Beauty Out of Sorrow: Reflections of a Young Sylvia Plath

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 –

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Yves Deligne in Portraits B)

47 thoughts on “Beauty Out of Sorrow: Reflections of a Young Sylvia Plath

  1. Great post! Your descriptions of the passages you’ve selected are so eloquent. I can particularly relate to the passage wherein Plath writes: “If I didn’t think, I’d be much happier.” My own mind is like a crazed monkey swinging from tree branch to tree branch and occasionally flinging handfuls of poo at unsuspecting passers-by. But meditation helps. And writing definitely helps.

  2. Fantastic! I really enjoy your simple, thoughtful and accurate analyses of her entries.

    I’d really like to read your views on some of Plath’s more enigmatic writing; perhaps when you’ve read a little more about her life, you could unravel some of her later journal entries?

    But I definitely want to read more of your posts about her journals!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful words.

      I will definitely be reflecting on Plath’s journal writings in upcoming posts. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to read through them in order or jump around to try to capture some of the breadth of her life.

      If you have a particular period you’d like me to explore, I’d be happy to reflect on it. Let me know.

      Thanks again.

  3. I’m also currently reading her Journal. It fascinates me and makes me feel all sorts of emotions. Mostly just a closeness to her, because so many of the things she had experienced, I have too. Some emotions that I never knew how to articulate, she found the words for. This entry was great (: It has reminded me (as if I ever actually needed reminding) why Sylvia is one of the greatest writers in American history..

  4. Thanks for directing me here; this has really inspired me to read the Unabridged Journals, assuming your excerpts are anything to go by! I’ve only read The Bell Jar and a few poems, always intended to read more. I’m a young, female literature student, so it’s practically hard-wired into my genes to have a Sylvia Plath phase. I’m currently obsessively listening to her reading of ‘Daddy’ – I utterly adore her voice.

    • Thank you for dropping by and leaving your comment.

      I’m a middle-aged male writer and, while I read “The Bell Jar” when I was 16, I think my Plath phase has just begun.

      Thanks again.

  5. I really enjoyed your post, Plath is a fascinating figure for us writers to study. Personally, I adore the poetic qualities that ooze into her prose. Always makes me think of the quote “Prose is words in the best order. Poetry is the best words in the best order.”… for me Plath is one of the few writers who writes prose as though it were poetry. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on her short stories, they make a great bridge between her fiction and her journals as they are highly personal. I’ll look forward to reading more of your blog!

    • I’ll have to put Plath’s short stories on my reading list. I’m always looking for good ones.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Cleo. I hope you enjoy other posts as well.

  6. Thank you for dropping by my blog. I am happy to read a post discussing a young Sylvia Plath.
    I am going to follow you and keep up the good work.

    • Thank you. I will follow your work as well. I pray we can be mutually supportive.

      P.S. I’m planning a post tomorrow about Plath’s early wrestling with how becoming a wife might impact her writing.

  7. Thank you for checking out my blog; I really appreciate the feedback.
    One of the major reasons that I read is to get inside artistic minds, and Sylvia Plath is one of the most interesting figures for anyone interested in literature. I look forward to more of your thoughts on her memoir.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I’m finding that Plath, even at the tender age of 18 was both incredibly self-aware and uniquely qualified to express herself in poetic language.

      Thanks for dropping by and I’ll look forward to seeing you again.

  8. Thank you so much for commenting on my post! I’m glad you pointed me to this. I started reading the journals about a year ago, but then I got too busy to finish them. I may have to get my hands on a copy.

    • Thank you for dropping in and your thoughtful comment.

      Yes, there’s so much in Plath’s journals. I’ve spent a week with them and have only made it into Plath’s 19th year. There is so much to treasure, I don’t want to rush.

      Come back any time.

  9. I am looking forward to more post. Thank you for stopping by my blog and i am glad here , through your blog , it is nice to see and find many people sharing Interest on Silviya Plath. 🙂

  10. Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed your discussion of her journals, it’s well written. I read The Bell Jar in university, I’d love to read her journals. Cheers

  11. Thanks for commenting on my post. It seems that Plath finds sorrow in a lot of subjects, and it’s nice to find one of her happier poems, like You’re.

  12. Thank you for leading me here :-). I really liked the way you have contorted the writings of Sylvia Plath with your analysis. I really enjoyed your post for the fact that it was very flowing. I always liked her poems as they are based on unusual yet very real human subjects like death, illness, sorrow, etc. May be her poems on mental instability would be interesting to analyze.

    I would be looking forward for more posts from you !!
    Cheers!!

    • Thank you very much for your kind words.

      While I’m reflecting on her journals now, I will no doubt get around to her poetry in time, particularly those poems that explore mental instability.

      Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing you around.

  13. Thanks for dropping by on my blog, and I love your quotes from Plath too. Makes me curious to read her journals too. I think writing does make us process our emotions and hardships, but I think the great writers of this world were also not afraid to look these emotions and feelings up. I have experienced this myself last year, I was a person who didn’t want to live up to my feelings, but I do now and my writing has become better. (if I may say so ;)) but that doesn’t make it easier. Life is sometimes shitty but writing about it, makes it clearer and lighter to bear.

  14. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughtful comments about Sylvia Plath. She was such an amazing woman. The quotes you’ve highlighted here have me really yearning to seek out her journals. I’ve read several excerpts, but need to get myself a full copy and dive in.

  15. Thank you for the lovely post and quotes. You know, I’ve been wanting desperately to read Plath’s journal for years… I received a copy a couple of years ago, and I can’t seem to go beyond a few pages. I find her journal writings to be too rich, the way sticky toffee pudding is rich. Every bite is tortuously good. I feel, I drip with envy after every page. Her writings are spectacular, yes? Your review makes me want to attempt to read it again.

  16. It’s amazing, considering her emotional turmoil, that Plath was able to create as much as she was. There are many with similar emotional issues that have a hard time making anything at all, much less anything worth while. Sometimes I wonder if her strong emotions, her inability to see anything with just one viewpoint–indeed, she could look at the same item with drastically different feelings from moment to moment–opened things up for her imagination a wee bit.

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