Rough thoughts which probably don't make much sense:
I fell in love with these poems twenty years ago when I heard Ned Rorem's song cycle which uses thRough thoughts which probably don't make much sense:
I fell in love with these poems twenty years ago when I heard Ned Rorem's song cycle which uses them as text. As a 20-year-old morose young woman, I wanted desperately to sing them, but they were not really written for my voice. I'd known Plath's poetry, of course, since I was a black-turtleneck-wearing morose teenager. She and Anne Sexton were committed to memory, and I did the obligatory "Girl, Interrupted" stint to make the image complete. I still like the more traditional and well-known Plath better. Who can beat "Lady Lazarus" or "Mad Girl's Love Song?" Well, actually, many can and do beat them (Yeats' "Lake Isle of Innisfree" jumps immediately to mind,) but the poems of Ariel still stand on their own legs, even if they are uncomfortable in their shoes.
It was a different time, and women were very different. As a woman who grew up in the heat of the 70s, with everyone telling girls that "[we:] could be President some day" and the myth of bra burnings, and Gloria Steinem & her like getting the ERA as close as it's EVER been to being passed by Congress, my future seemed like it would be perfect -- or at least perfectly unmarked by the stigma of lacking a penis.(heh!)
For many years, I assumed that the Equal Rights Amendment had actually been passed, but then my belief in equality was trashed by the unfortunate truth. Even with a female Speaker of the House, American women are shockingly unequal in many ways, and Congress -- full of more women with every year -- doesn't seem to want to do anything about it, nor do the women of 2010.
That's the place that these poems take me -- the strange place where the women of 2010 live, whether they choose to see it or not.
These poems feel strangely uncomfortable and uncomfortably familiar in many ways. I agree, in part, with Adrienne Rich's sentiment: "We have had enough suicidal women poets [and their:] self-destructiveness." Yet, if I'm honest, and I do try to be, some of these feelings ring disturbingly true. My bitterness at the idea that the world would change and women would be completely equal by the time I reached 12, let alone 42 -- the fact that women my age have been dragged back and forth through various versions of "feminism", and the fact that women as a whole seem to have backed off from the issue for fear of being labeled unfeminine or femi-Nazis, is troubling to think about. So most of us simply go along and get along and try not to think about the amazing contradiction in which we all live.
So when Plath discusses the imposition of a male will on her whole being, it should sound completely foreign to me, a professional woman in 2010, yet I can reach to any magazine in the waiting room to see a Photo-shopped young sex kitten, lips parted, waiting in orgasmic dewy perfection for some man to come rescue her (and buy the obligatory car/deodorant/jeans/soup/whatever that comes with her.) And that sex kitten is what makes Plath's passages like the oft-quoted bit from "The Jailer" below so disturbing and unsettling and revolting yet true all at the same time:
I have been drugged and raped. Seven hours knocked out of my right mind Into a black sack Where I relax, foetus or cat, Lever of his wet dreams.
I'm stuck trying to explain how that supposedly-horrible passage is so different from the nearly naked, dewy, wet-lipped woman-child selling men everything from soup to sex today. Stuck because it doesn't seem that different to me.
There is a lot more to discuss about these poems, not the least of which is exactly how Plath actually wanted them arranged, what her husband and daughter have done to them since, which poems "belong" to the cycle and which don't, but I'm not a literary critic. I'm a woman living in the ever confusing world of "you can be whatever you want... so long as you aren't too fat, too old, too ugly AND ALSO you'd better be sexy and competent and feminine and not a bitch when you are in charge of anyone else at work or otherwise." I feel like "they" are consistent in wanting me to shut up and have a good time, only now I'd better be able to do so while running a company, in high heels which make my own fairly capable-yet-shapely legs about as comfortable as these poems.