‘Islanders Read the Classics’ explores Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’

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Oak Bluffs resident Holly St. John Bergon will discuss one of poet Sylvia Plath’s major collections, “Ariel,” on Wednesday, May 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Chilmark library. Her talk is the latest in the “Islanders Read the Classics” series.

Ms. Bergon taught Plath’s poetry throughout her 30-year academic career at Dutchess Community College. The celebrated poet, who took her life in 1963 at the age of 30, is considered one of the major American poets of the 20th century. The title of the collection, which includes well-known poems like “Daddy” and “Tulips,” comes from the name of a horse she rode in England, and is derived from Christian and Jewish mysticism.

Although “Ariel” was originally published in 1965, after Plath’s death, a new edition was released in 2004. It restored the poet’s choice and order, and added forewords by Plath and her daughter Frieda. Plath’s husband Ted Hughes had replaced poems and rearranged their sequence when he arranged for the publication of the original edition.  

“Of all the work she produced, that is the one that crystallizes her profound achievement in the arts,” Ms. Bergon said of “Ariel.” She emphasized how much work Plath left behind, despite the tremendous turmoil in her life. Mental illness ran in both sides of Plath’s family, and her son Nicholas committed suicide in 2009.

“She was always talking about how ‘I haven’t done that much,’” Ms. Bergon said. “I’m just bowled over by her achievement, how much life she crammed into 30 years.” Ms. Bergon calls Plath’s poetry exhilarating, with a good comic sense and use of detail. A graduate of Smith College who attended Cambridge University, Plath was such a diligent student that by the age of 30 she had a considerable body of knowledge from which to draw. The poet was also an accomplished pen and ink artist — Ms. Bergon plans to show slides of her drawings. “It’s a contrast to the much more painful stuff we know about her,” Ms. Bergon said.

Ms. Bergon retired from teaching three years ago, and moved with her husband Frank Bergon to her family’s home in Oak Bluffs.


“Islanders Read the Classics” is a monthly series co-sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the Martha’s Vineyard Library Association, and Islanders Write. Ms. Bergon will discuss Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” Wednesday, May 18, at 5:30 pm at the Chilmark library. All “Islanders Read the Classics” talks are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Kate Feiffer at Kate@mvtimes.com.


This article by Brooks Robards originally appeared on mvtimes.com.