On Plath’s muscular owl

It could have been 1962 when Sylvia Plath, then 30, set down in her journal a very dark thought: “I am now flooded with despair, almost hysteria, as if I were smothering. As if a great muscular owl were sitting on my chest, its talons clenching & constricting my heart.” 1963 was the year her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, left her; it was also the year that Plath committed suicide.

I can’t read Plath’s words without also feeling sad and afraid. Is there a point to art if it doesn’t save us? If en-forming events doesn’t afford us a modicum of relief, doesn’t free us for a spell from our suffering selves?

Tragedy is another name for Life; humor, philosophy, art the modes by which we alchemize the “it befell me” into “I willed it thus.” But then we come upon Plath and her constricted heart, and we’re thrown into doubt. Could Life be too much for craft? It’s as if we were too proud.

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