04 March 2012

The Incompleteness of Sylvia Plath by Abigail George

Sylvia and Ted

‘In fact you’re saying that I’m about to ‘dig my own grave’ again, so here goes.’ Sylvia said, with a small, knowing smile.

‘Shouting is your drug, Sylvia, not mine. You’re just doing this to test my loyalty to you.’ Ted said, and threw his hands up in despair.

‘You’ve tested my love everyday of this marriage.’ She yelled.

‘I live for you and those two children. They’re my blood.’ He yelled back.

‘You want to leave me. I can’t cope. I won’t. I won’t be alone.’ She pouted and sulked.

‘Nobody’s asking you to go out on your own, to be by yourself and be a single mother to two small children. You’re putting words in my mouth.’ He counter-attacked.

‘Liar, don’t deny you’ve ever thought that it would be easier on both of us if you did.’

‘I never betrayed you, Sylvia. I never had an affair.’

Journal entry

The page frees me in a sense, in a way I can’t describe. I write and that’s my life. I am a mother and a wife and a lover and a poet and I feel that is also just a part of my life. Sometimes the two meet and sometimes they don’t. Sphere upon sphere upon another sphere. Poetry is a god to me. When I write I am a woman on her own. Reality is out of the picture and it doesn’t seem to count for anything really. It’s never enough for me. I stand and watch the busyness of life, observing nature and most of all human nature and I slowly empty out. It’s a useful exercise kind of like transcendental meditation. I know nothing about it. It’s just something I read as a girl in a book long ago when I was at college and at the time it was just too much for me to handle. The thought of going out of myself made me go numb and cold. It gave me the shivers. If I was alone I would go mad with grief and rage and I would be that girl again.

Sylvia and Ted

‘Sylvia, I’m here now, that should count for something.’

‘Betrayer. I don’t want you here. We don’t want you here. Go to that brazen woman. Declare your love for her. Hold onto her not me. She’s sane and attractive. Is she kind? She tolerates you. She’s got everything going for her. Go and have your love affair. I hope it inspires you. No, I hope she inspires you to greater heights.’

‘I regard you, Sylvia, as the most important person in my life. You are a nurturer and caregiver to my children, you are my wife, my life, my mate, my life partner. Why can’t you see that?’

‘Why can’t you see that I’m not blind or stupid? I have eyes. I can see. Do you think I don’t have the faith to know that maybe this is not going to work out happily ever after? I know you’ve been keeping secrets from me. Ted, a woman knows everything.’

Journal entry

I think I’ve been supportive. I’ve been encouraging. All I see is constellations in words and it is driving me sweetly out of my mind. I am the rabbit in Wonderland and there I go down that hole. There are people out there who have peace around them all the time. Why can’t I be one of those people? Life is a cruel trick. I want to escape from my reality. Women don’t set out to alienate men. It’s not their lot in life. Men and women are supposed to get along so they can walk down that sunny road, settle down and marry and have those kids and start the modern family. Sylvia and Ted are just complex, endlessly searching particles bumping into each other for clarity like oil and water, like acid rain. Now we, the both of this ‘us’ that he keeps on talking about have this one thing in common and that is poetry and the goal was for us to work together but now it is working against us. I never dreamed that this would be kismet.

Sylvia and Ted

‘I don’t want to talk to you any more. I hate you. Look what you’ve done. You’ve made me hate you. You’ve turned me into a scorned woman. I’m bitter and cold. You’re distant. You are so distant from me and you don’t even know it. Don’t even try to explain your way out of this. I saw the way you looked at her. The way she looked at you. It was in the way you spoke to each other, leaned in when the other one was talking. You’re driving me up brick walls and down brick walls and all the while I am hitting my head against them. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. I have this pounding headache from beating my pretty little blonde head against them.’

‘Sylvia, Sylvia, Sylvia. Listen to me. We can fix this. I can make ‘us’ right again.’

‘There is nothing, nothing in this world that you can do to bring the two of us back to where we came from, that perfect moment, that perfect start. You’re such a coward.’

