Mad Girls Love Song

Mad Girl’s Love Song #

Mad Girl’s Love Song was officially published in the August 1953 issue of the women’s magazine Mademoiselle when Plath was 21. Betsy Talbot Blackwell, Editor of Mademoiselle took plain young women to New York, where she put them in stylish clothes, restyled their hair and makeup and then put their pictures in her magazine, to “nourish young women inside and out” and indeed her first words of welcome to the 20 guest editors on that June morning included a plea to put “health before genius”.

By the age of 20, Plath had made her second attempt at suicide by taking her mother’s sleeping pills. Her life was saved because she brought half of them up, but spent three days hiding under the stairs, until her grandmother heard her moaning and she was dragged out.

Plath’s early relationships with boys and men allows readers in a very different era to understand the regime of repression and hypocrisy under which she suffered. Coming to accept our sexuality can be the most traumatising yet humanising experience we encounter.

Most religions treat it as a taboo which can create psychological problems throughout life. Until the 1960’s young people were raised in a state of Victorian ignorance about the human body.

Practical information about sexual matters was sketchy. Sex was simply not talked about.

Mad Girl’s Love Song #

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

This is a Villanelle; a traditional, repetitive kind of poem of nineteen lines. It is a highly rigid and restricted form with complex, tricky rules to operate within or to innovate within.

Dylan Thomas has written one of the few worth reading: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

It needs a punchy subject that bears repeating. Rhyme is important as is the repetition of phrases.

The villanelle is a highly structured poem made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain, with two repeating rhymes and two refrains.

Rules of the Villanelle Form #

The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as:

A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.

The thunderbird is a legendary supernatural creature of power and strength in certain North American indigenous peoples’ history and culture.

Courtly love is founded on platonic love which is seldom realised.

We do not fall in love with real people, but an idealised version of our illusions - our imaginations.

Sexual fantasies are quite commonly inconsistent with one’s social values and this should not in itself be a cause for alarm.

The following are Excerpts from Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson The Observer, Saturday 2 February 2013:

In many ways, the New York offered by Mademoiselle was like a stage set, an artificially constructed world that Sylvia knew was a sham. On 10 June, Sylvia and her fellow guest editors were invited to a formal party at the terrace room of the St Regis Hotel on 55th Street and Fifth Avenue. On the surface, it was all rather lovely – in the restaurant, with its ceiling painted the colours of a sky at sunset. Sylvia enjoyed the music from two alternating bands. As each course of her dinner – shrimp, chicken, salad, then parfait – was taken away she was whisked on to the dance floor and, with a daiquiri in her hand, she could look down from the roof terrace across the glittering skyline of Manhattan. Yet there was something not right about the evening. For a start, all the men, albeit young, handsome specimens, had been hired for the occasion by the magazine. As she went on to write in The Bell Jar, from an outside perspective a witness would assume she was having the time of her life. Wasn’t this the perfect example of the American Dream?

For 19 years, a girl from a poor background has lived in some nondescript town, wins a scholarship to a top college and “ends up steering New York like her own private car”.

Plath knew she should have been excited about the month in New York, but there was something wrong with her reactions. She felt hollow and lifeless and compared herself to the calm centre of a tornado, “moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo”.

Sylvia maintained that she enjoyed New York, yet the more time she spent in the city the more she realised that she had led a relatively sheltered existence. In a letter to her brother, she compared her relatively simple and straightforward life at Smith to the hyper-charged intensity of Manhattan. Sylvia described her time in New York as a deadly mix of “pain, parties, work” and it’s interesting to speculate on the significance and source of her suffering The agony she wrote about in this entry in her journal could refer to the anguish she felt when faced with a city she found alienating and altogether too modern for her sensitive soul.

On 20 June, at a country club dance in Forest Hills, she had met a Peruvian man, José Antonio La Vias, whom she described in her journal as “cruel”. She did not expand on this, nor did she detail how his cruelty manifested itself. All we know, from the brief entries she made on a 1953 calendar – which featured idyllic scenes of the cities and landscape of Austria – is that Sylvia returned to his apartment on the East Side. What happened there we will probably never know, but if we take The Bell Jar as our guide it seems as though Sylvia could have been the victim of a rape or a near rape.

