Sylvia Plath Reading “A Birthday Present”
Today Would Have Been Sylvia Plath’s 86th Birthday
This is a video of her reading her poem “A Birthday Present.”
This poem was recorded in October 1962.
She was married to the famous British poet Ted Hughes.
They had separated, and she reacted by writing angry poetry.
An Obsession With Death
The vast majority of Sylvia Plath’s poems are obsessed with death.
Is the “present” a gift of death?
I remember being so startled the first time I heard recordings of Plath’s voice. She had acquired a strong British accent.
Plath was turned 30 during the month this was recorded. She sounds much older.
She would not live to see her 31st birthday.
As The Marginalian writes:
In October of 1962, mere months before her death, Plath recorded herself reading “A Birthday Present,” written the previous month and later included in her beloved poetry collection Ariel. The recording was one of several broadcasts Plath participated in for BBC’s celebrated series “The Poet’s Voice” and survives on The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath.
The poem stops you dead in your tracks as you absorb the quiet catastrophe of Plath’s fate and simultaneously behold the all-too-human, universal terror that birthdays stir in all of us, that subtle but inevitable reminder of our own mortality.
As Open Culture opines:
But the circumstances surrounding Plath’s final days–her anger and sense of betrayal over her husband’s infidelity, her decision to kill herself by turning on the gas and placing her head in an unlighted oven while her two young children slept in another room–have complicated her literary legacy. A morbid cult has surrounded Plath, with many of her most fervent admirers glossing over the poet’s long struggle with mental illness to find in her a martyred feminist saint, a modern Ophelia.
For More On Sylvia Plath
Please check out The Sylvia Plath Info Blog.
Please also read my review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956.