Sylvia Plath

= Subscribers only. Sign in here. Subscribe here.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

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

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Poetry — From the December 1962 issue

Leaving early

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Poetry — From the August 1962 issue

Private ground

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Poetry — From the February 1962 issue

Sleep in the Mojave Desert

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

The Neoliberal Arts

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Gangs of Karachi

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today