Journal entry

Last night I was electric. I told him where to get off and come hell or high water I am going to stick to it. So sticking to my guns, that’s me. I put the universe under observation. To be a wonder, I sometimes long for that. To sparkle, to vibrate, to feel that there’s enough in the world, to bask in the revelation that there’s an abundance healing the world of all its iniquities through ritual, that there’s healing across family bloodlines. I long to be so innocent and pure and that I would have no knowledge of the raw energy of blood and guts in writing poetry. I go inside. Inside the deepness, the thoroughfare of the sense and sensibility of every female poet and what do I find there wherever I look. Boxes that are locked and keys that need to be found, a heart that needs to be connected to the material, the physical part of the universe to view even the light and dark battling it out.

Sylvia and Ted

‘Do you need more clarity than this? Do you really need another explanation? Do you want the truth? I want out of this mess, this relationship and this marriage, Ted. There is no more ‘us’. There isn’t a future for ‘us’. Who is this ‘us’ you keep on talking about?’

‘You don’t have to scream. I can hear you perfectly. Sylvia, be reasonable, be sensible.’

‘I’m sensible to the moon and back, reasonable until I’m all worn out with the very act of it. All I do is live for you, respond to your every thought and breath and movement. How agile you are Ted, no, you’re really an animal, to escape and not to escape, through your work and your lectures and other women. Your hunger inflames me. Don’t tell me that there have never been other women.’

Journal entry

Poetry has become my life work, my death of self, a force to be reckoned with steely-eyed determination, my love, my creative impulse and passion. It is the fruit of my spirit and the way of my soul. I have found the world, worlds really that exist in my consciousness, that state I can only reach when I am very still and quiet. The state I could reach when I was young. You only have that kind of inclination when you are young and you don’t live in a constant state of denial of fear, ego, and insecurity. So I have found consciousness, that clear and fluid stream of thought that tends to linger. The heavenly creation of a dream does not. And when you wake up in the morning there is action and vision and doing your ablutions, brushing the curls out of your hair, there’s a sense of orderliness in the routine. There is always something human. I must have courage now. This is not my first hurt.

Sylvia and Ted

‘Just say it. Go ahead. I am waiting for you to say it. There, say those words that will shield you from this manic rage, this episode, episode after episode. Sylvia, don’t let’s argue, don’t let’s fight in front of the children. You can cut through this tension with a knife. You’re the knife in this equation, Ted and you’re cutting my heart into little, tiny pieces until there’s nothing left of the love and respect I felt for you when I first met you. Presently I feel nothing but pity for you.’

‘I think you’re making yourself sick with worry and disgust. There’s no need for this unpleasantness.’

‘Do you know how much I crave your honesty?’

‘You want everything from me.’

‘Is that asking too much. Poor Ted. My expectations of you are too high. I’m disappointed in you.’

Journal entry

I see myself as a poet and a female writer second. There’s no contest. All of life is feeding ghosts that came before and after, running on your own personal velocity, the flow of poetic motion, a writer saying, ‘I need an ending to this’ blasting through his or her dream. Inside the mind/vision of a poet means going into the black and that there are always two possibilities within reach, life or death, feeding the gods of beasts or feeling ghosts near your fingertips, depression or feeling that you’re more normal, stable than the next person. I think I have found my ending. Once you are there you’re running, running with scissors (and didn’t even know it). For writers all of life is childhood continued. As a writer, now is the time of my life. Sylvia write everyday, that is the purest sum of parts of a writer. Don’t edit. Don’t censor yourself. Before you show ‘the work’ to anyone else, journal with intent.

Sylvia and Ted

‘The woman I knew, the woman I got married to was a big, beautiful dreamer with wisdom, life experiences, ideas filling up space and void, heart and mind, the battlefield of emptiness, valley and black sea of the sorrow. The woman I married also had a desolate feeling of loneliness and perhaps in some way I was attracted to that.’

‘You’ve hurt me so much. I don’t think I can ever forgive you for this.’

