One Life: Sylvia Plath (1932-63): foremother poet

Reveries Under the Sign of Austen, Two

Photo taken during Plath’s college years — this is one of my favorites (not in the exhibit)

One of several self-portraits in the exhibit — she is imitating the popular “abstract” style of the 1950s

Pursuit By Sylvia Plath

Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.

There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him;
His greed has set the woods aflame,
He prowls more lordly than the sun.

Most soft, most suavely glides that step,
Advancing always at my back;
From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:
The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.

Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,
Haggard through the hot white noon.
Along red network of his veins
What fires run, what craving wakes?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land
Condemned by our ancestral fault,
Crying: blood, let blood be spilt;
Meat must glut his mouth’s…

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I had a dream, quite interesting and absorbing, but only remember a fragment of it. I remember waking up from the dream and feeling intensely interested, absorbed, engrossed in the dream, and its meaning. After waking I lost that feeling. I lost the memory of the dream except for one fragment: I dreamed that I was standing on one side of a small, shallow brook, and I was about to cross it. There was, as a bridge to walk over to cross the brook, a very old, old gravestone: shaped with a curve on the top and with printing engraved in it, which I could not decipher; the gravestone was laid across the brook as a bridge to make crossing safer and easier. Although the brook was small and shallow, and did not represent any danger, it would have been hard or almost impossible to cross it without the bridge, which in this case was a gravestone. I can’t remember if there were other people with me waiting to cross too or if I was alone. That part of the memory was unclear.

I wonder what this dream means. I fairly straightforward explanation would be that the gravestone represents death, and that death is just a small and easy crossing to the other side of something. Also, there was no real danger in the crossing; for the stream was small and shallow, and even falling in would produce perhaps a little discomfort but no serious harm. There was nothing to be afraid of, except possibly the idea of death itself as symbolised by the gravestone.

I’m not sure if that’s actually the true interpretation; but I do wonder why I dreamed this NOW, in my life. Does it mean I am going to die soon? Does it mean I have been thinking some about death in order to prepare myself for the deaths of my parents, and also sometimes think of it in terms of myself; sometimes, in a really bad mood, I have wished I would die (when I was depressed)–or at other times I think of how many more years I might have left to live, assuming I live out a normal life span; maybe thirty good, productive years to accomplish all my writing that I want to do. And anything else I might want to accomplish. But still when thinking about my life I have reached or passed that age when instead of life stretching endlessly before me, life seems to have a finite number of years left in which to accomplish what I need and want to do. From the cradle to the grave. Our lives are a brief stretch in between. And all the philosophical questions that come up for us humans about why we are here, etc., what is life all about. I certainly don’t know all the answers but I also confess I have not spent too much time thinking on this.

Try to remember to mention to Susan about the gravestone dream.

Sometimes I am surprised at myself. I don’t think about death a lot, and am not preoccupied with it, but I do think of it from time to time. I don’t always think that I want to die; that was only when I was severely depressed. But I sometimes think of it in connection with my parents’ eventual deaths and sometimes relfect on my own death.

The writing that I did in these pages about sleep, oblivion, sweet Lethe(forgetting:sleep or death)–I read it over and realise that death is a theme.

I remember once in James Tate’s writing workshop, I showed a poem I’d written–I think I might drive forever toward some dark place–that seemed to have a theme of death which I had been not consciously aware of, that only came out in the poem, and that worked well. I think this happens often in poems; it is a valuable part of the process of writing them… It meant a lot to me that James Tate really liked my writing, that he said yes to working with me on my thesis.
It was unfortunate the set of circumstances I was under that prevented me from having the opportunity to finish the MFA and work with James Tate on my thesis. I don’t think I should blame myself at all; I do blame myself but don’t think I should; I was still quite ill psychiatrically, and it is to my credit that I even went to grad school at all, and that I could withstand the stress of certain teachers thinking I wasn’t doing well; I did get the degree in the end, and that’s what counts. I am the proud owner of an M.A. degree in Literature.
I remember how I felt about James Tate, how when I talked to Anne Greif about him she thought I had a little crush on him; and I suppose that was true, but it embarrassed me; Also, I am not sure if Anne Greif really recognized the extent of my strong identity as a lesbian. It only solidified in later years. I wonder what Anne would think of me now.

Although I am not 100%, I am WAY better than I was at the time she knew me. I tend to concentrate and focus on my problems so much, my current problems and problems from last year and the years before, that I forget that everything is going along fairly okay for me now.


I have never before had an African violet, and this is the first plant I have owned in several years. I did receive gorgeous bouquets of cut flowers several times from my writing teacher/friend, once from a  florist and other times from her garden. The florist bouquet arrived upon publication of my chapbook, PAPER CRANES, when it went on the list of Best Seller on Amazon for a while. I was thrilled to get cut flowers, as well as to get home grown tomatoes and other salad stuff. I really enjoyed the big salads made for me by my friend/mentor. I love, love, love flowers and plants, but had not owned a plant in a long time because I feared I would inadvertently kill it.

So when I was recently given an African violet, I set out to take good care of it. Perhaps the plant knows I like it a lot, for it is responding to my clutzy attentions.I knew that water could not be allowed to spot the leaves, so watered it at the lip of its pot, not quite knowing why there were no drainage holes. I asked a couple of people and nobody knew about care for it. I was considering asking FB people or looking up on the internet, when at last I found someone who knows about them.

The African violet should be watered from the bottom of its pots. Lo and behold there were two pots purposely nested inside each other. Pull them apart and put water inside the outer pot. Then, don’t let it drain as with other kinds of plants, but rather nest the inner (green)  pot inside the outer (white) pot. The plant likes to suck up water through its roots.

I felt as though I should have known this. But why would I know, until the secret was revealed?   Now I feel more confident. I am glad the plant is doing well despite my lack of expertise. Lush and green, it graces my window.

I began to wonder  if and when more white flowers would come along. It did have one white flower when I got it. Perhaps I will ask or look it up. Or, wait until the white flower surprises me.





Fiction | June 30, 2017
African Violets
Emma Bushnell
I should move the African violets. Apparently direct sunlight will kill them, there on the ledge. So said my date, a man who works at a plant nursery.
“It looks like you’re using cold water,” he diagnosed. “Room temp only, in the saucer. Let them drink through the roots.”
“I always kill my plants,” I acknowledged.
He asked with penetrating seriousness: “are you an over waterer or an under waterer?”
I became unmoored. Some dark part of my inner self was about to be laid bare to both of us for the first time. “An under waterer.”
He nodded. There will never be anything real between us, now that we both know I’m not maternal.
I’ll move the violets to the table. They’ll still die, but I’ll not be cruel.