Sylvia Plath's Childhood Home

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Boston Literary Landmarks/Sylvia Plath's Childhood Home
City of Boston Arts
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The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.

Audio Commentary:

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood on October 27th, 1932. Her first home is still standing and can be seen today. It was here that Plath is said to have spent the happiest years of her life. She describes them as "sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle -- beautiful, inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth." During this time Plath demonstrated amazing prowess as both a writer and an artist. At eight years old she published her first poem in the Boston Herald's children's section. 

In 1950, Plath started attending Smith College and although she excelled academically, she began to suffer from an extreme mental illness. In school, she wrote to her mother that, "The world is splitting open at my feet like a ripe, juicy watermelon." Three years later Plath made her first attempt at suicide by crawling under her house and taking her mother's sleeping pills. Plath began therapy after she was unable to focus on her studies at college. Her mother took her to a psychiatrist, but in the 1950s the study of mental health was still crude, and the psychiatrist subjected Plath to electroshock treatments, which did not help her condition.

Plath met Ted Hughes in 1956. Hughes was a fellow poet who she described as "a singer, story-teller, lion and world-wanderer." The couple married the same year, and then Plath set out working on a novel she had begun in school. However, her job as a faculty member at Smith College drained her of the motivation and energy she needed for the novel. In 1958, two of Plath's poems, "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" and "Nocturne," were published in the New Yorker, but Plath was still disappointed with her slow progress in the writing world and began to slip into depression once more.

In 1959, Plath turned inward and began to develop the writing style for which she would eventually become known. Plath's style was described by former poet laureate, Robert Pinsky as, "Thrashing, hyperactive, perpetually accelerated, the poems of Sylvia Plath catch the feeling of a profligate, hurt imagination, throwing off images and phrases with the energy of a runaway horse or a machine with its throttle stuck wide open." In 1962, after Plath gave birth to a second child, she discovered that her husband was having an affair and in her depression, burnt the only manuscript of her second novel.  

Plath and Hughes separated in September 1962, and while trying to deal with the pain of the breakup, she entered into one of her most prolific writing periods in which she produced 25 poems that have been called the best of her career. In the early morning of February 11th, 1963, Plath committed suicide by placing her head in a gas oven. She was 30 years old. 

This is a dark house, very big. / I made it myself, / Cell by cell from a quiet corner, / Chewing at the grey paper, / Oozing the glue drops, /Whistling, wiggling my ears, / Thinking of something else. -- Sylvia Plath, "Dark House"

Plath's poetry exposed the underbelly of anguish beneath the tranquil surface of American culture in the conservative 50s. Hers was a roaring and powerful voice that still speaks to those dealing with pain and sadness today.

Cove photo credit: Fernanda Alyssa via Flickr.

Boston Literary Landmarks

Sylvia Plath's Childhood Home

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