08 December 2004

From Blind Air, From Complete Eclipse

      Well, it looks like we get to go through the Sylvia Plath debate again (read in: feminists ranting about the villainy of Ted Hughes) as a "restored" version of Ariel makes the scene. I place the scare quotes around the word restored because we'll never know exactly how Plath would have decided she wanted the poems published; she was, after all, given to changing her mind on such matters rather frequently. Meaghan O'Rourke's piece for Slate on the arrival of the old-volume-made-new is very interesting and quite good, I think; she identifies quite a lot of the problems of such a volume, and, indeed, with Plath's difficulty with shaping and establishing a poetic narrative (for lack of a better word). I particularly like O'Rourke's closing sentence, that Hughes, "like Samson, brought down the walls of the temple around him, even as he helped his wife take flight." This strikes me as spot-on. It's quite possible-- put more plainly and certainly less Biblically-- Hughes had to be the Ezra to her Tom, though Hughes surely was more troubled by his task than Ezra ever was.

      With this in mind, I thought I'd post one of Plath's lesser-known poems, one very different from the bilious charge of "Daddy" and the sororistic solipsism of "Ariel" and "Lady Lazarus" (good poems all, but too prone to give us a stereotyped Plath rather than a synoptic one). The poem provides us with a "gentler" Plath, one given to action and contemplation, but not to navel-gazing, and, as such, the poem reminds me more of poems like the stunning "Black Rook in Rainy Weather." Here it is:

Fable of the Rhododendron Stealers

I walked the unwalked garden of rose-beds
In the public park; at home felt the want
Of a single rose present to imagine
The garden’s remainder in full paint.

The stone lion-head set in the wall
Let drop its spittle of sluggish green
Into the stone basin. I snipped
An orange bud, pocketed it. When

It had opened its orange in my vase,
Retrogressed to blowze, I next chose red;
Argued my conscience clear which robbed
The park of less red than withering did.

Musk satisfied my nose, red my eye,
The petals' nap my fingertips:
Click to see a larger versionI considered the poetry I rescued
From blind air, from complete eclipse.

Yet today, a yellow bud in my hand,
I stalled at sudden noisy crashes
From the laurel thicket. No one approached.
A spasm took the rhododendron bushes:

Three girls, engrossed, were wrenching full clusters
Of cerise and pink from the rhododendron,
Mountaining them on spread newspaper.
They brassily picked, slowed by no chagrin,

And wouldn't pause for my straight look.
But gave me pause, my rose a charge,
Whether nicety stood confounded by love,
Or petty thievery by large.

It's one of those anti-epiphanic vignette pieces that Plath does so well, and it features a sense of colour that one can come to miss in her writing. To read more of Plath's poems, follow this link right here. Let's just hope this reissue of the Ariel poems doesn't lead to the typical series of attacks on Hughes, especially now that he's no longer around to defend himself. Then again, he doesn't really need to: Birthday Letters pretty much says it all, or as much as any of us need to know. The rest, as Tom Eliot would say, is not our business.

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