Sylvia Plath: her influences on my writing and my life

By SAMANTHA SETO | December 7, 2017


COURTESY OF SAMANTHA SETO Seto visited an exhibit about Plath at the National Gallery of Art in D.C.

The Bell Jar

I wished I was Sylvia Plath.

In an art history class of upperclassmen and art history majors, I simply did not share their knowledge or experience. It was hard to learn that a male student in my art history class passed away in November. That’s a tragedy. The professor sent an email: “A student in our class died last night. I know that some of you are friends of his and may be having a difficult time dealing with this.” My grandmother’s name was Sylvia, and she died from cancer. I may die one day as well. In this personal essay, I will analyze my melancholy persona in writing pursuits and most of all, honor the greatest people in my life

I transferred to Hopkins. My twin, Sarah, applied early decision and was accepted. I struggle with feeling alone, yet I always wish for a truly good friend. All my life, it’s been hard. A medical doctor diagnosed me with issues. Social anxiety is one of them. A practical reason is that Hopkins has the second best writing program in the country. On New Year’s Eve, I worked on college applications. I used to wave sparklers at night.

I’m a Writing Seminars, not English, major. I was given a merit scholarship from the University of Iowa and Smith College, but I chose against it. As a little girl, I’d already made up my mind. I wished to be a writer like Sylvia Plath, or novelist Alice LaPlante or Professor Jodie Greenwood when I grew up. I have no interest in science, math or engineering. The Writing Seminars did not meet my expectations, but I have improved as a writer. In my opinion, it isn’t perfect. Not to me anyway. Yet, I learned about the art of writing and workshop from wonderful professors.

Tessa Wiseman, a Hopkins alum with a political science and Writing Seminars degree, celebrated her 23rd birthday at home in Washington, D.C. I chatted about upcoming classes. I’ve known the Wiseman family for a long time. I love them with all my heart. Our mothers were good friends and colleagues at Cambridge Christian School. I told her that I enrolled in Professor Greg Williamson’s poetry class for the second time. Tessa kindly smiled with soft eyes. I am forever thankful.

Sir Andrew Motion inspires me to write. I enjoyed Readings: International Voices. I like richly diverse and noble poetry. Motion is a knight and former poet laureate of the United Kingdom. He shares his love for poetry. At the National Gallery of Art, I saw Sylvia Plath’s typewriter, poems, book covers and hair.

In the past, I have read Plath, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Milton and more poetry in literary genres. I listened to Maya Angelou’s speech at orientation. First Lady Michelle Obama was the best in the United States to attend a memorial service at Wait Chapel in Winston-Salem, N.C. I treasure the remarkable writer in the same way I love Sylvia Plath. Her writing touches my heart.

Plath was a perfect writer. She studied literature at Smith College on scholarship and in Cambridge, England during the 1950s. She was an editor for Mademoiselle in New York City. Then, she attempted suicide by taking pills. I spoke with faculty advisor, Professor Tristan Davies, about an Alice James Books internship.

I was a summer intern at Alice James Books. I traveled to Portland, Maine and residence of University of Maine at Farmington. I loved coming into the publishing house, gazing at the row of books near the editorial assistant’s desk, seeing Alison read poetry, and sitting with Hannah screening manuscripts for the Alice James Award. God gifted me with a blessing. I met Jessica Hudgins in Lauren Winchester’s class.

Sylvia Plath, a notable alumnus, graduated from Smith College. I’ve visited Smith and Sewanee. The Colossus was in a bookshop window. One author mentioned The Things They Carried, so I took the novel out of my bag. I saw him for the last time on Gothic Street near Peoples Institute. His own book became a Hollywood film with national recognition and awards. Florence & the Machine wrote a song. At Smith, I took a photograph with an Oscar — a privilege. Yale University Professor Marc Lapadula taught me screenwriting. The 500 Days of Summer script is written by his former student.

The melancholy in my life parallels Plath’s spiral, resonating in crux of the poem Ariel. The narrator, “God’s lioness,” is determined to die. In Hebrew, “Ariel” means “lioness,” establishing identity. “Morning” alludes to rebirth and grief for the dead. A lens into the dark mourning. “Berries” is the antithesis of “glitter of the seas,” creating light and dark. In a trajectory to metaphorical death, the rider is “dew” driving to the sun, “cauldron of morning.”

Consonance of a sibilant in “stasis in darkness” is ominous. The horse “melts in the wall,” consumed by darkness. Imagery in morbid trance is alliterated. Meter is a gallop, creating tension in a variation of compacted syllables. Movement illustrates death as if Surrealism art. “Dead” and “suicidal” brings loss captured in the ending. Sunlight is a natural force that one cannot withstand but merges into.

Plath moved away from Ted Hughes and took her son and daughter with her. I apologize and almost feel sorry. I too have experienced great suffering, but I can only imagine her powerful misery. I was hospitalized. Psychosis had a catastrophic effect. The doctor prescribed antibiotic medicine. My pain amounts to nothing at all. It’s terrible trauma. We live in a patriarchal society. Females are oppressed and poorly respected. I was broken and abused. I know what it means to be assaulted by a dominating, over-bearing male figure.

Nothing can change the past. I may not die from cooking gas like Sylvia Plath. I am not afraid to say that facing death is an inevitable fate shared by all of humanity. I read an article about letters in The Guardian by Sarah Churchwell. Plath has this classic moment in The Bell Jar when Esther Greenwood says, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

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