Searching for Sylvia

After hearing the wonderful Patti Smith say that she’d been to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave recently, and finding ourselves in Heptonstall yesterday, we thought we’d make a special effort to find her too. It’s a large graveyard (about 100,000 graves are there apparently) and Sylvia is in the newer ‘wing’. She took some finding though from the beautiful ruins of the old church but eventually there she was, nested amongst many other gravestones. It was a surprise to find that people leave pens and letters at her grave. One letter left just a few days earlier, starting to get sodden from the rain, looked too personal to read – I glanced at the first few lines ‘Dear Sylvia…’ and then didn’t want to read on. The mass of biros left at her grave, instead of flowers was very touching, people hoping that she’d continue sharing her quite incredible vision from beyond. Plath took her own life in 1963, tragically young and given her prolific output up until then, still had plenty more to give.

I’ve recently been re-reading ‘A woman speaks’, a wonderful collection of essays by Anais Nin, a very positive writer. In these essays Nin praises the power of creativity and its ability to pull us out of despair. Nin mentions Plath several times as an example of a writer who failed to grasp hope. Nin’s tone seems accusatory and very critical of the young poet, for her ‘weakness’. This seems a real shame to me…reading some of Plath’s difficult and dark poems when I got home last night, what struck me more was her incredible gift and strength, given her state of severe mental illness.

Anyway, I’d recommend the graveyard for its collection of many old gravestones. I just love this engraved stone – the style of the lettering seems celebratory of a life, and the large decorative ‘M’ and heart motif seems to show a deep love and respect for Mary Cockcroft…as if the engraver himself felt loss at her leaving.

Like most graveyard visits (which I don’t do often!), Heptonstall didn’t disappoint – delivering quiet reflection time and a slight sense of wonder at being able to walk out the gates and feel that little bit more alive.

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