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20 Stirring Quotes From Sylvia Plath

“Let me think clearly and brightly,” Sylvia Plath once wrote in her journal. “Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” Plath accomplished all these things, though her life was far too short, and her legions of literary fans and admirers would agree that her sentences soared far above merely “good.”

Plath was a poet, novelist, and short-story writer, best known for her two poetry collections, “The Colossus and Other Poems” and “Ariel,” as well as her semi-autobiographical novel “The Bell Jar,” all published in the 1960s. Her poems were often brutal, filled with anger, despair, love, and vengeance, helping define what was then a fledgling genre known as confessional poetry.

Plath suffered from clinical depression, which took a heavy toll throughout much of her adult life. “It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents,” she wrote, “joyous positive and despairing negative — whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.”

She attempted suicide on multiple occasions, with the last attempt cutting her life short in 1963 when she was just 30 years old. Her death, as well as her relationship with the poet Ted Hughes, are well documented, but it is her writing that defines her legacy — a contribution recognized when she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1982.

Despite her short years, Plath’s brilliant and introspective writing left a lasting impact on her readers, and gave us many memorable quotes. Here are some of the best, from her journals, letters, and, of course, her poems.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my lids and all is born again.

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A little thing, like children putting flowers in my hair, can fill up the widening cracks in my self-assurance like soothing lanolin.

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If the moon smiled, she would resemble you. You leave the same impression of something beautiful, but annihilating.

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I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.

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Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

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Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.

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I am flushed and warm. I think I may be enormous, I am so stupidly happy, my wellingtons squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.

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Freedom is not of use to those who do not know how to employ it.

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You have to be able to make a real creative life for yourself, before you can expect anyone else to provide one ready-made for you.

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Why can’t I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which fits best and is most becoming?

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The hardest thing, I think, is to live richly in the present, without letting it be tainted and spoiled out of fear for the future or regret for a badly managed past.

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Herr God, Herr Lucifer, beware. Beware. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air.

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I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living.

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Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.

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I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.

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The abstract kills, the concrete saves.

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I have never found anybody who could stand to accept the daily demonstrative love I feel in me, and give back as good as I give.

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The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

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I too want to be important. By being different. And these girls are all the same.

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Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.

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Featured image credit: Penrodas Collection/ Alamy Stock Photo

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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What poet wrote, "Merge mercy with might, and might with right"?

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