In the pursuit of perfection in poetry there can be few luminaries as bright as Sylvia Plath, and it was her profound struggle with depression and grief which underpinned most achingly her gift, which, in pursuit of the sublime aim of describing the indescribable can have few equals; Plath was noted especially for her uncanny use of metaphor.
The mundane facts of her life are bleak. She was born to Otto Plath, a German professor of zoology and Aurelia Schober, a first generation American of Austrian descent near Boston, Massachusetts. Her early childhood was fundamentally idyllic and until her father died when she was 8 years old, she wrote of it thus:
And this is how it stiffens, my vision of that seaside childhood. My father died, we moved inland. Whereupon those nine first years of my life sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle — beautiful, inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth.
She was winning awards for her exquisite poetry by the time she was 18 years, she won a scholarship to Smith College. During her junior year, she spent the summer in New York as a guest editor for Mademoiselle, a fashion magazine. While still a student at Smith, she had a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills and was given shock treatments. Despite such upheaval, she graduated in 1955 and went to Cambridge, England on a Fulbright scholarship.
One night at a party in Cambridge, February 25, 1956, she met Ted Hughes, and their romance began in a blaze of passion. She wrote, “He kissed me bang smash on the mouth, And when he kissed my neck, I bit him long and hard on the cheek and, when we came out of the room, Blood was running down his face.” The handsome gifted pair married four months later, on June 16, 1956.
The couple had two children, Frieda in 1961 and Nicholas in 1962. During their time together, the brilliant and tortured Plath mined her own anguish, writing obsessively of her depression, her jealousy, her marriage and her father, the strict, formal professor who had abandoned her by his premature death.
Daddy. Published 1965 (Excerpt)
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
Her first book, “The Colossus” was released in 1960. “The Bell Jar” achieved critical acclaim in 1963 for its moving portrayal of a young woman’s life including her emotional breakdown, suicide attempts, psychological treatment and relationships.
During the course of her marriage, Plath’s behavior became increasingly more erratic and obsessive. Beset by worry over money, insecurity over her worth as a writer, jealousy over her husband’s friendships with other women, she wrote furiously in her torment. Their relationship suffered tremendously from her fragility and his inability to deal with her roller-coaster emotions. Suspecting her husband of an affair, she gathered all of his papers she could find and burned them in the garden. In 1962, he left her for another woman, Assia Wevill. Just one month after the publication of “The Bell Jar,” on a frigid wintry day in England, she tucked her two small children safely away in their room, set out milk and cookies for them, and put her head in their London flat’s gas oven, ending her life on February 11, 1963. She was just 30 years old. Her last-written poems appeared two years later in “Ariel.” In a twist of irony, the poems established Plath as a fiercely original poet who exceeded her husband as an icon in the world of literature.
Here are my various delineations:
- There is an enormous 7th house emphasis on so very many levels. Notwithstanding the stellium in precision (and actually fidelity) fixated Virgo, Moon is peregrine in Libra – thus the reigning need is for marital security – Jupiter and Neptune both are peregrine in Virgo, making for an extremely uncomfortable impetus. Trying to analyse the divine and count the manner of one’s faith in life, neither can be remotely easy and Venus seems to offer some genuine hope, but even beautifully aspected as it is and accidentally dignified it will still struggle in Virgo. Any contact of Venus with Saturn is an act of renunciation; the grand earth trine creates a practical self-sufficiency – thus someone who can attend to their studies even in the very depth of a depression – but the Saturn contact creates an ease with sacrificing love out of a sense of duty. There is a curious mix of easy difficulty here.
- I am not entirely convinced by the Ascendant. A degree or more into Pisces would suit me better making Mercury the ruler of the 7th. At 29Le26 however there is certainly a case for looking to both Sun and Mercury as indicative of the marriage partner. Certainly Mercury in Scorpio in the 9th suggests a man who is a powerful, sharp and incisive communicator and a connection with university too, Hughes was a fellow student at Cambridge when they met and they were quickly married. Other qualities sympathetic to the placement are to be found in the opposition to Chiron – much of her anguish and intellectual inferiority issues were experienced through him (Chiron in the third) and the square to Mars in Leo in the 6th further suggests an almost daily habit to argument and disputatious communication. The union cannot have been easy. Hughes himself hinted at the possibility of her rising sign being a little off: ““that day’s Sun in the Fish conjunct your Ascendant exactly opposite my Neptune,” with his Neptune at 3 Virgo. This of course places Neptune on his descendant and clearly resonates with their match.
