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How Plath’s Neatly Laid Plan For My Love Life Went Wrong

From Anosmia on Flickr.com, used under CC Attribution License

Spinster

Now this particular girl
During a ceremonious april walk
With her latest suitor
Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck
By the birds’ irregular babel
And the leaves’ litter.

By this tumult afflicted, she
Observed her lover’s gestures unbalance the air,
His gait stray uneven
Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower;
She judged petals in disarray,
The whole season, sloven.

How she longed for winter then! –
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,
And heart’s frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake.

But here — a burgeoning
Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits
Into vulgar motley –
A treason not to be borne; let idiots
Reel giddy in bedlam spring:
She withdrew neatly.

And round her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, fist, threat
Or love, either.

by Sylvia Plath

Here’s a source for more info, if you wish.  Lots of sounding off about readings of this poem in the comments, some of them are grammatically wonky in hilarious ways.

Today is Poem in your Pocket day.  Lucky (or not?) for you, my pocket is on the internet.

A bit of history: Sylvia Plath was married to Ted Hughes, the British poet.  Their Correspondence is on my To Read list.  Plath committed suicide in 1963.

I read this poem when I was about 14.  I learned the following words from it: bedlam, burgeoning.  And, for many years, my internet handle was vulgarmotley.  Because of this poem.

Also, my pubescent mind was totally taken by the notion of spinsterhood, or–as I read the poem in my youth–indulging in romance on my terms, and nearly always being home alone.  Spinsterhood did not mean frigidity, it meant independence, freedom.

I am part of a large-ish family, the oldest of four children. My mom had two babies (who are now simply lovely grownups) when I was old enough to help.  Consequently, I spent about 8 years yearning for solitude until I moved out of my parents house lickety split upon graduating from high school.

I was probably about sixteen when I started envisioning a future for myself in which I would take what I used to call “a string of lovers,” but what I meant was probably closer to “terms of serial monogamy lasting however long was useful spiritually, physically, or emotionally.”

I also used to say that I did not want babies because my mom had enough for both of us.  And I tried to get my tubes tied as a young adult, but was told that I could not.  They’re tied now–obliterated more like–and I’m still totally confused about whether having a baby when I did was a good thing, and whether it remains one.

I loved living alone.  I loved my 20s.  I loved living alone with a baby.  But living alone with a baby is exhausting, and call me short sighted and selfish, sex is a pretty excellent part of adulthood.  Unfortunately, getting laid as a single parent in safe, reasonable circumstances is almost impossible.

Enter my first-time-ever yearning for a romantic partner, a couple-three years of internet dating hijinks (most of which I feel rather stupid over and would prefer to forget), and the super-special Fella with whom I now live, and am proud to announce have been entangled with for nearing four years, and if you count the year for which I made him email me before I would meet him, closer to five.

And while I find the challenges of partnerhood and parenthood to be rewarding, I do miss solitude.  I miss the adventure of fresh lovers.  Some days, I want to stop the ride and change my mind.  I want to wind back time 7 or 8 years and talk myself into that adoption scheme I’d carefully cooked up but abandoned for reasons that made sense at the time.

So today, when I read this poem that used to fill me with hope for the future and certainty that it was all right not to want what all the other girls wanted, I am filled with nostalgia and the irony of the fact that I now have precisely what I never wanted, and I am mostly pleased, and even able to return to the ambition of my solitude.

It also strikes me as significant that Plath killed herself at 31, and I am 31.  This is my Plath year.

What specific passage or poem in literature influenced your thinking when you were developing your sense of yourself?  I’d love to hear your stories.

2 comments on “How Plath’s Neatly Laid Plan For My Love Life Went Wrong

  1. I know Plath’s grave well. It is planted in a grey and windy churchyard, not too far from the place that gave my inspiration her inspiration. Emily Bronte. All of her poetry. But especially :
    Riches I hold in light esteem
    And Love I laugh to scorn
    And lust of Fame was but a dream
    That vanished with the morn–
    And if I pray, the only prayer
    That moves my lips for me
    Is–”Leave the heart that now I bear
    And give me liberty.”

    Yes, as my swift days near their goal
    ‘Tis all that I implore
    Through life and death, a chainless soul
    With courage to endure!

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