Most of us know a little bit about the life of tortured poet Sylvia Plath, who lived a mere 30 years (1932-63), yet left two small children and a profound poetic legacy in her wake.  We’ve all heard of her mental illness, suicide attempts and final irrevocable act.  This film provides a snippet of her life – from her days at Cambridge while on a Fulbright Scholarship in the ‘50s, to her meeting Ted Hughes (future British Poet Laureate) and subsequent marriage to him, to her travails in the early sixties as the result of her emotional issues and their corrosive union.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia, and Daniel Craig plays her poetic rival and romantic lead, Ted Hughes.  The movie is as much about him as it is about her – they could have called this “Sylvia and Ted” – except that throughput the movie we are exposed to more of Sylvia’s internal workings through her feelings, foibles and perceptions.  Hughes the Character remains more stoic, less exposed, somewhat tolerant and almost a victim to her emotional proclivities. There is an unmistakable, intoxicating draw between the two nonetheless – kindred sensitive and damaged poetic spirits that attract and revel like two opposite magnets.

Sylvia is honest with Ted in the beginning about her desire to die and suicide attempts  – “did you ever have something you wanted to erase?” she asks Hughes, leading us to believe that something happened to her in her childhood (abuse?).   Later she says “I was always happy until I was nine years old . . . then my father died.”

“You’ve got to write – that’s what poets do,” Ted advises Sylvia when she encounters writer’s block.  Hughes lived in a man’s world which accepted male poetic inspiration as pure destiny and genius, which rendered him rock star status, while Plath lived in that man’s world, too, with its heightened criticism and rejection of female artistry.  Young girls wearing red lip stick appear on their doorstep, offering themselves and their poetry for Hughes’ review.

I write poetry, too, but mine poems are invisible, insignificant, minute compared to the work of these titans.  Jealous of their literary work?  Perhaps.   Jealous of the lives?  Never.

I would like to see a movie that really focuses on Plath and keeps Hughes as a peripheral character, but I doubt that movie will be made.  Perhaps it cannot be made.  Her life was brief, and he was an integral character in her adulthood.

Recommended.

Plath wrote the poem below a month before my birth:

Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath
I have done it again.One year in every tenI manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot

A paperweight,

My face a featureless, fine

Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me

And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.

The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut

As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying

Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart–

It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Beware

Beware.

Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/cultural-capital/2010/10/hughes-poem-poet-publish

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