. Arriving promptly at 9, the au pair
could not get into the flat. It has been suggested that Plath's timing and planning of
this suicide attempt was too precise, too coincidental, not to be "serious" or
intended. She had previously asked Mr Thomas what time he would be leaving.
Plath must have turned the gas on at a time when Mr Thomas should have been
waking and beginning his day. A note was placed that read "Call Dr Horder" and left
his phone number. These measures were too time-sensitive and could have saved
Plath's life if events followed her suggested logic.
Plath was buried in Heptonstall less than a week after her death. Sylvia Plath's
gravesite in Yorkshire is now visited by hundreds of people each year.

Large sections of the text are drawn from