Poppies in July – by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes separated in October 1962 despite sharing a visit to Ireland that September where they met a number of prominent Irish poets. In June 1962 Plath started beekeeping and was briefly overjoyed with it. Her father had been a beekeeper and had written two books about bees. In July 1962, Sylvia confirmed Ted’s affair. That month she began ‘Poppies in July’. Consequently, Plath became very depressed and became addicted to sleeping pills.
  • Sylvia Plath [1932-1963] was born in Boston USA. She grew up in a well-off middle class home on the coast. Sylvia’s early years were influenced by the living near the ocean. ‘I sometimes think my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own.’
  • Her experiences of family life caused her to feel inner conflicts and pain.
  • Her father Otto died when she was eight. His Polish-German origins and unnecessary early death from a leg problem troubled her later in life. In addition, depression was widespread in her father’s family.
  • Due to her mother’s influence, Sylvia tried to live up to an old fashioned feminine ideal of perfection and purity. While keeping up this front as an adult, Sylvia rebelled against the conservative role she was expected to play. The consequent inner conflicts are revealed in her poetry and letters.
  • Plath hid her lack of confidence behind a mask of strident energy and brilliant achievement. Though she was an outstanding student, Plath never fulfilled the very high expectations she set for herself. She experienced self-doubt and depression. However, to the world she presented a carefree, offhand attitude. She pushed herself relentlessly at work.
  • Much of Plath’s poetry reveals her struggle against herself and the world.
  • Plath suffered a nervous breakdown in Smith College, Boston, after intense overwork in 1953. She was given bi-polar electro-convulsive shock treatments; a horror alluded to in the poem ‘Elm’ of 1962. This treatment further damaged her sanity, and she attempted suicide. Six months in a private hospital set her on her feet again, but she never fully recovered. Depression and the threat of insanity remained a problem.

H/t photos: daniellevandeven.nl  and KimMetcalf


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