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.