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These poems enter a new tonal register, following such ferocious and annihilating poems as “Lady Lazarus,” “Medusa,” “The Rabbit Catcher,” and “Daddy.” This edition’s final poem, “Wintering,” is calm, the images less associative.The speaker in “Wintering” offers a narrative progression that is meditative and cleaves more authentically to a self that is not rarified by myth but grounded in the mundane: The bees are all women, Maids and the long royal lady.
In almost every conversation, the matter of her suicide was inevitably mentioned. Like many of my students, I was swept up in their drama and entranced by the persona speaking in registers I did not associate with the more measured, reasonable poems to which I had—up until that point—been drawn.
In developing my class, I posed a question: Was it possible—even for a short time—to read and study her poems independent of her life story?
We all understood something about this class: Plath was speaking to a new generation, and mostly she was speaking to women.
The course I created was called The Problem of Sylvia Plath, a title that referred to an essay by my colleague April Bernard called “My Plath Problem,” which had appeared in ,by Paul Alexander.
Terry Castle, writing in the July 11, 2013, issue of the , expresses dismay at this form of literary “ambulance chasing” but, in the end, uses her review as opportunity to judge Plath’s life and, further, dismiss her work.
Castle takes her critique into new territory, suggesting that Plath is also to blame for the suicide of her only son, when she writers, “Lady Lazarus caught up with him at last.” (Nicholas Hughes, the adult son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, took his own life in 2009.That Hughes reworked the manuscript, changing the general trajectory of the book, remains controversial among many readers, as the two versions of the same book have distinctly different shapes and create different narrative arcs.In 2004, Frieda Hughes, the poet’s surviving daughter, oversaw the publication of Plath’s original version of her second volume of poems.I remember pausing for a beat before saying, “Good afternoon, ladies,” which got a laugh.It was as though I had found myself at the Bennington College of fifty years earlier—before the men began to arrive.Called , this book is an attempt to reconcile with the past and bring to light the poet’s own vision for her work.Frieda Hughes’s introduction to the collection is a careful dance of mixed loyalties.Two years ago at Bennington College, I taught a course on the work of Sylvia Plath.I created the course in response to student requests and also because I had been thinking about Plath and talking about her with other poets and readers for years.What sort of a father was John Berryman or Robert Lowell?Should their work be judged more harshly because their children may live or have lived unhappy lives?