Lady Lazarus

March 28, 2020

…the cruellest blow comes when Plath discovers the poems that Hughes has been writing to his lover, and is unable to prevent herself from acknowledging their artistry. “Many are fine poems,” she writes to Beuscher on September 29, 1962. “Absolute impassioned love poems.” She quotes a line she cannot forget: Now I have hacked the octopus off my ring finger.

Which sounds more like one of the lines she was beginning to write, because Plath in her last weeks, in the cold London house, between sleeping pills and crying babies and an unrelenting flu, was being gripped and twisted by the wild poems that became the book Ariel. “It is like writing in a train tunnel, or God’s intestine,” she writes to the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. (“Lady Lazarus”: Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.) It all feels so unsteady, so precarious, so barely controlled. Was Ariel a breakdown, or an artistic consummation? Both, obviously. The great big chomping Ariel voice is intoxicated with its own power; it glitters and it damns.

The telling and retelling of this story will not end soon, because at the core of the Plath/Hughes nexus, the marriage of their talents, is a mythically compelling irony. He, full of agency, honouring his deep drives, etc., etc., does the boring thing: He has an affair. She, trapped and reduced and overwhelmed, does the remarkable thing: She writes a masterpiece. He, formerly the main character, exits shabbily sideways, while she explodes into an agony of authenticity. And then — hand in hand with winter, fever, and heartbreak — it kills her.

James Parker
The Haunting Last Letters of Sylvia Plath

Lady Lazarus

June 20, 2009

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My 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 in foot ——
The big strip tease.
Gentleman , 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 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 on 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.

Sylvia Plath