I’ve been reading through The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and thoroughly enjoying it. I am enjoying it so much, I keep going back to re-read portions of it that really speak to me and may never finish it. Oh well.
The journals begin the summer of Plath’s 18th year, as she is working on the family farm and awaiting entrance to Smith College in the fall. She writes the first entry after a day in the strawberry fields. It is a wonderful celebration of life from the perspective of youth (yet with wisdom beyond her years).
I may never be happy, but tonight I am content… When one is tired at the end of the day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more…
Yet, the simplicity of life on the farm (and particularly the demands of domestic chores) fail to capture Plath’s vibrant imagination. She is torn between the tediousness of daily living and the roller-coaster ride of her moods (and cries out to a God in whom she doesn’t believe).
God, if this is all it is, the ricocheting down the corridor of laughter and tears? Of self-worship and self-loathing? Of glory and disgust?
She finds bittersweet joy in the exuberance of youth. After a group of children place flowers in her hair, she later reflects –
And all my hurts were smoothed away. Something about the frank, guileless blue eyes, the beautiful young bodies, the brief scent of the dying flowers smote me like the clean quick cut of a knife. And the blood of love welled up in my heart with a slow pain.
Plath’s musings reveal much deeper thought and feeling than typical teenage angst (though it may be she is simply better at expressing it). Yet, she wonders if just this depth of thought and emotion (as well as a curse of estrogen) robs her of happiness.
If I didn’t think, I’d be much happier. If I didn’t have any sex organs, I wouldn’t waver on the brink of nervous emotions and tears all the time.
It is through artistic expression, particularly writing, that Plath finds relief. It does not guarantee her happiness (though sometimes it thrills her), but it gives her meaning.
I am justifying my life, my keen emotion, my feeling, by turning it into print.
There is a redemptive quality in her writing. In it, her pain finds purpose.
Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.
Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.
For more reflections from Plath’s journals, see –