20 March 2017

Sylvia Plath's Yale Colossus

In addition to a typescript copy of Sylvia Plath's Circus in Three Rings that she compiled in Spring 1955 as she was preparing to graduate from Smith College, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington, has a typescript copy of Plath's The Colossus and other poems in Box 8, Folder 8, that she submitted, like other collections, to the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Plath considered marketing a book to the Yale Series of Younger Poets starting in 1955, around the time she assembled her Circus in Three Rings. Also, she intended to send something to them in June 1956. Whether these first two happened or not I am not sure. Plath did submit Two Lovers and a Beachcomber on 16 February 1957 (rejected 8 August 1957) and The Bull of Bendylaw and other Poems circa late February or early March 1959 (rejected 6 June 1959). If she missed 1958 who can really be surprised because of her teaching workload.

Plath appears to have submitted the Colossus manuscript to the Yale Series sometime in February 1960, possibly within a week or two of signing the contract with Heinemann for their edition of the book. Mrs. Plath let her daughter know that she had received an acknowledgement of receipt of the manuscript by mid-March 1960.

With the typescript of The Colossus at the Lilly is an unsigned rejection notice from the Yale University Press dated 2 August 1960. Plath had listed the return address as Wellesley so the book was sent back there. She wrote her mother on 16-17 August 1960 and told her that when it was returned to "Keep the ms. & use it for scrap." The winner that year was Alan Dugan. The previous winners that Plath went up against were: John Ashbery (1956), James Wright (1957), John Hollander (1958), William Dickey (1959), and George Starbuck (1960), whom she lost to "by a whispers". Except for Plath, not many misses there!

As I did with Circus in Three Rings below is a list of the poems in this Yale submission followed by a exact or circa date of creation for each.

The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sow, before January 14, 1957
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
Owl, June 26, 1958
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Thin People, late 1957
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
Maudlin, Fall 1956
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
Ouija, August 1957
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958
Spinster, October 19, 1956
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959

Here are the poems in chronological order of their creation date. Or, rather, as chronological as I can make them at this point:

Faun, April 18-21, 1956
Two Sisters of Persephone, May 24, 1956
Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats, June 2, 1956
Spinster, October 19, 1956
Black Rook in Rainy Weather, November 17-18, 1956
Maudlin, Fall 1956

Departure, Fall 1956 or before July 27, 1958

Sow, before January 14, 1957
All the Dead Dears, April 7, 1957
Hardcastle Crags, Summer? 1957
Ouija, August 1957
The Thin People, late 1957

Full Fathom Five, May 22-June 11, 1958
The Beggars, before July 27, 1958
The Ghost's Leavetaking, March 21, 1958
The Disquieting Muses, March 22-28, 1958
Snakecharmer, March 22-28, 1958
Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor, May 22-June 11, 1958
Owl, June 26, 1958
Lorelei, July 4, 1958
Moonrise, before July 27, 1958
Night Shift, late July 1958?
Sculptor, late July 1958?
Two Views of a Cadaver Room, late July 1958?
Frog Autumn, August? 1958
The Companionable Ills, Fall? 1958
I Want, I Want, Fall? 1958
The Times are Tidy, Fall? 1958

Point Shirley, January 16-17, 1959
The Bull of Bendylaw, January 27, 1959
The Hermit at Outermost House, January? 1959
Suicide Off Egg Rock, February 19, 1959
Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows, February 19, 1959
The Eye-Mote, February-March? 1959
Metaphors, March 20, 1959
Man in Black, March 20?, 1959
Aftermath, March? 1959
The Beekeeper's Daughter, March? 1959
A Winter Ship, March? 1959
Medallion, before September 21, 1959
The Colossus, before October 19, 1959
The Manor Garden, before October 19, 1959
Poem for a Birthday (Who, Dark House, Maenad, The Beast, Flute Notes From a Reedy Pond, Witch Burning, The Stones), October 22-November 3, 1959
Blue Moles, before November 11, 1959
The Burnt-out Spa, November 11, 1959
Mushrooms, November 13, 1959

Now, back to the manuscript of the book… First off, the title page has a corner missing. It appears to have been cut, cleanly, at some point. Plath typed her Wellesley return address at the top right and hand wrote her name beneath. However, some text is missing due to the cut. This is how it reads:

26 Elmwo
Wellesley,
Sylvia Pl

A bit of the second "o" in "Elmwood" is visible as is a bit of the "a" in "Plath" is visible, too.

The list of acknowledgements on page 3 that Plath typed at the beginning is capital I Impressive. But it, as well as the quality of the poetry, was not enough to sway her jurors. Comparing this Yale submission with the contents of the book as Heinemann published it shows that like the crab in "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" Plath was ever the fiddler. There are two additional poems in the Yale manuscript and, as well, some shuffled around poems.

Present in the Yale submission, but absent from her Heinemann manuscript, are the poems "Owl" and "Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats". Also, in the Yale manuscript, "The Bull of Bendylaw" and "All the Dead Dears" are flipped. Additionally, the other notable poem is "Spinster" which is located in The Colossus after "Moonrise", while in the Yale manuscript it is four poems lower down.

What can we make of Plath adding the two poems ("Owl" and "Ella Mason") to this manuscript? Are they more "American"? What do they add?

All links accessed 7 March 2017.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.

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