‘You said once that I make you happy. Sylvia, look at me when I talk to you. We had that connection when I first met you. You’re not alone, Sylvia. I said I would protect you.’

‘No, I have to shield myself from you, from all your airs and your charisma and your swagger. You don’t make me feel safe any more. I even believe that I don’t love you any more. I am not in love with Ted Hughes and I can scream it from the rooftops.’

Journal entry

Loss is a hard fall. You’re standing and then the world becomes something of a hallucination. Writing no longer is a task for me. Feeling broken is a splendiferous stain. Held up to the world it is my main inspiration. It packs it in, crosses thresholds, divides, and flaunts, what it is not, is anonymous. In my writing I don’t have to don a mask and mask my pain. I don’t have to filter my moods and then I turn to my reflection and say, ‘Bravo, Sylvia. You’ve done the impossible. Bravo.’ Perhaps it is true. I am behaving like a spoilt, coddled child. But if I take him back what does that say about me, all my principles, the family values I cherish. People talk and what if they do. It is none of my business what they think of me, of us, of this wounded relationship. Poets do not know how to live. We only know how to die.

Sylvia and Ted

‘Ha, whatever happened to the mutual admiration club when I adored the poet Ted Hughes?’

‘You sometimes astonish me. I think that everyone in the universe is not without a fair amount of damage and surely you can see that I’m not.’

‘It is just that they go undercover with it. You have decided that is not you and that is not the way forward for you.

‘I love you.’

‘Is that supposed to mean something to me?’

‘We took vows.’

‘Now you’re going to bring God into this.’

‘You’re attacking the wrong person, Sylvia. I haven’t committed any wrong.’

Journal entry

Daily I get glimpses of the portrait of a writer. It feels kind of surreal to me (more like a dream) especially the consciousness of the writer and the ‘thought-magic’ that we wield and that we harbour in our communities. In front of the writer lies a battlefield. The portrait’s skin and its flesh and bone and blood are made up of history and poverty, the divide between everything that came before, the divide that lies between the powerful and the vulnerable and a rich diversity. It houses the thought and the community I have spoken of before. At heart we writers’ are creative beings. The poet is the mystic being finding everything around him bearable and unbearable. Always reckoning those two forces of nature, those two cycles, seasons in the circle of life. I write because it’s my life. Writers write because it is their saving grace. I write because I don’t know what to do with the raw energy I have of blood and guts.

Sylvia and Ted

‘I haven’t committed adultery.’

‘You don’t know the meaning of the words humanity and right, Ted. I have the right to live my own life. The same way you do now. You feel you don’t have to answer to anyone even a wife. And once our life together was a beautiful dream and now it’s ghastly and miserable. We’ve failed at this. No, I’ve failed. There I’ve finally said it.’

‘Listen to me.’

‘Don’t you, you, you fool get it. I don’t want to listen to you. I don’t want you. I don’t need you. I don’t crave you. You’re not my emotional addiction. You’re not my responsibility.’

‘I am your husband.’

‘Then why don’t you start acting like one. A good husband, a good man for change or is it beyond your understanding and comprehension. Is it beneath you.’

Journal entry

I regard the world as delicious images crowding my mind, jostling for position and a fairy tale filled with angels and demons. There’s always entrapment by ghosts. Oh, how they want to belong, those kindred spirits and what they wouldn’t give to feel alive again. They vanish and appear at will and call our names in the wee hours of the morning scaring us half to death, they taste like air, smoke, honey, blood and they thirst for land. What they wouldn’t give to walk and talk, speak truths and be tourists?

Today has been the colour of rain. A pale, washed-out colour and a dreary mood were hanging in the air but then Frieda smiled at me and then everything was all right in the world again. I am like a wounded animal, a hungry bear in the wild and there are days when I feel as if I am a woman on a mission. A mission to find love and I can’t rest until I have rekindled it in the ones I have lost. Poetry is my voice, my light, my sport.

