Listening to: Fugitive, Indigo Girls, Swamp Ophelia
Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963
Selected and Edited with Commentary by Aurelia Schober Plath
This book made me so very sad. I put it down with a heavy heart and haven't even wanted to explore how I felt about it, for a while at least. The ending, well, it just killed me.
In this collection of letters sent home by Sylvia Plath, we are shown the subject viewed by her family, and boy, do we just fall in love with her. Sylvia was a delightful person, very mature for her age always, insightful, and talented. She was also very ambitious. In these years, we see how she sets goals for herself and her writing. In her late teens she was sending out articles to Seventeen, and was a published author of short stories before she made it into Smith College. We see her struggles through the letters, stories of dates with boys and always a dedication to her art. She agonized endlessly about her works being sent out, always with great excitement and fear all the same. She set timetables and developed relationships with editors. Her ambition was strong, and we see how fiercely she pursued her writing goals.
Once I read comments from fans about the movie based on her life (see Sylvia), and some were angry that the movie only starts around the time Sylvia meets Ted Hughes, who became her husband. Her fans were angry at the injustice, because by only looking at that part of her life, you miss all the stuff that came before, and that is the stuff that was remarkable about Sylvia. If you only saw her in relation to Hughes, you missed her achievements before him, such as the attainment of a Fullbright scholarship to earn her M.A. at Cambridge and the scores of published poems and stories she had under her belt before she married the man who would outshine her and then walk out on her, leaving her to face her demons alone.
Sylvia was determined to be a writer, and not just any writer, but a Writer, one of significance and fame. Her marriage with Ted Hughes complimented that dream, as he was also a published poet some few years older than her, and who challenged her and pushed her as a poet. Her letters talk about the help he gave her in terms of studying for her masters degree and inspiring many euphoric poems involving nature.
After I had watched the movie "Sylvia", I had been mad for three days over Ted Hughes. After this book, I can't say that was any different. However, I did understand things a lot better. I see why she had fallen in love with him, and stayed in love with him. There is so much happiness in their early years. Sometimes I wondered, while reading this book, how much happiness was worth the unhappy ending? Does the means justify the end?
And poor Sylvia, she put up such a courageous front. Her letters are always positive, and full of hope, and you wonder how this was a girl who suffered from depressive thoughts. Was it a shield to her family of her true deeper struggles? In the commentary by her mother, we learn of an episode Sylvia had where she had to withdraw from school due to mental breakdown, around the time she was rejected for a prestigious writing class.
This episode was clear in S.'s mind as something to avoid, and also perhaps she wanted to not worry her mother with. Perhaps her later struggles with Ted were something she didn't feel comfortable writing home about. Problems arose when Ted began having an affair, and S. was very jealous and sad about it. During this time, she never wrote news home about it, but it was readily apparent when her mom came to visit them for that summer. Shortly after, Sylvia Plath divorced Ted Hughes, which was very difficult for her financially. She retained full care of their two young children, Frieda and Nick. (Coincidentally, and tragically, during the time I was reading this book, news broke that Nicolas Plath,"Nick", committed suicide in Alaska).
After this break up of her ten year marriage, she struggled to make ends meet and continue writing. It was the coldest winter in London's history. Keeping warm, she would write in the morning before the kids rose. She was extremely sick of the flu, nearly died of it during this time, but this was also the most productive few months of her life. She was considered a quite famous poet in London around this time period, and had meetings with editors and two books in publication...when the book ends abruptly with the arrival of sad news for the mother of this wonderful woman.
The last letter in the book was dated February 4, 1963, and is full of assurances that things are looking up, she has plans for the future, she wants her mom not to worry about her. This last letter ends with the mention that she will see a doctor referred to her who will "help me weather this difficult time".
This is how the book ends (which is the most tragic part, but if you don't like spoilers, you don't have to read it).
On February 12, 1963, my sister received a cablegram from Ted, telling us "Sylvia died yesterday" and giving details of the time and place of the funeral service.
