Hear Sylvia Plath Read 50+ of Her Dark, Compelling Poems

No mat­ter how casu­al a rela­tion­ship you’ve had with 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet­ry, you’ve heard the name Sylvia Plath. Maybe you’ve already dared to expe­ri­ence her dark but com­pelling lit­er­ary world, or maybe you just know a few of the basic ele­ments of her life and career: her auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el The Bell Jar, her famous­ly har­row­ing poet­ry col­lec­tion Ariel, her stormy mar­riage to British poet lau­re­ate Ted Hugh­es, her death by her own hand at the age of thir­ty. But what bet­ter day than today, the 83rd anniver­sary of Plath’s birth, to get bet­ter acquaint­ed with her work?

And what bet­ter way than to hear that work read in Plath’s own voice? Sure, you could just pick up one of the many yel­lowed mass-mar­ket paper­back copies of Ariel you see on book­shelves all across Amer­i­ca and plunge in, but you might first con­sid­er turn­ing to our archives, which con­tain a 2013 post in which we fea­tured Plath read­ing fif­teen poems that would appear in the Ariel col­lec­tion that, pub­lished two years after her death (“left sit­ting on the kitchen table to be found along with her body,” not­ed Josh Jones), would raise her poet­ic rep­u­ta­tion to new heights. You can hear the first part of these read­ings, record­ed in 1962, at the top of this post, and the rest at this orig­i­nal post.

We might feel lucky that, in her short life, she left even those per­for­mances for pos­ter­i­ty, but there’s more: last year, we fea­tured Sylvia Plath read­ing her poet­ry, the 1977 record released by pio­neer­ing pre-audio­book label Caed­mon which con­tains 23 poems Plath com­mit­ted to tape as ear­ly as 1959. Find all of the read­ings here.

If these two audio col­lec­tions give you a taste for the poet biog­ra­ph­er Carl Rollyson called “the Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture,” have a lis­ten to Cre­do Records’ album Sylvia Plath, which offers some mate­r­i­al you’ll have heard along­side some you won’t have. Hav­ing lis­tened to all this, you’ll hard­ly asso­ciate the adjec­tive “cel­e­bra­to­ry” with Plath’s work — but that does­n’t mean that, on what would have been her 83rd birth­day, poet­ry-lovers can’t cel­e­brate it.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revis­it Her Sketch­es, Self-Por­traits, Draw­ings & Illus­trat­ed Let­ters

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

Sylvia Plath, Girl Detec­tive Offers a Hilar­i­ous­ly Cheery Take on the Poet’s Col­lege Years

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (6)
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  • Bill W. says:

    Plath sounds just like I imagined…a pre­ten­tious, self-absorbed snob. She and Ted Hugh­es DESERVED each oth­er!

  • Carol S. says:

    Many impor­tant artists are far, far from per­fect peo­ple, like every­one else. I think of Picas­so, Mail­er, Fitzger­ald, Hem­ming­way, even the won­der­ful Dick­ens. I could go on and on… Where would this world be with­out them? She reads beau­ti­ful­ly, despite her slight­ly snob­bish air. I lis­tened to the won­der­ful Yeats and stopped before his dull and insuf­fer­able deliv­ery ruined his poet­ry for me.

  • hellan foot says:

    shut up bill w sylvia rules you toe fun­gus

  • Janet Baker says:

    I did­n’t lis­ten. I did­n’t like her voice. She sound­ed sur­pris­ing­ly old, for such a pret­ty face.

  • Kevin says:

    Is it just me, or did some­body miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty by not mak­ing a bio­graph­i­cal film with Faye Dun­away as Sylvia Plath?

  • Diane Hodges says:

    She reads with a pure rage, dis­dain, … I hear now how much she resent­ed all the trap­pings of being a woman in a man’s world. It comes across in the poet­ry, always, but to hear it, clar­i­fies so much about her unhap­pi­ness. Thank you for this!

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