Books: An uncollected poem by Sylvia Plath

By the early summer of 1957, just before she took her Tripos exams at Cambridge, Plath had become a fairly regular contributor of poems and stories to Granta, as well as being published in various American periodicals. It was a happy time in her life; her letters home are full of optimism and excitement at the literary success both she and Ted Hughes were enjoying. This poem, one of several she wrote at the time, appeared in Granta at the request of Michael Frayn, but has apparently never been reprinted.

Mad Girl's Love Song - A villanelle

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all is born again:

I think I made you up inside my head.

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red

and arbitrary blackness gallops in:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed

and sung me moonstruck, kissed me quite insane:

I think I made you up inside my head.

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade,

exeunt seraphim and Satan's men:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,

but I grow old and I forget your name:

I think I made you up inside my head.

I should have loved a thunder-bird instead,

at least when spring comes they roar back again.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I think I made you up inside my head.

'Mad Girl's Love Song' c Frieda & Nicholas Hughes. Reprinted by permission. Extract from the unpublished letter from Sylvia Plath to Michael Frayn c Frieda and Nicholas Hughes. Reprinted by permission.

Granta in those days used to invite guest-editors to produce the last couple of issues of the summer term - mine was dated 4 May 1957. I still have Sylvia Plath's side of the correspondence between us, a letter more printed than written, in characters of great elegance and force, in which she acknowledges some criticism I had levelled against two of her stories (I cringe to imagine what I'd said). She writes: 'I suppose the elaborate style and whimsy is a kind of safeguard against the impact of the actually ghastly naked situation - which in both cases is a complete annihilation of the creative identity. But perhaps I'll be able to write that straight out, bang crash, someday, without getting fancy and hedging.' She invites me to go to her flat in Eltisley Avenue, in Cambridge, and look at some poems. She guarantees 'great mugs of coffee', and offers directions to a house which 'looks nightmarishly like all the rest, except that it has a small, tortuously withered tree by the front hedge'.

I remember going for the coffee, and I remember her being in very cheerful spirits, but I can't recall the process of selection that ensued. I certainly got two wonderful poems out of it, though (and a story by Ted Hughes, brokered entirely through her). One of the poems, 'Soliloquy of the Solipsist', appears in her Collected Poems (Faber pounds 9.99). The other, the villanelle above, doesn't, though it seems to me just as good. They are both elegant, witty and accomplished poems - and they are also deeply interesting and imaginative pieces of philosophy. They offer not only a vivid expression of solipsism, but some expression of the way in which we give meaning to the world around us, however many or few of us we believe exist. In fact I like them even more now than I did when I first saw them all those years ago, in the house by the tortuously withered tree.

'Mad Girl's Love Song' c Frieda & Nicholas Hughes. Reprinted by permission. Extract from the unpublished letter from Sylvia Plath to Michael Frayn c Frieda and Nicholas Hughes. Reprinted by permission.

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