Two new Sylvia Plath poems were announced to have been deciphered recently, and I don’t know how I feel about it. I love Sylvia Plath, I’ve read halves of her unabridged journal and have half memorized “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” and “Mad Girl’s Love Song” and “Three Women”. She is the leading lady of my heart, the one who got me into pain and poetry and their beautiful amalgamations, and “The Bell Jar” has never felt as sweet as when it was hovering over my head, as Esther’s depicted suicide attempt is one I felt in my bones, her discontent in New York City a balm to my wounds, and when she threw all of her clothes off of the roof of her hotel my heart leapt out with them.
However, after excitedly clicking on the The Guardian article describing this new development, I felt a bit of discomfort. The article reported that scholars had uncovered these poems from a piece of carbon paper Plath had typed over, in the midst of “a convoluted strangle of typewritten words”. This should make you uncomfortable as well, because this is work Plath explicitly did not publish, or want published. Furthermore, unlike “Ariel”, this was not published by a loved one of Plath’s. Scholars intruded, took, and shared, Plath’s lack of agency blatant.
The thing is, what right do we have to her words, full of personal emotions and stories? Why is this considered art, a discovery? Sylvia Plath is not a vehicle for our public consumption, and she had a right to her privacy, even posthumously.
I believe intent, in all things, is important, and Plath’s conspicuous lack of intent to publish these two poem says something about them, or her. In fact, it states nothing about her, or it should, because the world was never supposed to see it.
The fact is, while Plath’s suicide seems to make boundaries blurry, in this instance it makes things startlingly clear. Regardless of her mental state at the time, Plath died with no intention to publish these poems, or she would’ve stuck a note on it or went and published them. Just because a poem is ‘complete’ doesn’t mean it desires to be published, and I think most people would benefit from knowing this.
Some poetry is written for the self, some is written and is false, some is choked and angsty and vulnerable, and some are all of the above, and no poetry should be shared without the consent of the author.
This funny, blurry boundary line is one that I find is common in people who work in the arts, and while I want to expound more upon people’s alarming feelings of entitlement in regards to the lives of celebrities (mainly actors and musicians), I will simply state one more fact: Despite their apparent (real or feigned) vulnerability, artists do and should only share what they choose to, and in that regard, shape their audience’s perceptions of them as they choose, and this is their right. Do not try to deprive them of that.
[Image credit to https://litreactor.com/columns/culling-the-poetry-classics-sylvia-plath]