The spring term is in full swing. It feels as if we’ve just started, but we have completed six weeks! In spite of how much work it is to teach, time flies. I was so good at blogging a few times a week during sabbatical. Not so now, elbow-deep in papers to read and grade. (Reading isn’t the hard part; grading is).

I teach creative writing this semester, and at the moment, we are immersed in poetry. Ed Micus came to visit, and I hope to have a couple other local poets visit class as well. Here’s one by Sylvia Plath that we just read on Thursday, which the more I look at it, the more amazingly brilliant I see that it is. Sylvia, as Ed Micus says, is the ultimate master of metaphor.

Sylvia Plath

“Riddle in Nine Syllables”

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Can you guess what the speaker of the poem is? It’s brilliant on all counts. Nine syllables per line, nine lines is another big hint. Guess? Check it out here: Click on the lines on this site for annotations; the answer is quickly revealed!


ALSO, I was just reading bits of Sylvia Plath’s biography. I did NOT know that she taught at Smith for a year. “Each writing assignment, however, meant that she would have seventy themes to read, and every third week a new stack of papers appeared on her dining room table” (Wagner-Martin 148). According to Wagner-Martin, Plath was wracked by guilt about feeling ill-prepared to teach, feared that she would be discovered as a fraud (WHAT! Sylvia Plath worried that!!?? I think this is the first year, at this advanced age, that I haven’t worried about being outed as a fraud who doesn’t know enough about anything I teach! I finally realized I can NEVER know enough, but I know enough to share, and it’s okay to admit I don’t know everything!); worried about “‘owing’ people socially,” (Wagner-Martin 149), fought with envy  of  husband Ted’s time to write and his success as a poet that year, and even worried about household duties. Gulp. The great Sylvia Plath struggled with all of this? (Wagner-Martin 146-161).

I should have read more about her years ago. I sort of envisioned her as a rich spoiled beauty who wasn’t satisfied with life, so she ended hers. Now, suddenly, my heart breaks that she was so fully human, so fully woman. I want to read everything she wrote, if that’s possible. Edward, you were right in lauding her.

I also learned that Sylvia’s The Bell Jar is based on a student at Smith while she was teaching there. I always assumed it was her fantasy of her own death–which I suppose any such writing is, but that’s not the basis for the novel. One girl at Smith did hang herself that year; others tried. This tortured Sylvia, too, and became the basis for her only novel (Wagner-Martin 148).

Long and short of this ramble: my admiration for Sylvia Plath (whom I have always enjoyed, but not loved) has skyrocketed this week.

Source (which I recommend; it reads like a novel; I intend to read the entire thing cover-to-cover):

Wagner-Martin, Linda. Sylvia Plath: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Becky Avatar

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