two lost sylvia plath poems with new perspectives on girlhood

Two previously unseen poems by 'The Bell Jar' author, plus a trove of unseen photos, have just been discovered in India.

by Hannah Ongley
25 May 2017, 3:35pm

Sylvia Plath has maintained a powerful grasp on young women's minds since she took her own life over 50 years ago. Plath's best-known portrait of ambition and adolescent angst, The Bell Jar, is currently being adapted for film by perennial coming-of-age screen queen Kirsten Dunst. But before then, some far more obscure Plath material is causing a stir amongst the author/poet's fans. Ever heard of These Ghostly Archives? Not many people have until now. It's a new trove of lost material, including manuscripts, photographs, and the holy grail of lost literary art: two unseen poems.

Titled "To a Refractory Santa Claus" and "Megrims," the poems are thought to have been written early in fall 1956, during Plath's volatile marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes. Hughes's own expressive accounts of their relationship, written for his final collection, Birthday Letters, were also found in the archive at Indiana University. The poems detail the collapse of the marriage after Plath found out he was having an affair. Together the material reveals how the two influenced each other as artists.

The Plath savants who discovered the works, Gail Crowther and Peter K Steinberg, used Photoshop to decipher their findings from carbon paper found in an old notebook. "To a Refractory Santa Claus" reveals Plath's desire to escape England for the sunnier climes of Spain, while "Megrims" is apparently the paranoia-struck poet's monologue to her doctor. "I think the poems definitely can be classed as early," Steinberg said. "[Because] no other copy appears to exist it might be surmised that they aren't very good. But in fact, the imagery in "To a Refractory Santa Claus" is beautiful. And there is a kind of loose, almost slangy-casual language in "Megrims" that took years for Plath to finesse in her Ariel voice in, for example, her poem "The Applicant."

Steinberg hinted that further sleuthing may eventually turn up a third unseen poem and Plath's final journals, which are thought to have been destroyed by Hughes after her death. In the meantime, These Ghostly Archives is slated for a US release in October — the same season Plath in which wrote the poems. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Amazon

Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar
the ghostly archives
to a refractory santa claus