My friend Gary Taylor and I had been exchanging e-mails this week. I met Gary in Biloxi, MS when shortly after Katrina, I decided to get personally involved by making a phone call to the first random church I found on a list provided by Hugh Hewitt. I called Bethel Lutheran Church and Beauvoir United Methodist Church and though our church has now hooked up with both, Gary was the first person I spoke to. We became friends as well as colleagues and though I’ve only been with him in person for 3 days in September of 06, we are in rather constant contact. He’s become one of my favorite people.
More so today as I learned he is a fan of both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, two poets with whom though I share nothing in common, I love their work. The confessional poetry movement appeals to me on a lot of visceral levels but much of it is simply the beauty of the words. Gary shared with me his favorite Sylvia Plath poem, The Moon and Yew Tree:
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload thier griefs on my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones,
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime: it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky–
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they somberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up. It has a gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her glue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness–
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness–blackness and silence.
–Sylvia Plath, 22 October 1961
Had Sylvia lived, she’d have been 75 years old today. Her suicide (disputed as murder or at least manslaughter by many) is such a sad and tragic thing. If one reads her work, though, one becomes aware that she seemed to possess, as did Edgar Allan Poe and perhaps F. Scott. Fitzgerald, a terrible self knowledge; a kind of inability to accept that she must change, must adapt to being the wife and the mother she’d become. She doted on her children, by all accounts, but behind those gorgeous eyes, a raging torrent poured. I reprinted the poem, Mirror, from Sylvia for Gary as one of my favorites. I still teach it in school and it still speaks to me. Again, I carry nothing away from these poems that is relevant to me, at least not in essence. But for some reason–and that reason is probably somewhere in my childhood or in the deep recesses of my most elemental thoughts, I love these poems:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
I used to write poetry, but I’ve stopped. At times, though, it still speaks to me and I still refer back to it. I love to pick up Robert Frost’s poems and I still love to read Poe for that Halloween feeling. And when I’m thinking clearly or literally, which happens only once in a great while–I find poetry, music and the deepest of reminiscences are all that will do.