The Voice of Sylvia Plath

Based on what I discovered yesterday, today I feel like a pitiable excuse for a Sylvia Plath fan. I have been mesmerized by her words and poetic voice for years, and moved in the same dance of attraction and repulsion that many admirers of her poems move in. On their own and in the context of her time, I have marveled at the brazenness of her dark, inciting lines, the firm wielding of womanhood unconstrained by normative cages and her will “to be true to [her] own weirdness.” I have read books and poems by her and about her, but until yesterday, I had no idea that there existed recordings of Sylvia Plath reading her poetry aloud.

But now I know, and I’m a little different.

Reading & Hearing Sylvia’s Voice

To love a poet’s voice – her writing voice – and to vibrate in sympathy with each beat and syllable, to touch the spirit imbued on the page and feel the writing as if it were nourishment on the tongue or soft light on the skin is not necessarily a rare thing, but it is still and should be a treasured thing. I have sometimes been disappointed then, when I have listened to a favorite poet reading a favorite poem, and the vibrations suddenly seem like shudders, the beats are foreign rhythms and the soft light flickers. Bright, then dark, then bright, then dark, the bulb and circuit clicking, energy arcing out of time with the electricity of the spirit.

Not so with Sylvia Plath. Now, I have heard her read her poems. Now I know not just the voice on the written page, but the timbre of the writer’s own. If I write this with too much reverence, it is because she reads like a hurricane’s eye fixed in F5 upon you, fastening you in place while all around you is uprooted and torn. She reads from her own words devoutly, exhorting waveform transubstantiation, conjuring taste from sound, line by line, word to word in mercy and menace, like an Old Testament God. She reads herself as herself, is herself, and unafraid of her own terrible beauty and power, but perhaps knowing she will be vanquished by it, too. Her voice is wind, music and fire wound together in word harmony, a weaponized balm against anonymity. She is haunted and haunting, a soul of many lifetimes in one fragile body fighting hard, crying hard, dying hard.

She makes it sound so easy.

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