Sylvia and Ted

‘If you like you can stop pleasing yourself. You can stop acting as if you cared what is happening to me. As if someone like arrogant you could actually give a damn.’

‘You’re pinning me in a corner.’

‘Life is leaving the math and art and the creative spirit up to God. I have to look after my children and myself now.’

‘Our children. They’re ours Sylvia. We created them together. They were not conceived by immaculate conception.’

‘You’re getting mean now. Am I finally testing your patience?’

‘I haven’t left. I’m still here and that must mean something to you.’

‘Mr. Hughes, you’re a caveman. You’ve burned me up. I have to save myself from you with serious intent before all my strength leaves me.’

Journal entry

I must be obedient and forgiving. Isn’t that what a wife is supposed to be? He had the audacity to stand there and lecture me as if I was a bad person, a bad mother. Have I been a bad wife? I don’t know. Have I neglected my children and been too self-absorbed? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I don’t find enough time in the day any more to write like I used to. I remember how my husband used to help with little Frieda and especially Nicholas when I wanted some time to myself. But most importantly when I wanted to write. When I first met Ted all I wanted to do was make him happy. To see him smile, read his poetry, and what an effort he made by reading mine and giving me helpful advice just lifted my spirits. It felt like a dream being near him, listening to him and now I have lost that dream and I must dream another. I have lost him to another woman. Is she better than I am? Is she a lady? Is she the perfect woman?

Sylvia and Ted

‘The thing is Ted. In your quest for perfection, for this perfect life, perfect wife, perfect set-up of a family you forgot me. You forgot to take me along for the ride. Instead you took your mistress because let’s call a spade a spade, that is what she is.’

‘I love you.’

‘Once there was magic in your loving Ted but you’ve been telling tales. You’ve crossed the line.’

‘I love you.’

‘I’m not something to be possessed. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t own me.’

‘They’re my children and you’re not taking them away from me.’

‘You’ve lost and admit it. You just can’t handle it. You can’t handle me.’

‘It’s not a game, Sylvia. This is my life and my family you’re talking about.’

Journal entry

I want to be a poet. I want to a modern poet and I want to be the best modern poet out there. I just have to find a way out of this near-madness, this state of melancholy, the pathetic little me syndrome, the pain, and the sorrow that I feel comes upon me. I have to reach for the formidable and become that. I have to reach for the celestial. Depression is the sickness of our time. I see it all around me. In the sick, men who are stressed out by their jobs, women who have babies get depressed, people who leave home for brighter, greener pastures. Then there are those who retire, who get old, on the faces of immigrants and even the young people who go to university, people who get homesick for the loved ones they left behind. Ah, the pain of the mind the doctor would say to me. All you need is rest. You have a young family and they must keep you running up and down at all hours of the day. I’ve never stopped believing in that.

Sylvia and Ted

‘I’m not going anywhere, Sylvia. I don’t know what you have to forgive me for though.’

‘Well, you should have though about that before. You think you’re blameless. You have wronged me. You have wronged Frieda and you have wronged Nicholas.’

‘Don’t bring our children into this.’

‘Well, you should have thought about that before and don’t raise your voice to me.’

‘I wasn’t raising my voice.’

‘Then it was your tone. I don’t like the tone of your voice. I said, you should have thought about that before you decided to cheat on me with that woman who will ever be anonymous to my children.’

‘Where’s your head, Sylvia? What are you thinking?’

Journal entry

Maybe it is all in my mind, the pain of the mind. I went to the doctor. I was feeling out of sorts. Not the way I usually felt and all he said was that the children and their energy must wear me out. So I was put into a situation where I had to agree. It is just this belief that I am something special because I have this talent. ‘Don’t gush. It’s only poetry and most people find poetry obscure. Who reads it?’ My mother said. ‘Don’t be in awe of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you forget to see that God is in the details and all around you. Always remember that I love you for who you are. I don’t think he is the right kind of man for you.’ I have time now to reflect when I am on my own and he comes and watches the children for me and keeps an eye on them while I can get some work done. The writing of poetry does not come with instructions. Scientists dispel myths. Poets have to reckon with truth.

