London Luck: Sylvia Plath

The theory goes: if I had been one minute early or one minute late, it would never have happened. But I think from the moment I stepped onto Fitzroy Road, something was already in motion, some act that had been gathering momentum for years and would finally, finally happen – and whether I was early or late really did not really matter because the concept of time had ceased to exist. It was going to happen because it was Destiny.

As I walked through the London Zoo, I spotted several huge red Macaw parrots, beautiful things that were strangely silent, refusing to disturb the peaceful morning with their loud calls. No other animal noises either, though I was keenly alert. In one of Ted Hughes “Birthday Letters”, he makes mention of the animal noises, which startled him when he moved into Sylvia’s flat after she died. But there were no roaring lions or calling Macaws. I wended through the adjacent pretty green park, where dogs were playing, and then – voila:

Just seeing the sign made a lump appear in my throat. I started to shake. As I walked up the wide avenue, I was looking desperately from one side of the road to the other. I spotted some scaffolding and was terrified that her house was being remodeled. But that was the house next door. Her house, the house with the Yates plaque, was pristine as in every picture I have ever seen of it.

The poems flew through my head. The magnificent woman who wrote them lived in that house. She dwelled among those walls with two sick little babies, waking at four in the morning to write, revise, and write some more, then bless the world with her shattering words.

I stood quaking across the street from the house, overwhelmed with all it stood for, with all the history, with my love for Sylvia Plath.

Then, as if in a dream, the door began to open.

“Oh my God,” I whispered to my friend. A woman appeared. Petite with blonde hair, in a neat bob, maybe in her early forties. She wore a black sweater, black trousers, and a smart patent leather belt. I don’t remember if she was wearing shoes. She glanced over at me, and the to the workmen at the scaffolding.

I began to walk toward her, as if she had called to me. As I crossed the street, she looked back at me. I had no idea what I was going to say. Usually when I approach strangers, I put a big smile on my face, a nice social mask to show that I am harmless — even if I want something from them — and I have an angle. But I had neither the desire nor the presence of mind to be anything but utterly genuine.

“Hi,” I said, climbing the small steps to the porch. “I’m Cara Ellison. I came all the way from America to take a picture of your house.”

I held up my iPhone rather lamely. Then for some reason – I was operating on some other level here, I don’t understand why I did the things I did – I dropped my phone into my handbag.

“I am a huge Sylvia Plath fan,” I said.

She smiled a little uncertainly. “We get that a lot,” she said.

“Do you?” I asked, trying to be a normal human being. “No Yates fans?”

“A few,” she said. Through her open door I could see her hallway. The hallway where Sylvia stood.
“But it’s the Sylvia people who come often.”

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I said quickly.

She pointed to the workmen. “You didn’t. They did.”

Behind her, from somewhere in the house, a phone began to ring. “I need to get that.”

“Of course,” I said. “Do you mind if I snap the front of the house?”

“Go ahead,” she said and shut the door.

I stood reeling. I numbly snapped some pictures, deliberately trying not to think about this yet:

And the workmen next door:

I walked to the end of the block and snapped a picture of the intersection:

As we walked back, slowly, so I could absorb the karmatic energy of the place, the door opened again and the woman leaned out. She asked the workmen to keep the noise down, then – seemingly randomly – asked me, “Would you like to see the house for a second?”

Would I like to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived?

I think I died for a moment. There is a blank space in my memory. I don’t know how I said yes, or if I said yes at all. It is entirely possible that I just walked up the steps and followed her inside.

Sylvia’s house is now modern and fresh, smelling vaguely of roses and cedar. The kitchen is pretty. My eyes kept going to the stove, though it has been replaced – possibly many times. But that is the place she did it. She killed herself there, not two feet from where I was standing. That beautiful mind, the “cauldron of morning”… gone.

We spoke only for three minutes or so. I only glanced at the living room and the kitchen, talking about Sylvia’s poems while my eyes devoured every inch of the space. My friend and I thanked her profusely and walked back outside. As I did so, I saw the world, in those few instances, the way Sylvia would have. A jarring realization.

I could not talk about it just then. I couldn’t do much of anything. I think the whole point of my obsession had been to see the place she died, and since I accomplished that, I was a little bit obliterated.

At the park, we caught a taxi and directed the driver to the church where Sylvia and Ted Hughes were married. It was closed. I took some pictures of the outside:

Later, I would realize the “workmen” would take on a new dimension to this escapade. In the book “Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness”, Sylvia was driven batty by the sounds of workmen outside her flat with Ted Hughes:

Secondly, it was a workman named Charles Langridge who was fixing up the building who allowed in the nurse who found Sylvia dead.

I don’t know what these things mean but I sense they are not random.

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Comments

  1. i get that love ms. Plath, and Ayn Rand. but do love Percy Bysshe Shelley and his contemporaries, any one from the 18 century? alexander pope?

  2. So fascinating, so cool – I love that you went to the church too!

  3. I really enjoyed your post about the Fitzroy Road flat. I was there recently too, although I did not have your luck. I include several photographs of the places where Plath lived in my biography, AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SYLVIA PLATH, which is now in production at St. Martin’s Press.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] friend Cara and I are big Sylvia Plath fans. Cara is currently in London and took a trip to Fitzroy Road. This entry was posted in Miscellania. Bookmark the permalink. ← Happy Birthday, Dean [...]

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