October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963
Born in 1932 to middle class parents in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath published her first poem at the age of eight. A sensitive person who tended to be a bit of a perfectionist she was what many would consider a model daughter and student - popular, a straight A student, always winning the best prizes. She won a scholarship to Smith College in 1950 and even then she had an enviable list of publications. While at Smith she wrote over four hundred poems.
However, beneath the surface of her seeming perfection were some grave discontinuities, some which probably were caused by the death of her father, an entomologist, when she was eight. During the summer after her junior year in college, Sylvia made her first (and almost successful) attempt at suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. The experience is described in her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar , published in 1963. After a period of recovery, which involved electroshock and psychotherapy she once again pursued academic and literary success, graduating from Smith summa cum laude in 1955 and winning a Fulbright scholarship to study in Cambridge, England.
In 1956 she married Ted Hughes, an English poet, and in 1960, at the age of twenty-eight she published her first book, The Colossus in England. The poems found in the book clearly showed the dedication with which she pursued her apprenticeship, yet they only gave a taste of what was to come in the poems she began writing in early 1961. She and Hughes settled for a brief time in an English country village in Devon, England. However, less than two years after the birth of their first child the marriage disintegrated.
In the winter if 1962-63, one of the coldest in centuries, Sylvia lived in a small flat in London, with her two children, ill with the flu and nearly broke. The difficulties in her life seened to reinforce her need to write and she often worked between four and eight a.m., before the children awoke. She would sometimes finish a poem a day. In her last works it seems as though some deeper and more powerful self had grabbed control of her. In those poems death is given a cruel, physical allure and psychic pain becomes almost tactile.
On February 11, 1963, Sylvia Plath succeeded in killing herself with cooking gas at the age of thirty. Two years after her death, Ariel , a collection of some her last poems was published, that was followed by Crossing the Water and Winter Trees in 1971 and in 1981 The Collected Poems was published, edited by none other than Ted Hughes.