Sylvia Plath Reads Her Poetry: 23 Poems from the Last 6 Years of Her Life

In March of last year, Toron­to col­lec­tor Greg Gaten­by auc­tioned off “some 1,700 LPs, 45s, and 10-inch discs”-worth of record­ed lit­er­ary his­to­ry, con­tain­ing read­ings by such canon­i­cal fig­ures as “Auden and Atwood, Camus and Capote, Eliot, Faulkn­er, Kipling, Shaw and Yeats,” and the record­ings fea­tured here from Sylvia Plath. Gatenby’s entire col­lec­tion went on sale for a buy-it-now price of $85,000 (I assume it’s sold by now), and while we might have pre­ferred that he donat­ed these arti­facts to libraries, there may have been no need. Most of them are already, or we hope soon will be, dig­i­tized and free online. Sylvia Plath read­ing her poet­ry (now out of print) was orig­i­nal­ly released on vinyl and cas­sette in 1977 by pro­lif­ic spo­ken word record label Caed­mon, but of course the read­ings they doc­u­ment all took place over fif­teen years ear­li­er, some at least as ear­ly as 1959, the year before the pub­li­ca­tion of her first book, The Colos­sus and Oth­er Poems.

Many of the poems here appeared in The Colos­sus, the only col­lec­tion of poems Plath pub­lished in her life­time. Some, like “Novem­ber Graveyard”—first pub­lished in Made­moi­selle in 1958—were col­lect­ed late, in the Ted Hugh­es-edit­ed Col­lect­ed Poems in 1981, and the rest appeared in Ariel and oth­er posthu­mous col­lec­tions. Odd­ly, the title poem of her first book doesn’t appear, nor will you hear any of the poems that made Plath an infa­mous lit­er­ary fig­ure: no “Ariel,” no “Dad­dy,” no “Lady Lazarus,” though you can hear her read those poems else­where. Many of these poems are more lush, less vis­cer­al and per­son­al, though no less rich with arrest­ing and some­times dis­turb­ing imagery. Sev­er­al of these read­ings took place in Feb­ru­ary 1959 at Harvard’s Wood­ber­ry Poet­ry Room. The album’s offi­cial descrip­tion tells us these are “selec­tions from the last 6 years of her life,” and also include “read­ings for the BBC before she wrote her con­tro­ver­sial nov­el, The Bell Jar.”

Before Caed­mon col­lect­ed these less­er-known poems record­ed read­ings of “Dad­dy” and “Lady Lazarus” had already been released on the com­pi­la­tion record The Poet Speaks in 1965. Lis­ten­ing to Plath read these poems may prompt you to pull out your own edi­tions to read them for your­self, whether again or for the first time. To see a full list­ing of the poems Plath reads above, scroll to the bot­tom of this bib­li­og­ra­phy page on

Find more great poet­ry read­ings in our audio col­lec­tion — 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Sylvia Plath Read Fif­teen Poems From Her Final Col­lec­tion, Ariel, in 1962 Record­ing

For Sylvia Plath’s 81st Birth­day, Hear Her Read ‘A Birth­day Present’

Sylvia Plath Reads “Dad­dy”

Lady Lazarus: Watch an Exper­i­men­tal Film Spo­ken by Sylvia Plath

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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