An interesting news item in The Guardian this morning: Three Women, a play by Sylvia Plath never performed on stage before has opened at The Jermyn Street Theatre, London and is due to run until Feb 7th. It was performed on The Third Programme as a radio play for voices six months before Plath's death and was published posthumously as a poem, but that is all anyone has seen of it.
Here are some extracts from the play in its poem incarnation. First the opening verses:
Setting: A Maternity Ward and round about
I am slow as the world. I am very patient,
Turning through my time, the suns and stars
Regarding me with attention.
The moon's concern is more personal:
She passes and repasses, luminous as a nurse.
Is she sorry for what will happen? I do not think so.
She is simply astonished at fertility.
When I walk out, I am a great event.
I do not have to think, or even rehearse.
What happens in me will happen without attention.
The pheasant stands on the hill;
He is arranging his brown feathers.
I cannot help smiling at what it is I know.
Leaves and petals attend me. I am ready.
And, same setting, some verses from the Second voice:
And the man I work for laughed: 'Have you seen something awful?
You are so white, suddenly.' And I said nothing.
I saw death in the bare trees, a deprivation.
I could not believe it. Is it so difficult
For the spirit to conceive a face, a mouth?
The letters proceed from these black keys, and these black keys proceed
From my alphabetical fingers, ordering parts,
Parts, bits, cogs, the shining multiples.
I am dying as I sit. I lose a dimension.
Trains roar in my ears, departures, departures!
The silver track of time empties into the distance,
The white sky empties of its promise, like a cup.
These are my feet, these mechanical echoes.
Tap, tap, tap, steel pegs. I am found wanting.
This is a disease I carry home, this is a death.
Again, this is a death. Is it the air,
The particles of destruction I suck up? Am I a pulse
That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel?
Is this my lover then? This death, this death?
As a child I loved a lichen-bitten name.
Is this the one sin then, this old dead love of death?
And the third voice:
I am a mountain now, among mountainy women.
The doctors move among us as if our bigness
Frightened the mind. They smile like fools.
They are to blame for what I am, and they know it.
They hug their flatness like a kind of health.
And what if they found themselves surprised, as I did?
They would go mad with it.
And what if two lives leaked between my thighs?
I have seen the white clean chamber with its instruments.
It is a place of shrieks. It is not happy.
'This is where you will come when you are ready.'
The night lights are flat red moons. They are dull with blood.
I am not ready for anything to happen.
I should have murdered this, that murders me.
Its theme, obviously, is pregnancy, but more generally than that, the emotions engendered in having or not having children (no surprise then, that it has been dubbed a feminist text), but the theatre director, Robert Shaw, maintains that it is even broader than that, that it has a universality that puts it above such limiting definitions. There is something magical about it, he says, that he has not tried to analyse too carefully.. People respond to it and find things in this piece that they understand and relate to; things that perhaps Plath was able to express in a way that no one else has.
I have to say that reading the poem version I find it hauntingly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful of all the writings she has left.
The First Voice is the mother character, speaking at first as during the early part of pregnancy, but then later when the baby arrives. The Second Voice describes the horrors of miscarriage, while the Third Voice (the voice of the mother who gives up her baby) expresses the feelings that come with her conviction that she is not ready for motherhood:
I thought I could deny the consequence, but it was too late for that. It was too late and the face went on shaping itself with love, as if I was ready.
Plath has long been tagged with being a feminist writer, of course, but there is an interesting rebuttal of that title here
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