Sylvia Plath’s Beautiful, Bittersweet Musings on Life

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Mournful teenage poetesses and literature nerds light a candle; today would have been the incomparable Sylvia Plath’s 80th birthday. Though depressed for much of her life, Plath’s incisive poetry and prose continues to sink its teeth into new generations of young people, and it’s no wonder. Her voice is clear and resounding, even in its confusion, painfully and beautifully true in equal measure. To honor the tortured, influential poet, we’ve put together a few of her musings on the nature of life, from the inspirational and upbeat to the deeply black. After the jump, immerse yourself in Sylvia’s world, and join us in being grateful we had her, even for a short while.

“I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, dated July 7, 1950

“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.” From a draft of a letter to Richard Sassoon, December 1955

“I do not love; I do not love anybody except myself. That is a rather shocking thing to admit. I have none of the selfless love of my mother. I have none of the plodding, practical love. . . . . I am, to be blunt and concise, in love only with myself, my puny being with its small inadequate breasts and meager, thin talents. I am capable of affection for those who reflect my own world.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“Hurl yourself at goals above your head and bear the lacerations that come when you slip and make a fool of yourself. Try always, as long as you have breath in your body, to take the hard way–and work, work, work to build yourself into a rich, continually evolving entity.”

“What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don’t know and I’m afraid. I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.”

“Is there no way out of the mind?”

“Why the hell are we conditioned into the smooth strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world, Alice-in-Wonderland fable, only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life?” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“Life has been some combination of fairy-tale coincidence and joie de vivre and shocks of beauty together with some hurtful self-questioning.” From The Bell Jar

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

“Life was not to be sitting in hot amorphic leisure in my backyard idly writing or not writing, as the spirit moved me. It was, instead, running madly, in a crowded schedule, in a squirrel cage of busy people. Working, living, dancing, dreaming, talking, kissing- singing, laughing, learning.”

“Life is so difficult and tedious I could cry. But I won’t; I’ll just keep writing villanelles.”

“With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, dated July 8, 1950

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” From The Bell Jar

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”

“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.” From The Bell Jar

“God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

“I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.” From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath