The Death of Sylvia Plath

Instead of a birthday anniversary, it’s a memorial for the poet Sylvia Plath. She was 30 when she made her final suicide attempt. Did she want it to succeed? Some of her biographers say no. But her preparations were elaborate and her life ended, February 11, 1962. From childhood, the poet had suffered from depression. It was over.

Sylvia Plath, the Pulitzer Prize winner (posthumously) lived like a spark. Or a short-fused stick of dynamite. Beautiful and talented, the Marilyn Monroe of American poetry sprang from a family of brilliant scholars.  (Sylvia’s own IQ was an astonishing 160.) Her father was a biology professor at the University of Boston.

Otto Plath was an entomologist, specializing in bumble bees. At home, he kept a few hives of honey bees. In the mid-1980s, when PBS filmed a documentary of Sylvia Plath’s life, they invited my oldest brother, David, to play the role of beekeeper Otto Plath. Donning a beekeeper’s uniform, my brother comes and goes throughout the documentary, as Otto Plath himself seemed to, in the eyes of young Sylvia. I found the documentary on YouTube, existing in six pieces. Here is a very short clip with my brother, mimicking Otto, as Sylvia remembered him.

Watch the series, on YouTube, beginning with the first segment here.  The hour-long documentary is comprised of six short pieces. I don’t know why they exist in this way, but I hope that you persist and watch the entire story of a beekeeper’s daughter.

Why watch a movie about a beekeeper’s unfortunate daughter? You’ll know after you take a few moments to read one of Sylvia Plath’s darkest poems:

                        The Bee Meeting, by Sylvia Plath

Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the villagers—
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
Thev will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.
Their smiles and their voices are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthorn, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey? She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted—
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Culture, or lack thereof, People, Strange, Odd Stuff and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Death of Sylvia Plath

  1. Catherine Dempsey says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. garryneufeld says:

    whoa, that was too early in the morning to read that, great post though, thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Erik says:

    Quite the poem, thank you for sharing this, Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sonja says:

    Thanks Ron, what an amazing poem. You always right such interesting posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Susan Rudnicki says:

    This was a very creepy piece! I didn’t know this about her dad, and I wonder the influence to write the poem here. Thank you—-I turned 63 on the 10th

    Liked by 1 person

  6. im a big fan of Sylvia Plath. thanks for sharing or i would have missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeepers Ron! I am glad that we are now, at least in parts of our world, shedding the stigma attached to mental illness, and becoming more aware of how fixed patterns of dysfunction along with epigenetic effects inhibit healthy childhood development. One wonders, reading this piece, just what influence Plath Sr. had on his daughter. For a remedy, may I suggest readers of this blog entry immediately fire up Netflix and watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbour”??!! No beekeeping link, just the human one.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks. I hope that we have turned that corner. No one among is truly completely healthy and illness aren’t restricted to the visible infirmities. I’v known many people who have suffered in ways similar to Sylvia Plath’s chronic depression. Fortunately, being open about the disease – and the newer medications – have helped them live normal, productive, content lives.
      I appreciate the reminder about the Mr Rogers documentary. It has an extremely high rating among all viewers (8.7/10). I haven’t seen it yet, but from your mention, I will now.


  8. Pingback: The Death of Sylvia Plath | How To Start Bee Farming

  9. Pingback: Goodbye, 2019 | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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