Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pilgrimage

  
"Death must be so beautiful.  To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence.  To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow.   To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."         
Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar

The American poet, novelist and short-story writer Sylvia Plath, whose life and tragic death is well-documented and the cause of much speculation, is buried in Heptonstall churchyard, about 10 miles from Saltaire.  Her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, from whom she was separated at the time she took her own life, comes from this area of Yorkshire and the couple lived for a short time in Heptonstall.  I read Plath's semi-autobiographical novel 'The Bell Jar' at some time in my youth - beautiful but terribly depressing.

Her grave is a place of pilgrimage for some.  It has been damaged several times by people trying to obliterate her married name and the inscription chosen by Ted Hughes for the memorial.  I didn't touch it - just wondered at the dying flowers, the pens and the other tributes people have left; it all seemed very sad, though I imagine she might have liked the blue wildflowers tumbling over it.  (They are a Speedwell, appropriately.)

It seems fitting to pause at a graveside, on this day of remembrance and pain for so many....

14 comments:

  1. I wonder what feelings people come away with, after making this kind of pilgrimage. Is it a sense of curiosity satisfied, or has a level of emotional proximity been achieved? I remember standing where T.E. Lawrence was buried and thinking, what I might say to him, if he was suddenly right beside me.

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  2. Short and hard lifes and talented poets..Makes me think of Keats. Martin's question is interesting..

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  3. Fitting tribute on 9/11, Jenny. I read The Bell Jar many decades ago, but can't recall anything about it except that it was sad. But life's events are often like that... we forget the details and remember the emotion.

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  4. I wonder why people leave pens? Seems an odd thing to leave in tribute - I assume that wherever she may be she will have access to more ethereal writing implements than an old Bic

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  5. A sad picture, except for the flowers.

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  6. Depression is the worst of illnesses, and more contagious than smallpox.

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  7. I took part in an Arvon writing course at Heptonstall some years ago, and we all duly made the pilgrimage to this grave.
    Not long before he died, I went to see Ted Hughes reading from his book, The Birthday Letters, poems he wrote for and about Sylvia. This was the first time he had spoken publicly about her since she died, and his readings were so gentle and clearly so deeply felt that it seemed even more wrong for outsiders to judge what was such a private and personal tragedy.
    A very poignant post for this day, thanks for sharing.
    Jane Gray

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  8. Thank you for these Heptonstall posts. I once made a black and white video of Hughes poetry and photos from this area mingled with video from Vancouver Island natural woodland....

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  9. I haven't read The Bell Jar, but the line you quote is an odd mix of peaceful, yet unsettling!

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  10. Such a thoughtful post on this very sad anniversary. Thank you Jane Gray, for your addition to this story.

    Bises,
    Genie

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  11. A good post, Jenny. It is heart-wrenching to think about someone for whom life's many gifts were just not enough.

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  12. Fitting post -- we each have one life and one death -- so sad when the death comes too soon.

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  13. Oh, my! I had not heard of her, so this post was very interesting to me. She must have been well loved. Obviously many believe he was to blame for her death. Hmmm...

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  14. Oh this is sad, beautiful and a most fitting post for the day you posted it Jenny. ~Lili

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