Two new Sylvia Plath poems have been discovered, and they are chilling
People often roll their eyes at young women going through what is often called their “Sylvia Plath phase,” but for most of us, that phase never really ends. Her words continue to speak to us as we mature past the age she met her tragic and untimely death. That’s why we were excited to read the news that two previously unseen poems by Plath have been discovered and published.
The Guardian reported last week that the two poems were found by Plath researchers Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg. The academics deciphered them from a piece of carbon copy paper found in the back of an old notebook. The carbon paper also bears traces of a typed table of contents for Hughes’ collection The Hawk in the Rain, two more poems by Plath (“The Shrike” and “Natural History”), as well as another poem that may also be Plath’s. If you don’t remember how carbon copy paper worked with typewriters and why that must have been a chore even though the scholars used Photoshop, here is a history.
The first poem revealed, “To a Refractory Santa Claus,” is about Spain and “consists of two 11-line verses and pleads for escape from the cruelties of an English winter to the fresh fruit and sunshine of warmer climes,” according to The Guardian. The next poem, “Megrims,” is a monologue addressed to a doctor by a narrator experiencing “irregular incidents.”
The scholars agree that the works are inferior to her more developed later work (and who among us poets doesn’t cringe on Plath’s behalf when we consider anyone finding our first drafts and early work after we are gone?), but they said the poems show traces of her future voice, especially the style of her most famous collection, Ariel.
The scholars also found a group of poems by Plath’s husband, poet Ted Hughes, about his reaction to her death — including a poignant one about her last day that begins “I know you walked in the snow alone.” They were written for inclusion in his collection Birthday Letters, which was about their relationship, one that had ended shortly before Plath’s death. They also found several unseen photographs of Plath at an archive in the Lilly Library at Indiana University.
The new poems, along with other new documents and photographs of Plath and Hughes, can be found in Crowther and Steinberg’s book These Ghostly Archives, which has been released in the U.K., but will not be released in the U.S.A. until October of this year. In addition, a collection of her recently discovered letters to psychiatrist Ruth Barnhouse will be released later this year, and Kirsten Dunst’s film version of Plath’s novel The Bell Jar is scheduled for 2018.
Crowther and Steinberg said they don’t expect these poems and photographs to be the end. He told The Guardian that he has a “gut feeling” that more will be found.
“This requires hope and faith, possibly delusion. But I do feel there are caches of papers still to find the light of day," he said.
We have hope and faith that he is right.