October 27 marks the 85th anniversary of the birth of Sylvia Plath, a poet and novelist whose work retains an iconic status even 54 years after her death.
Plath was born in Boston in 1932 to Otto Plath and Aurelia Schober and grew up by the sea. Trauma cut into her early childhood, however, with the death of her father in 1940, when Plath was just eight years old.
What is perhaps most remembered about Sylvia Plath is the autobiographical nature of her work. Her poetry and prose were saturated with descriptions of her own poor mental health and depression, which ultimately led to her tragic death. Her struggle with mental illness began when she was a student, and she attempted suicide aged just 19.
Despite the illness she lived with, Plath turned her suffering into both poetry and fiction, her experiences forming the basis of perhaps her most well-known work, the semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. Although this is her most recognisable title, her poetry is also widely read and loved today, with many people finding solace in her words. She is celebrated for encapsulating experiences of womanhood, suffering, and how the two intersect.
Her most famous poetry collection Ariel contains memorable lines such as “Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ And I eat men like air”, (‘Lady Lazarus’), and “Homonculus, I am ill/ I have taken a pill to kill/ The thin papery feeling” (‘Cut’).
Her words are full of both pain and power, and many feminist critics have read her work as an expression of the despair she was driven to by her troubled relationship with her husband, poet laureate Ted Hughes.
Though Sylvia Plath is often remembered for the tragic nature of her suicide, on the anniversary of her birth we have the opportunity to commemorate her remarkable talent. The body of work she managed to produce, despite consistent and intense struggles with mental illness, serves as inspiration to this day.
Sylvia Plath was both a revered writer and an extrordinary woman. Her works continue to survive and have meaning in the lives of people who find catharsis in her writing.
Image: mike krzeszak via Flickr