- Her father is easily identified, Sun square Saturn certainly identifies his cold and rather unloving demeanour. In Scorpio and the 8th? The early death or loss of her father is clearly marked out thus. At age 8 Saturn squared Uranus by Solar Arc (something sudden relating to the father) and the Sun applied hard by Solar Arc to a quindecile of Chiron marking the genesis of the pain of the loss of her father which was to form such an impetus for her later work and ongoing anguish, in keeping with the nature of the aspect itself of course it became something of an obsession.
- Peregrine Moon always tells a story and intimates something of a dissociation complex. These people disconnect according to the nature of sign and house. In Plath’s case a romantic reverie is implied, and she may have dreamt long and often about the perfection of her great love. In Libra too there is an overwhelming need to be considered attractive, fair (in all senses) and interesting, which gels not at all well with the reality of her marriage to Hughes who was often considered to be something of a brute (his subsequent wife whom he left Plath for also committed suicide incidentally, and many consider it no coincidence that he is a common denominator in the relationships.) Peregrine Moon too often tells of a feeling of emptiness and isolation which seems to permeate her poetry too: “Empty, I echo to the least footfall,/ Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas./ In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,/ Nun-hearted and blind to the world.” (From “Barren Woman”) And her mother too! What impact must it have had on the young Sylvia to see her mother so alone and widowed, even if she considered her father to be rigid and incompassionate? Children love and miss even bad fathers of course.
- And what of poetry? Clearly, with Ve/Ju/Ne in Virgo and the 7th there is a prising out of harmonious economy in all matters of love, faith and spirituality. Of course Neptune is key to poetry but also to that yearning sense of wanting to transcend the difficulty of life because of a sense of disappointment with things. So much of her anguish in her poetry has this at its root, a sense that she has been let down and disappointed, most especially by men. No surprise that Plath has in more recent times become such an icon for the feminist movement, although I cannot imagine that she would have been anything short of horrified by such an association considering her astrology if nothing else. But consider the idea of a harmonious economy and what do you have? Metaphor! Consider “bright as a Nazi lampshade” from Lady Lazarus (an autobiographical account of her first suicide attempt): what could be more shockingly bright? Or using a feverish delirium as a metaphor for love gone awry: Darling, all night / I have been flickering, off, on, off, on. / The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss. This she wrote during her final days after Hughes had left her.
- More intriguingly than this even is the most cursory examination of halfsums. With Uranus at the crucially profound Sun/Moon midpoint there is a clear impetus to the separation (Ur) of husband (Su) and wife (Mo) (father and mother too), but essentially separations and upsets are in store. Then consider Pl=Me/Ve. Power (or powerlessness) is realised through communicating or writing about love, or creating an art from writing. The great Ebertin marks this halfsum as “tremendous creative power” and the “recognition of art as a mission.” Quite wonderful. Then we have Ju=Ve/Ne! I wrote an entire article on this single midpoint (called: “The elusive astrology of yearning and the Venus Neptune halfsum“) and in Plath’s case there is no question that it would expand her ability to access the numinous and find an intimation of transcendent love. Ve=Mo/Ne also suggests a disappointment in love but a possibility of accessing a more divine form of contentment.
- Of course, there is an even more pertinent observation. Sappho, the asteroid is so named for the ancient Greek lyric poet: later Greeks included her on the canonical list of nine lyric poets; her reputation survives intact even though much of her work does not (fragments attest to her ability however), and it is to be found in Plath’s nativity at the exact midpoint of Venus and Jupiter (3°49′ from each.) A Venus Jupiter conjunction (which does not in this instance detract from the reality of peregrination) is a horn of plenty aspect, and the “joy of love” by Ebertin, so any influence at the convergence of these powers is going to be powerfully exalted. Jupiter too (and peregrine) rules the Midheaven, and conjunct Sappho her vocation as a poet becomes ever clearer.
Sylvia Plath’s final days were a true tale of peregrinated Moon in Libra cast down. Her isolation was complete, the reigning need of her life, to be loved, to be the wife, to be exalted by her union of love was broken and the distress of her lost father and her intellectual self-doubt crowded in on her. She died just as Saturn (husband and father) applied by Solar Arc to her Ascendant whilst simultaneously squaring Chiron. The pain of the men in her life and the great weight of disappointment seems somehow to be born at that point, brought into the light for all the world to see as Saturn crossed ponderously into the first while Venus also squared Pluto by Solar Arc at this exact juncture, love and death configured in with the burden of isolation; loss and loneliness. Or in the words of her final poem:
The woman is perfected.
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.
Wow — this was a powerful post.
