Books: The Blood Jet Is Poetry

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Took its place among the elements.

AII night your moth-breath

Flickers among the flat pink roses.

I wake to listen: A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral

In my Victorian nightgown.

Your mouth opens clean as a cat's.

But life was more difficult than poetry. In the fall of 1962, just after the birth of her son Nicholas, she and Hughes separated permanently. Alone with the children in Devon, Sylvia hurled herself into a heroic but foolhardy attempt to probe her deepest problems with the point of a pen.

All day she kept house and cared for the children. Most of the night she wrote "like a woman on fire"—two, three, six complete poems night after night. Her fire was black and its name was hatred. Her words were hard and small like missiles, and they were flung with flat force.

Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.

A wind of such violence

Will tolerate no by standing: I must shriek.

But beneath the hatred she found fear.

I am terrified by this dark thing

That sleeps in me;

All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity . . .

What is this, this face

So murderous in its strangle of branches?

And beneath the fear, she found a sinister love of death. She longed to feel the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,

And the universe slide from my side.

Death like a Poem. In her most ferocious poems, Daddy and Lady Lazarus, fear, hate, love, death and the poet's own identity become fused at black heat with the figure of her father, and through him, with the guilt of the German exterminators and the suffering of their Jewish victims. They are poems, as Robert Lowell says in his preface to Ariel, that "play Russian roulette with six cartridges in the cylinder."

For six months, first in Devon and later in London, Sylvia wrote without letup. By the end of January 1963, her nerves were a shirt of nettles. On Feb. 4 she arrived at a friend's house, lugging the children. "She was in an inferno," the friend remembers. "Depression is not the word." For six days she let herself be looked after, but on Feb. 10 she went back to her flat to spend the night. The next morning, in an Auschwitz all her own, she executed what one critic calls her "last unwritten poem." The epithet is appropriate. In the last week of her life she laid bare the heart of her art in a clouting couplet:

The blood jet is poetry; There is no stopping it.


You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white. Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time—Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one grey toe Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two. So I never could tell where you Put your foot, your root, I never could talk to you. The tongue stuck in my jaw.

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