Sylvia Plath: The poet known for searingly honest prose and battle with depression

Her descriptions of mental illness were vivid: ‘Tomorrow I will curse the dawn, but there will be other, earlier nights, and the dawns will be no longer hell laid out in alarms and raw bells and sirens’

Dave Maclean
New York
Saturday 26 October 2019 18:22
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Google celebrate Sylvia Plath with Doodle

Acclaimed American writer Sylvia Plath would have been 87 on Sunday, and the date is being marked by Google with a stunning Doodle aimed at capturing the mood of her work.

Her painfully honest poetry and prose touched generations of fans, and helped many to understand mental illness.

The Doodle, featuring the writer in a winter scene, scribbling away, references the poem "Spinster".

“How she longed for winter then! –

Scrupulously austere in its order

Of white and black

Ice and rock, each sentiment in border,

And heart’s frosty discipline

Exact as a snowflake.”

On the subject on her own mental health, Plath once said: “It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative. “Whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.”

She is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry, and is particularly well-known for The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published just before her death.

Her descriptions of mental illness were vivid: “Tomorrow I will curse the dawn, but there will be other, earlier nights, and the dawns will be no longer hell laid out in alarms and raw bells and sirens.”

In one journal entry she wrote: “Very depressed today. Unable to write a thing. Menacing gods. I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness.”

Another said: “Look at that ugly dead mask here and do not forget it. It is a chalk mask with dead dry poison behind it, like the death angel. It is what I was this fall, and what I never want to be again. The pouting disconsolate mouth, the flat, bored, numb, expressionless eyes: symptoms of the foul decay within.”

Plath was born in Boston in 1932, the daughter of a strict German father. Her writing talents were quickly noticed, and she was published in national outlets and picked up awards and commissions. She also overcame a mental breakdown to graduate from Smith College with honours.

She was married with two children when she died at the age of 30 after taking her own life. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Price for The Collected Poems.

The Google Doodle’s creator, Sophie Diao, said: “I find her work very empowering, and I really admire how hardworking she was. Writing almost every day, while being a homemaker and mother, and organising her and her husband’s finances, and applying for grants and fellowships… she was clearly a strong-willed enthusiast.”

To create the illustration, she said she first ordered all of Plath’s poetry anthologies and read through them.

“I tried to find specific passages from her work that would thread together into a pseudo-narrative, but ended up pivoting to an illustration that would capture the mood of her work instead.

“I hope people are inspired to read some of Plath’s work and learn a bit more about her.”

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