Her physical energies had been depleted by illness, anxiety and overwork, and although she had for so long managed to be gallant and equal to the life experience, some darker day than usual had temporaily made it seem impossible to pursue.
more on that later
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Friday, May 01, 2009
HORSE OF MY HEART
(continuation of yesterday's essay)
Wesley drove away and I looked at this animal, caked with dried sweat from his earlier adventure. His tail was a solid matt. He had mud clinging to his knees.
First thing I did is give him a bath. I spent an hour and a half on his tail alone, working the tangles out with ShowShine. I wanted to give him some time to get used to the place before I tried to ride him. When Wesley left, it was with these parting words:"Now remember, don't ride him without a helmet. And a curb bit, and a metal tie-down, to keep him from rearing. And only ride him western."
Sure, that would be the safest. However, he was my horse now, and I wanted him on my terms. My terms were trust and love. The first two weeks I spent just grooming him, walking him around the place, and working on his issue with his hooves. I used positive reinforcement to get him to accept having his feet handled, and had gotten to a point where I could hold his hooves between my legs, like the farrier would, for as long as I wanted, and knock on the edges, the way the farrier's hammer would when shoeing him.
Finally, after these two weeks, I had a dream in which I rode him, and I woke and went straight to the barn to try it, again, on my terms. I brought my english saddle. The english saddle has less safety features and more body contact alone with the horse, and leaves the rider a little more vulnerable. I also brought my own bridle, fitted with a snaffle bit. The snaffle is much gentler in the horse's mouth than a curb, and plus allows one to either rein the horse directly (with two hands), or neck rein (one hand). It gives a softer connection with the delicate edges of the horse's mouth.
This first ride, I also did not wear my helmet. I wanted complete trust between us, and therefore I had to trust him completely. He did not let me down. It was a beautiful ride. We walked, trotted, and cantered in circles along the fenceline of small grassy paddock. I was so proud that our connection had remained intact, and happy that I was finally riding my very own horse, the first and only horse I have ever owned.
I kept him at this first barn for more than half a year. I came out to visit him every day, because I was responsible for cleaning his stall and feeding him in the evenings. When he would see me approaching his stall, he would nicker for me, a tone that horses reserve when they see something they have affection for (usually used in regards to people, especially ones bearing food, and a horse's own offspring).
I rode him almost daily, and bathed him often. His coat became slick and shiny. Sometimes I would have a lot of studying to do, but I would bring it with me to the barn, put his halter on, and lead him to a shady area with a lot of grass where he could graze while I read my textbooks and sometimes paused to look at him. I trusted him enough to just let the lead rope rest over his withers while he grazed, comfortable in the fact that he would rather be here with me than, say, running off towards the feeder to the main highway just in front of his barn.
I chose a farrier for him that would work only in gentle methods, and never hit him, but yet never let him get away with silliness, either. The first time they (a husband and wife team) worked on him, it took them an hour just to trim his hooves. He didn't need shoes out here, and luckily for all of us, he had slow growing, tough hooves that could be trimmed just every three months instead of every six weeks.
By the time I left that town about a year and a half later, that couple could trim him in the fifteen minutes typical of most horses, without any foolish business on his part, or drugs. He had been ridden english, western, and bareback. Often times I would be done riding him in the saddle, and just lean over and uncinch it, slide back behind the end of it, pull it off his back and lean it on the fence, and scoot forward them to ride him around bareback, without him even moving a muscle. There were times maybe people at the barn were just goofing off with their horses, or I just wanted a quick ride, and I would tie the end of his lead line to his halter, jump on his bare back, and go. Sometimes I fooled around and rode backwards, or just laid across his back while he grazed in the pasture.
I also took him over fences, over poles lying on the ground, galloped him along the race track, and took him over the hunt course in the middle. He was a trooper, always did everything I asked and more. He learned some complicated arena moves, like sidepassing and flying lead changes. I put all my friends up on his back, most of them with little experience, but no trouble riding him at all.