Wednesday, March 10, 2010

this is what life is all about

photo diptych © Bree Walk, used by permission

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate –
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

-- Sylvia Plath

Julia once commented that liking Sylvia Plath is ever so slightly undergraduate. And Plath does bring to mind oversized flannel shirts and doc martens, sitting with one foot tucked under me at my favorite window in the university library, the window overlooking the flowering magnolia. Reading a book of her poems by that window, I wrote: "this is what life is all about" in the margin next to the poem, Black Rook in Rainy Weather.

Plath is a confessional poet. There is no persona dividing her from her subject; her experience is the subject, and that experience is often dark. I cannot read her without mental reference to her suicide. Now that I have my own child, her suicide--sticking her head in an gas oven with the pilot light out--is even more incomprehensible: her two young children were sleeping in the next room. But gothic drama aside, I am drawn to the luminescence also undeniably present. So many of her poems (like Child posted above) are full of light. Shininess, even. And perhaps their brightness is all the more compelling because of their juxtaposition with that which is not: Not this troublous / Wringing of hands, this dark / Ceiling without a star.

The darker side of life is not something I shirk from. I suspect this is in my nature. It's not that I want grief as much as I am uncomfortable with secrets and things left unsaid. I am repelled by inauthenticity, in myself or in others. And this is likely why Plath is so appealing. Her poems, for all their darkness, ring true to me. The saltiness to everything, the quiet despair alongside the abundance, the bright cleanness of her words like the open gaze of friendship.

Although I am now tempted to post my two other favorite Plath poems here, I think I will save them for upcoming Poetry Wednesdays.


Jenny Schroedel said...

Oh Amber,

I love the poem, too, and I get what you're saying, about how luminous and dark it can be at the same time, how this poem speaks to that. It breaks my heart, too, to think of the contrast between what she desired for her children and the legacy she left them.

Beth said...

I own a book of Path's poetry but never picked it up and read it. As a mother of three little boys under five, there is much light and life surrounding me and as I battle my own demons, my own enemies, I pray that this darkness, my own wringing of hands, does not ooze too much into the lives of my innocent ones and quench their brightness.

I still wear my doc martens that I bought for $2.99 at the Salvation Army and hope to be buried in them.

Julia said...

Uh oh--I think I am the Julia referenced here. Sylvia Plath is a great poet, and this poem (which I have never read) is really wonderful. It absolutely captures something very real and universal that I imagine all mothers feel about their children. I think Sylvia Plath was tainted for me by college friends who used her poetry to channel all their melodrama. But now, reading this, I think I'm far enough removed from all of that and would like to revisit her poetry sometime soon.

My favorite thing about this post is the way you describe yourself, because it has always been my favorite thing about you, and the thing about you that I have benefited so much from, and for which I am eternally grateful for.

Molly Sabourin said...

Yes, my favorite part is your description of yourself as well, Amber. I can see why you and Julia and Jenny are such great friends. I am officially a fan now of all ya'll's writing! This is a great post.