Monday, February 11, 2013

Sylvia Plath: They wrote here, in a house redolent with ghosts

Sylvia Plath with her typewriter in Yorkshire, September 1956
BrontëBlog joins in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death (February 11, 1963).

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes visited Yorkshire and Haworth in 1956. She wrote to her mother (Letters Home, 1976):
I never thought I could like any country as well as the ocean, but these moors are really even better, with the great luminous emerald lights changing always, and the animals and wildness. Read Wuthering Heights again here and really felt it this time more than ever. (September 11, 1956)
We spent one athletic day hiking ten miles over the moors and swamps from Wuthering Heights, where I did [a] sketch in the freezing wind. Saw museum of Brontës, things in the old Parsonage - incredible miniature children's books of a magic kingdom they made up, in tiny print with exquisite, luminous watercolors, what creative children! Charlotte did the loveliest little watercolors. Will write article about it this week. (September 28, 1956)
Wuthering Heights Today. Sketch by Sylvia Plath,1956
And here is what she annotated in her Journals:
Most people never get there, but stop in town for tea, pink frosted cakes, souvenir's & colored photographs of the place too far to talk to, visiting the Church of St. Michael & All Angels, the black stone rectory rooms of memorabilia - wooden cradle, Charlotte's bridal crown of heirloom lace & honeysuckle, Emily's death couch, the small, luminous books & watercolors, the beaded napkin ring, the Apostle cupboard. They touched this, wore that, wrote here in a house redolent with ghosts. There are two ways to the stone house, both tiresome.
One, the public route from the town along green pastureland over stone stiles to the voluble white cataract that that drops its long rag of water over rocks warped round, green-slimed, across a wooden footbridge to terrain of goat-foot-flattened grasses where a carriage road Ran a hundred years back in a time grand with the quick of their shaping tongues worn down to broken wall, old cellar hole, gate pillars leading from sheep turf to grouse country. The old carriage road's a sunk rut, the spring clear well & gurgle under grass too green to believe. The hulk of matted grey hair & a long skull to mark a sheepfold, a track worn, losing itself, but not lost.
The other - across the slow heave, hill on hill from any other direction across bog down to the middle of the world, green-slimed, boots squelchy - brown peat - earth untouched except by grouse foot - bluewhite spines of gorse, the burnt-sugar bracken - all eternity, wildness, loneliness - peat-colored water - the house - small, lasting, pebbles on roof, name scrawls on rock - inhospitable two trees on the lee side of the hill where the long winds come, piece the light in a stillness. The furious ghosts nowhere but in the heads of the visitors & the yellow-eyed shag sheep
House of love lasts as long as love in human mind - blue-spidling gorse. 
Two views of Top Withins (1957)

Above whorled, spindling gorse,
Sheepfoot-flattened grasses,
Stone wall and ridgepole rise
Prow-like through blurs
Of fog in that hinterland few
Hikers get to:
Home of uncatchable
Sage hen and spry rabbit,
Where second wind, hip boot
Help over hill
And hill, and through peaty water.
I found bare moor,
A colourless weather,
And the House of Eros
Low-lintelled, no palace;
You, luckier,
Report white pillars, a blue sky,
The ghosts, kindly.
Wuthering Heights (1961)

The horizons ring me like faggots,
Tilted and disparate, and always unstable.
Touched by a match, they might warm me,
And their fine lines singe
The air to orange
Before the distances they pin evaporate,
Weighting the pale sky with a soldier color.
But they only dissolve and dissolve
Like a series of promises, as I step forward.

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.

The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.

I come to wheel ruts, and water
Limpid as the solitudes
That flee through my fingers.
Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass;
Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves.
Of people and the air only
Remembers a few odd syllables.
It rehearses them moaningly:
Black stone, black stone.

The sky leans on me, me, the one upright
Among all horizontals.
The grass is beating its head distractedly.
It is too delicate
For a life in such company;
Darkness terrifies it.
Now, in valleys narrow
And black as purses, the house lights
Gleam like small change.

To know more:

Christian Science Monitor:  A Walk to Withens,  June 6, 1959, page 12.
"There is no life higher than the grasstops": A Walk to Withens by Gail Crowther, Sylvia Plath Info Blog.
A Poet's Guide to Britain: Wuthering Heights by Sylvia Plath. BBC4, with Owen Sheers, 2009.

Comments :

1 Comment
JaneGS said...
on  

Wonderful post--I really love the longer of the two poems, and the journal entry and letter excerpts capture perfectly what I remember about Haworth myself.

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