Plath's Last Poems

February 5: Sylvia Plath wrote her last two poems on this day in 1963, a week before her suicide. The two poems are quite different in mood, and when read biographically are often interpreted as representations of Plath's volatile personality, if not as a debate over the act she was contemplating. In "Balloons," the family watches and plays with Christmas balloons which continue to float about the small home "Delighting / the heart like wishes or free / Peacocks blessing / Old ground." Until the attempt to seize the wish-blessing:



Your small
 Brother is making

 

His balloon squeak like a cat.

Seeming to see

A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,

He bites,

 

Then sits

Back, fat jug

Contemplating a world clear as water.

A red

Shred in his little fist.


"Edge," by contrast, documents a nightmarish vision of a mother's destruction of both her own life and those of her children:

The woman is perfected

Her dead

 

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The illusion of a Greek necessity

 

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,

Her bare

 

Feet seem to be saying:

We have come so far, it is over.

 

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,

One at each little

 

Pitcher of milk, now empty

She has folded

 

Them back into her body as petals

Of a rose close when the garden

 

Stiffens and odors bleed

From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.