Friday, June 20, 2014

Sylvia Plath and Her Bees

   I've been catching up on reading poetry for the last few months. Birthday, Christmas, and a few personal splurges brought good books to my shelves.  Shopping at my favorite used-book store in the Palm Beach County area, Book Exchange, landed me a copy of Collected Poems: Sylvia Plath.  Edited by Ted Hughes, the collection spans the years 1956 to 1963, including a selection of Plath's early poems.
     I confess here, I was compelled to read poems found in this volume because several focused on beekeeping. For those of you who follow Flying Pages, you know I am a back-garden beekeeper and fascinated by honeybees. Her poems resonated with me.
     Sylvia's father, Otto Plath, had been an authority on bumble bees. His book, Bumblebees and Their Ways, (1934) is still highly regarded today. As a boy in Gerany, he had been nicknamed Beinen-Konig (king of the bees) and when he emigrated to the United States, he became a professor of entomology at Boston University. Eventually, Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, took up the avocation.
     The County Dublin Beekeeper's Association offers an account of Plath's immersion into beekeeping. Mary Montaut writes on this site: "For beekeepers . . . the poems are a treasure trove. They are full of fresh, unexpected imagery about the familiar things we take too much for granted in our craft."
     This, as written by Karen Ford while affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Plath wrote the five Bee poems, which she initially titled "Bees" and conceived of as a sequence, in less than a week in October 1962 as her marriage was breaking up. They are unified by their subject matter, bees and beekeeping, and by their five-line stanza pattern, though each poem works its own unique variation of the general theme and form. They reveal a concern with self-assessment and redefinition, both personally and poetically, and proceed by scrutinizing relationships between the speaker and her world. The sequence moves from community, in "The Bee Meeting," to solitude, in "Wintering," as the speaker settles her relations with others and with her own former selves. This trajectory from an external preoccupation with others to an inward concern for the self has formal reverberations. Plath’s characteristic stylistic excess eases during the course of the sequence as the speaker retreats from the pressures of the external world, especially the world of gender conflicts, to the inner rhythms of her own exigencies. As the influence of the exterior world diminishes, the stylistic agitation seems to abate as well.
     Other Plath poems in this collection offer projections, irony, fate, and several are "Confessional" in tone as was found in America poetry of the '50s and '60s.
     What is your familiarity on the poetry of Sylvia Plath? Have you read her Bee poems?