I have been a fan of Sylvia Plath in the past and once I learned astrology, thought she served as a great example of Scorpio/8th house energy. What intensity and unflinching treatment of life’s darkest emotions (not to mention finally her own suicide).
But it was great to read your insights here about the 7th house and peregrine moon, which really expanded my understanding here of her chart.
That ‘Daddy’ poem gives me goosebumps each time I have read it; I think Camille Paglia included it in her recent poetry anthology with a deconstruction of the lines and metaphors. I remember reading it several times, and just being in awe of how brilliant Plath was in crafting her poems.
Just yesterday I took my first shot at doing a reading for a friend, and am realizing how difficult it can be to get to the heart of a chart … and synthesize the important elements to say something coherent. Thanks for providing a good example of how it’s done.
Thanks Laura. The 8th house Scorpio is of course absolutely pertinent, I guess as a filter for all the underlying Venus/Libra/7th, it’s a very focused type of energy.
Of course she was brilliant.
I am looking at Ted Hughes now and considering their composites and synastry perhaps for a further article, with some interesting conclusions perhaps.
Hope you’re well.
It’s a shame that her demise often overshadows the extraordinary skill she had at her craft.
Its a shame you didn’t mention Saturn Pluto as I think that their opposition is at the depth of a lot of her pain (and Pluto rules her Sun and Mercury) and Ted Hughes has it too.. Saturn in the 12th is a strong significator of her father, of depression and of suicide, of carried ancestral pain and the intensification of the Saturn energy by Pluto does point to the powerful effect of shame in her own life. Saturn is mentioned on several sites as the critical presence in her poetry and which dogged her and led her to try to perfect herself into an image rather than love herself (part of this too was in her quest to live out the unlived life of her mother) and it also relates to her 7th house planets. If you read the current biography of her early life recently published by Andrew Wilson its an ongoing theme of her 7th house Venus/Jupiter/Neptune to have sought for the idealised image in many relationships which came and went, she was in search of something deeply illusive, the love that was missing and her loss of her own sense of self value and worth. This conjunction also played itself out in some of her significant female relationships prior to meeting Ted Hughes.
Liz Greene says Saturn Pluto represents wisdom through suffering and purification through the ordeal by fire and I think there was a square between Saturn and Pluto at the time Plath and Hughes met. SP could not stand the heat of the pain she would have had to bear to endure the purification of the Saturn return, which can be excrutiating and so painful, since the loss of Ted Hughes due to her own unresolved pain and father wound would have triggered all her anger and grief. With two children dependent on her it must have seemed too great a pain to bear. That Plath and Hughes’ relationship had strongly Neptunian themes is shown by that fact on the day they met the Moon was full in Virgo conjunct his Neptune. The death of illusions is the beginning of healing with Venus Neptune but that healing requires a lot of work.
We all seem to suffer from an shallow and incomplete understanding of our parents earlier in life… its usual to project the Saturn energy onto the parent who probably did carry it due to deep repression from their own past. In the end it isn’t personal but Sylvia Plath personalised it deeply within herself and used it to fuel her own painful descent and inner anguish and that is the Scorpio way, resentment can and does become a poison, that in the end leads to one’s own destruction. That appears to be a common theme with Saturn Pluto..
Mars is also strongly involved in her relationship with Hughes as Sylvia Plath’s Mars was in Leo and that represented the deepest tie to Ted Hughes as her Mars conjoined his Sun Neptune conjunction…. Andrew Wilson makes much of her struggle to live her own Mars energy as a woman maturing in the more repressive time of the 1950’s. During that time Saturn was in Scorpio and passing over her Scorpio Sun and Mercury. Positively Saturn helped her give form to her suffering and journey through the Neptunian medium of poetry. I was interested to read of the control Hughes wielded over some of Plath’s earlier poetry pre their meeting which was not allowed to see the light of day. This seems to speak strongly of his Neptune on her Mars. Did he want to erase her on some level?
I’m only just begging to explore the astrology around this and was so learn today that Sylvia Plath’s son died from suicide in 2009….. what he was carrying (and I haven’t explore this in much depth yet) would have been such a burden with no one to share it. Her daughter made it through by making a life away from the place of her mother’s death. But lost, sadly both her mother and her brother.
Was so sad to read today of her son’s death that is…
Interesting example of peregrine moon and such a poetic symbolism of her mother’s lack of partner due to death as well. Fascinating. Synestry chart with husband would be most interesting.
Ted Hughes (her husband) has had two wives commit suicide. His chart probably does have some interesting features!