Deeply personal and confessional, Sylvia Plath’s poetic voice find a lot of admirers. What was there in her life that resulted in these verses? What is the mystery of her death?
Born: October 27, 1932
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Poet, novelist, short story writer
Who was Sylvia Plath?
Although Sylvia Plath died at the age of thirty, she is one of the most impressive poets of the previous century. Her highly personal poems were admired by a multitude of readers for their sincerity and emotional intensity. Critics associate Sylvia Plath with the Confessional movement in poetry. Along with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton she created a type of writing that has been a major influence on many writers.
When was Sylvia Plath born?
One of the most popular American poets was born on October 27, 1932. Her parents met at Boston University: Aurelia Schober Plath was Otto Plath’s student. She was more than 20 years younger than him. They were married in January of 1932.
In 1935 Aurelia Schober Plath gave birth to another child, Warren. As Warren fell ill quite often, his sister didn’t receive much attention.
Sylvia Plath’s father was a highly literate person. Being a professor of biology, he gained recognition as a scholar specializing in apiology. He also taught German. No wonder he was very busy and could not afford to spend more than 20 minutes a day with his kids.
He died due to complications of diabetes shortly after Sylvia’s eighth birthday. In spite of the fact that he was a very strict father, that was a real tragedy for Sylvia. Later she will devote one of her most controversial poems (Daddy) to her father and their complicated relationship.
The first published poem appeared in children’s section of a local newspaper when Plath was only eight. She also was fond of painting and even won an award from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She graduated from Bradford Senior High School in 1950.
Plath entered Smith College in 1950 on a scholarship. In 1953 she spent a month in New York working for a glossy magazine. It was a very difficult period that left her exhausted. Shortly after she survived a suicide attempt and spent half a year at McLean Hospital in Belmont receiving electric and insulin shock treatment. Nevertheless in 1955 Sylvia finished her degree summa cum laude.
Career and marriage
In 1955 Plath won Fulbright Scholarship and moved to Cambridge, England where she studied in Newnham College. In early 1956 she met the poet Ted Hughes at a party and they married in June the same year.
In 1957 Sylvia went back to Massachusetts where she met a poet Ann Sexton (they both studied with Robert Lowell). Two years later she returned to England. Here, in 1960 the first collection of verses, Colossus, was published. The same year her daughter Frieda was born, and son Nicholas appeared in 1962. In between she had a miscarriage.
The beginning of 1962 was marked by a deep depression, as Sylvia discovered her husband had been having an affair with Assia Wevill. Shortly after he left Plath. Another suicide attempt, now in the form of a car accident, followed. It was that winter that a lot of poems for the collection of verses Ariel appeared. In 1963 a novel The Bell Jar was published. The plot was based on autobiographical details. Plath chose not to reveal herself as the author: she published the book under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.
Popular poems by Sylvia Plath
- A Birthday Present
- Lady Lazarus
- Mad Girl’s Love Song
Death of Sylvia Plath
The winter of 1963 was one of the coldest winters on record, Frieda and Nicholas were ill. On February 11 Sylvia committed suicide by placing her head in a gas oven. Before that she sealed the door between herself and the children with wet towels and left a note to her neighbor.
Commentators argue whether Plath really intended to take her life away, as she took time-sensitive precautions that could have saved her life if everything had happened in the way she had planned.
Sylvia Plath death: February 11, 1963 in London