Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We cel­e­brat­ed my birth­day yes­ter­day: [Ted] gave me a love­ly Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the oblig­a­tions of this term are over your daugh­ter shall start her way on the road to becom­ing a seer­ess & will also learn how to do horo­scopes, a very dif­fi­cult art which means reviv­ing my ele­men­tary math. 

Sylvia Plath, in a let­ter to her moth­er, 28 Octo­ber 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birth­day present from her hus­band, poet Ted Hugh­es, just went for £151,200 in an auc­tion at Sotheby’s.

That’s approx­i­mate­ly £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Mar­seille deck print­ed by play­ing card man­u­fac­tur­er B.P. Gri­maud de Paris, was expect­ed to fetch.

The auc­tion house’s descrip­tion indi­cates that a few of the cards were dis­col­ored —  evi­dence of use, as sup­port­ed by Plath’s numer­ous ref­er­ences to Tarot in her jour­nals.

Recall Tarot’s appear­ance in “Dad­dy,” her most wide­ly known poem, and her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Hang­ing Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I siz­zled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eye­lid :

A world of bald white days in a shade­less sock­et.

A vul­tur­ous bore­dom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This cen­tu­ry has seen her col­lec­tion Ariel restored to its author’s intend­ed order.
The orig­i­nal order is said to cor­re­spond quite close­ly to Tarot, with the first twen­ty-two poems sym­bol­iz­ing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the num­bers of the Minor Arcana. Those are fol­lowed by four rep­re­sent­ing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to ref­er­ence the pen­ta­cles, cups, swords and wands that com­prise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s man­u­script was rearranged by Hugh­es, who dropped some of the “more lac­er­at­ing” poems and added oth­ers in advance of its 1965 pub­li­ca­tion, two years after Plath’s death by sui­cide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daugh­ter Frie­da defends her father’s actions and describes how dam­ag­ing they were to his rep­u­ta­tion in her Fore­word to Ariel: The Restored Edi­tion.

One won­ders if it’s sig­nif­i­cant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card asso­ci­at­ed with pos­i­tive mes­sages relat­ed to fam­i­ly and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also won­der who paid such a stag­ger­ing price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt bur­ial to cleanse it of Plath’s neg­a­tive ener­gy?

Or is the win­ning bid­der such a diehard fan, the chance to han­dle some­thing so inti­mate­ly con­nect­ing them to their lit­er­ary hero neu­tral­izes any occult mis­giv­ings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Mar­seille had been award­ed to Phillip Roberts in Ship­ley, Eng­land, who planned to exhib­it them along­side her tarot-influ­enced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Fes­ti­val. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign, pledg­ing that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at ran­dom, with all con­trib­u­tors invit­ed to sub­mit new art or writ­ing to the mini-exhi­bi­tion: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from liv­ing in the draw­ers of some wealthy col­lec­tor, and let’s make some art togeth­er!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the win­ning bid. Bet­ter luck next time, mate. We applaud your gra­cious­ness in defeat, as well as the spir­it in which your project was con­ceived.

via Lithub

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Artis­tic & Mys­ti­cal World of Tarot: See Decks by Sal­vador Dalí, Aleis­ter Crow­ley, H.R. Giger & More

Why Should We Read Sylvia Plath? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 18 Poems From Her Final Col­lec­tion, Ariel, in 1962 Record­ing

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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