Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, particularly the ones in ‘Winter Trees’ which were compiled in the last nine months of her life. Plath was among the first poets I ever connected with on a personal level. One poem in particular has struck me as I was going through this slim volume: ‘Mary’s Song’.
Like most poems it didn’t make a lot of sense the first time round, but as I kept going over it, things started to fall in place. My eyes began to shift and refocus itself around Plath’s words and suddenly a door opened and I could see her awful meaning.
This poem is about the holocaust. Like the poem ‘Vultures’ by Chinua Achebe, it paints a picture of a Europe at a time where it was cannibalising itself. The last line of ‘Mary’s Song’ leaves a haunting echo inside me. May times like this never be repeated.
The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat.
Sacrifices its opacity…
A window, holy gold.
The fire makes it precious,
The same fire
Melting the tallow heretics,
Ousting the Jews.
Their thick palls float
Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out
They do not die.
Grey birds obsess my heart,
Mouth-ash, ash of eye.
They settle. On the high
That emptied one man into space
The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent.
It is a heart,
This holocaust I walk in,
O golden child the world will kill and eat.
It takes a special talent to say so much with so little. Her economy of words is astonishing. I wish she had lived to write more novels. Plath is a sore loss to the literary world.
What are your favourite Plath poems? What makes them so special to you?