The Yew Tree, North Tawton
North Tawton storm clouds

American poet Sylvia Plath began a sixteen month sojourn in Southwest England when she and her husband, Ted Hughes, purchased a seventeenth-century vicarage, Court Green, in North Tawton on the northern edge of Dartmoor in August 1961.  The residence witnessed the birth of their second child, the dissolution of their marriage, and Plath’s separation from Hughes.  It also witnessed the extraordinary creative outpouring of many of the poems that would eventually fill the posthumous volume Ariel (1965).


Within the daring, at times surreal, imagery of Plath’s powerful poems, we can glimpse an imaginative engagement with the Devon countryside that was brief, fierce, and deeply ambivalent.  One series chronicles Plath’s experiment in beekeeping, as in the gothic description of her initiation into the mysteries of the craft by the locals:


                  Who are these people at the bridge to meet me?  They are the


                   The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.

                   In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,

                   And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?

                   They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.


                    I am as nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?

                                                                        (“The Bee Meeting”)


In “Ariel,” horse and rider fuse into a single incandescent image as they race across the moorland past rugged tors to their final ambiguous fate:


                                    Stasis in darkness,

                                    Then the substanceless blue

                                    Pour of tor and distances.


                                    God’s lioness,

                                    How one we grow,

                                    Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow


                                    Splits and passes, sister to

                                    The brown arc

                                    Of the neck I cannot catch. . .


Gill, Jo.  The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 2006.

Middlebrook, Diane.  Her Husband:  Hughes and Plath:  A Marriage.  London:  Little, Brown, 2004.

Plath, Sylvia.  Collected Poems.  London:  Faber & Faber, 1981.

Wagner-Martin, Lynda.  Sylvia Plath:  A Literary Life.  London:  Palgrave, 2003.



© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007