Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath was born three weeks prematurely, on October 27, 1932. At the age of four, she started elementary school, and learned to swim by necessity, after accidentally wading too far into the ocean. When she was eight, her poem, “Poem,” was published in the children’s section of the Boston Herald. Her father died the same year. “I’ll never speak to God again,” she said.

In 1953, Russell Lynes, then managing editor of Harper’s Magazine, bought three poems by Plath, who was a junior at Smith College, for $100. The same year, Plath was appointed editor of the Smith Review; received a guest editorship at Mademoiselle; attempted suicide for the first time; and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. She recalled the period in 1957 while reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries: “I felt I was reduplicating [Woolf’s suicide] in that black summer of 1953,” she wrote. “Only I couldn’t drown.” Of Woolf, Plath also noted that “she works off her depression over rejections from Harper’s (no less!—and I can hardly believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen.”

Plath’s poems were published in two subsequent issues of Harper’s Magazine before she graduated college. In 1956, while on a Fulbright scholarship at Cambridge University, she met Ted Hughes, and married him the same year. She submitted forty of his poems to a Harper’s contest in 1957; Hughes was awarded the prize, and his first collection was published soon after. “We will publish a bookshelf of books between us before we perish!” Plath wrote in her diary. “And a batch of brilliant healthy children.”

Plath’s first poetry collection, The Colossus and Other Poems, was published in 1960. Her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, shortly before her death on February 11, 1963. The Collected Poems (1981) won the Pulitzer Prize, making Plath the first to receive that award posthumously. Since Plath’s death, vandals have scratched Hughes’s name off her tombstone in West Yorkshire several times; each time, the tombstone has been re-engraved.

Wraparound — From the October 1975 issue

Wraparound

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Poetry — From the December 1962 issue

Leaving early

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Poetry — From the August 1962 issue

Private ground

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Poetry — From the February 1962 issue

Sleep in the Mojave Desert

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Poetry — From the June 1961 issue

You’re

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After hours — From the July 1960 issue

Mushrooms

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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The Watchmen·

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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The Origins of Speech·

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"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
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Acceptable Losses·

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

Photograph by Alex Potter

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