Today marks the 50th anniversary of the American poet Sylvia Plath’s death. In the early hours of 11th February 1963 she committed suicide by gassing herself in the kitchen of her Primrose Hill home.
Plath is buried in the new graveyard of Thomas a Beckett church, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire. I visited her last resting place in October 2011. It was an emotional experience. On the one hand, I felt very privileged to be able to be there as I admire her poetry and fiction greatly; on the other, given that she was separated from her husband (the poet Ted Hughes) when she died, I also felt that she ought to have been taken back to her family in America.
The conventional wisdom is that Sylvia Plath never recovered from the death of her father, when she was nine years old, even developing an Elektra Complex. When one comes face-to-face with a grave, however, one really ought to step out of linear time with its need and desire to ask the whys and wherefores of a soul’s life and enter into a more meaningful ‘conversation’ with the deceased or one’s god. For example, in the form of a prayer or a remembrance of the person’s life.
As I stood at Plath’s grave and saw the rocks atop it and pens in the jar on it I found a lesson in how death cannot conquer faith, whatever kind of faith it is. It was an uplifting moment, and one which, I like to think, corresponds to the last line of Wintering, the last poem (in Plath’s order as opposed to the published order) of her posthumously published Ariel,
Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.