Summer Plath

While sitting on the bedroom floor tying my sneakers this afternoon, I let my eyes scan the bookshelves for potential books to take with me on my (desperately needed) vacation next week. The one I wound up pulling down--though, truthfully, I can't imagine lugging it across the country with me, even less so actually chopping my way through its pages again--was "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath."

I actually read this book--the whole damn thing--back in, what, 2000 or so. It was in the fall. I remember having it with me when I house-sat for John and Lynne, remember reading passages from it in an attempt to block out the creaks and groans and other disconcerting sounds the house made as it settled in the wind at night as I lay in bed, waiting for sleep.

It ultimately took me months to finish, because when they say "Unabridged," they mean it: this is, like, every word the woman ever wrote in a journal, save for those torched by Ted Hughes. She wrote a lot, much of it brilliant, fair chunks of it not. For me, at least, the book wasn't a quick or easy read.

But there's much to fall in love with here, including the passage sharp-eyed readers of this blog will have seen quoted repeatedly ("...not so, not so, for in the parable the wells of the valley are sweet in their ripeness...") and are surely cringing at the thought of seeing again.

What I opened to today, mainly because it was marked with a red Post-It flag, was an entry from August 17, 1952, that begins "Band Concert on Friday." It's a long, dense, intensely detailed description of an outdoor concert, and what's most striking is the fact that Plath is able to take this ostensibly happy event, describe it as such, and yet, partway through, still bring a high, clear note of loss and sadness and regret to the whole affair.

But that, of course, is the most wrenching and beautiful part.

"And the kids, all of them, will dance, keeping time to music, chorusing 'Now We Go Looby-Loo' and then the teen-age couples will come out to the arena, and there will be waltzes, dark sky over, and the lights soft and the good big summer feeling inside you with the light gentle and the night cool and friendly. Always with the queer regret, blurring all the other summers into a fine nostalgic brew--distilling all the tart sweetnesses into this one, with the sea of music skipping over the time, and the feeling in you warm and it is our town, we all together, very sweet, all summer lights, sometimes almost tearful because it is so moving all the time. The fluid color the fluid sound, toward its ending. ('Into many a green valley, drifts the appalling snow./ Time breaks the threaded dances and the diver's brilliant bow.') And now I am sitting here crying almost because suddenly I am knowing in my head and feeling in my guts what those words mean when I did not know the full impact of them in the beginning, but merely their mystic beauty.

So it all moves in the pageant toward the ending, it's own ending. Everywhere, imperceptibly or otherwise, things are passing, ending, going. And there will be other summers, other band concerts, but never this one, never again, never as now. Next year I will not be the self of this year now. And that is why I laugh at the transient, the ephemeral; laugh, while clutching, holding, tenderly, like a fool his toy, cracked glass, water through fingers. For all the writing, for all the invention of engines to express & convey & capture life, it is the living of it that is the gimmick. It goes by, and whatever dream you use to dope up the pains and hurts, it goes. Delude yourself about printed islands of permanence. You've only got so long to live. You're getting your dream. Things are working, blind forces, no personal spiritual beneficent ones except your own intelligence and the good will of a few other fools and fellow humans. So hit while it's hot."

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