Sylvian Plathitudes

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‘Love is a Parallax’, Sylvia Plath

My London adventures last week found me (some would say un-excitingly) — in a bookstore. Of course. But anyways; I had time to kill, and so I sat down in a lovely armchair at Foyles (I love that bookstores in London provide this comfortable feature!), and decided to remedy my lack of knowledge about Sylvia Plath. 

I picked up a lovely, thick Faber & Faber copy of her works (edited by the great evil that is Ted Hughes; but who better, really?) and began to read. It’s difficult to know where to start with these things, but after a few page skimmings I found myself on this beautiful poem, ‘Love is a Parallax’ — weirdly enough, it was in the Appendix (does this mean that it wasn’t actually published until this edition? Or that it was published posthumously? If someone knows, please let me know!). 

I am not an avid reader of poetry: I prefer novels and narrative, the lull of a story that moves (or at least, wanders circumlocutorily) towards something that can be conventionally, or at a stretch, be understood as ‘an ending’. I cannot sink into poems at will before bed, and I cannot be kept up late into the night with a collection of them. This is somewhat weird and uncomfortable for me, as a Lit. student, but this is genuinely how it is. How I do enjoy and understand poetry, however, is when it comes to me in bits and pieces at random moments or in strange places – it’s more of a fragmentary enjoyment than anything sustained. And maybe, since poems are written that way (excepting epic length stuff like Paradise Lost), maybe that’s not a bad way to enjoy them.

These lines from the Plath poem came to me precisely so: uncalled, unexpected, and in the middle of a busy bookstore in the heart of London (near Trafalgar Square and Soho or somewhere thereabouts, if I remember correctly). And they are beautiful. My favourite bit is “the drunks upon the curbs and dames / in dubious doorways forget their monday names / and caper with candles in their heads;” (I like the idea of a ‘monday name’ – is that the name one puts on after the weekend and when, with typical monday morning blues, one returns to whatever professional strand of life one is involved in, whether in the office or at university or school?). I like the idea of capering with candles in my head – I like the idea of capering period, but candles make it even better. 

And what does it mean for love to be a parallax anyways? What is a parallax? I didn’t know at the time of reading the poem (though I could guess it was something mathematical/geometrical). 

Parallax, n. The effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions. 

Love is probably a parallax. 

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2 comments
  1. Aoife Emily Hart said:

    It’s a great poem and as you know it’s filed as ‘juvenellia’, but I’m curious to know if it was one of those that she published in her prolific youth.

    • Actually, I don’t think it was! I only flipped through the book in a store briefly once (Faber ed.) but it was in the Appendix, and I think (though unsure if rightly….?) that it was one of her unpublished poems that Hughes included in the collection.

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