Sylvia and Ted

‘You can hit me with a stick and beat me over the head with it but I promise you I won’t feel a thing. I’m done with you. We’re through, through.’

‘I’m not treating you like a child, Sylvia but as unbearable as this situation is for you it is for me.’

‘I’m unbearable when I’m sad. I’m unbearable when I’m moody or hungry or jealous of other women or your work, which is your excuse for everything. You are a lost and little brutal man or boy, take your pick who has lost his toys or playing at cowboys and crooks with his toy gun or something. Why am I analysing you? I love seeing what I can do to you for a change. Nothing’s going to get my suspicious mind down. Not you, not politics, not all the president’s men and the queen’s allies, not the British Empire and just not anything.’

Journal entry

There’s something sensual about writing and the order and the routine in it. I wish it could last forever but it doesn’t. It’s temporary like the sun-age on the surface of a ripe cloudburst. I feel as if I’m an alcoholic, hippie, or a druggie, while I experience the sensation of the morning quiet. I take it all in. My consciousness becomes a dream factory that I am still trying to find all the answers to. It must be very cold where he is tonight, wherever he is. I don’t care where he is and who his with. If I did it might mean that I still love him, that I covet feeling the warmth of him beside me at night? He makes my heart and nerves still and soft. He fills my head with accusations and lies and every time that we come into contact now, I feel like a chip of glass. I must keep my chin up and my head held high but these days I’m prone to panic. What will guide me to the courage I was once accustomed too?

Sylvia and Ted

‘You have lost me forever.’

‘I’m not going to and have not taken you seriously when you are in this kind of mood.’

‘Are you saying that between you and me, you are the world’s best parent, best father? That’s laughable.’

‘Sylvia, don’t go too far. You know that it’s not good for you.’

‘Father of the year is your ego still intact? Ever since I’ve known you, our married life together, everything has been as illusion.’

‘What are you feeling? Despair? Are you angry? Speak to me. Tell me what’s troubling you.’

‘You won’t understand. It’s too deep. How on earth can you fathom disillusionment?’

Journal entry

When, I enter the body of poetry a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction washes over me. There are explosions of tiny waves behind my eyes. My soul has made it thus far. I have to end the poverty in my mind but I find a cold comfort in the not knowing of things. If depression happened in nature what would we call it then? Would it be organic in origin? In a marriage when it ends who is to blame for its demise. Who is the culprit? On the approaching betrayal in any relationship I have this to say. Lock down your heart dear and look away. It means that there may be something incomplete in the moving against the current of love. It means to love and die simultaneously. I think there’s a theory behind light. When my body feels full of that stuff, the light, and the hidden energies in my aura I feel as if I have got free tickets to the centre of winter.

'The Incompleteness of Sylvia Plath' was written by Abigail George.

Copyright © Abigail George 2012.

I am a writer of short stories, articles, personal essays, a memoirist, diarist, grant writer and poet who was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1979. I studied film and television production for a short while at Newtown Film and Television School in Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa, which was followed by brief stints as a trainee at a production house, studying Business Administration through correspondence, Bible School at Word of Faith Christian Centre in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and studying creative writing through the Leisure Study Group’s Writing School via correspondence again.

I have been published widely in print and online in journals and magazines in South Africa namely Litnet and on Litnet’s Blog, Sun Belly Press, Botsotso, Carapace, New Contrast, Kotaz, Timbila, Echoes Literary Journal, Upbeat and Tribute and online in Africa in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Turkey and Zimbabwe and internationally in the United States, England, Finland and Canada.

I have received two grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg. In 2005 for a poetry anthology entitled, Africa, where art thou? and again in 2008 for manuscript development for a collection of short stories entitled, The Origins of Smoke and Mirrors. In 2010 I was published in the following anthologies; Poems for Haiti (Poets Printery), Animal Antics, and Soulfully Seeking (Poetry Institute of Africa).


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