In a world where women in the same field are often pitted against each other, it can be especially nice to hear about a (relatively) healthy friendship between two female poets, such as that between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. The two women bounced ideas off of each other, possibly inspiring the others poetry at times. Above, I say that their relationship was relatively healthy because one of the things that Plath and Sexton really bonded over was their shared preoccupation with death and suicide. It can perhaps be seen as healthy that the women had someone with which to share their thoughts on what is often seen as a rather taboo subject. However, this relationship based on a fascination with death can also been viewed as having been unhealthy. In Sexton’s poem Sylvia’s Death, written after Plath’s suicide, there seems to have been a nearly competitive slant to the relationship, almost as if Sexton is upset that Plath succeeded in dying before she did.
how did you crawl into,
crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long
This can be read as if Sexton believes that Plath stole death from her, or “our boy,” as the two would call it. This definitely adds credence to the idea that their relationship, if based mainly on discussing death, was certainly unhealthy.
In contrast to this, by the end of the poem it seems as if Sexton is upset with Plath for committing suicide, no longer because she is jealous, but because she sees it as a wasted life. This adds a level of complexity to the relationship between the two women. Perhaps they were not only discussing death with each other but attempting to keep the other alive. We’ll never know what this friendship was truly like, as unfortunately Sexton herself went on to commit suicide, a decade after Plath. We can only know what they revealed through their poetry.
Images: Plath is seen on the left, Sexton on the right.