In her novel, Bell Jar, Plath provides a devastating description of a sexual assault at a country club in the suburbs of New York involving Esther, her alter ego, and Marco, a wealthy Peruvian, and a friend of disc jockey Lenny Shepherd. On their first meeting, Esther cannot take her eyes off Marco’s diamond tiepin, which he hands over to her with the promise that, in exchange, he would perform some of kind of service “worthy of a diamond”. As he gives her the jewel, his fingers digging into the underside of her arm, Esther realises that Marco is a misogynist. “Women-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock-full of power,” Plath writes.

Later that night, Marco hits her, repeatedly calls her a slut, rips off her dress and then forces himself upon her.

In the novel, Esther manages to beat him off, but is left dirtied, humiliated and abused, and on her return to the Amazon [the Barbizon] goes up to the roof of the hotel and throws all her clothes off the parapet. As she stands there, in the hour before dawn, she watches her outfits – the outward symbols of her false self – disappear into the dark heart of Manhattan.

Plath developed a strong sexual appetite that she felt bound to deny and hide in the name of feminine virtue, respectability, thus of course, hypocrisy, even as she went out on countless dates with aggressive, sometimes assaultive men.

Teen-Age Girl’s Sexuality #

Loss of innocence also applies to our sexual awakening; coming to terms with our sexuality and its function in life. There are many links between sex and thinking. The mind can be both slave and master of the body’s appetites, but it is an absurd and terrifying task of stabilizing that dynamic, in theory and in practice.

Sexual needs and urges, biological, instinctive and imperative, emerge during puberty causing confusion and misunderstanding. In many Aboriginal initiation rituals older women introduce young men to the act of love. Other societies attempt to repress sexuality only to cause serious psychological problems. Since the 1960’s, western civilisation has become “liberated”, at the risk of creating a hypersexualised world or a sex soaked culture, through the casual sexualisation of billboards, television programs and advertisements eroticising children.

Young girls are increasingly conditioned into seeing themselves as mere sexualised products and develop early anxieties over body image and rejection.

Unfortunately, according to Nikki Gemmell, Porn can normalise deviant sexual practices. Recently a young 16 year old was forced to get a colonoscopy bag after being injured during rough group sex, and she will have to wear it for the rest of her life. Why? Because her porn - addicted boy friends thought it was a normal part of the sexual experience.

Here is film director Lynn Sheldon on her experience:

Adolescence “squashed” me; it was about coming of age sexually. I felt betrayed by my body, which became very womanly. It screwed up my head and my friendships.

From being on a par with boys, suddenly you are objectified. It was very much:

“you’re looking at me, don’t look at me, … look at me!”

I have visceral memories of that time.

Today’s young women need to learn how they can resist the sexual pressure they feel from a very young age to be “hot”, to “hook up” and to be able to “perform” and essentially satisfy a commodified version of male desire - without considering how they really feel about what is happening to them. Many teenagers become sexually vulnerable and active merely because they are starved of other forms of affection.

Sex just isn’t worth it if it doesn’t have much meaning, and isn’t even that enjoyable. The most important thing is to take control, examine one’s motivations and feelings rather than just “doing it” unthinkingly.

This is a whole new approach to sexuality that has little to do with the virgin pledges of the US moral majority kids or the abstinence campaigns of the Reagan and Bush administrations. It has a lot to do with women, and men, of all ages being truthful with themselves.

Younger women in Australia and elsewhere are pressured way too young into sexual relationships and into porn role-playing which can be a negative in their overall development. This world of a toxic raunch culture; drug and alcohol-fuelled “precocious sexual debut”, as the experts term it, was explored in titillating detail in the teen-TV series Skins, and earlier in films such as Larry Clark’s Kids.

Teenage girls under attack #

Steve Biddulph, June 2, 2007

Teenage depression has doubled in the past decade, eating disorders affect one girl in eight, self-harm, binge drinking and unhappy sexual experiences stalk even the average teenage girl.

Psychologists (here and overseas) believe the attack on girls is coming on two fronts. The first is an erosion of self-image by the corporate media sector - the creation of anxiety about physical appearance and sexuality in pre-teen and mid-teen girls….. the casual sexualisation of billboards, television programs and advertisements seen even by small children going about their day.

Adolescence is all about finding who you are. To explore potential life partners, to find a meaningful educational and career path. You do this among forces internal and external - neither too compliant with one’s parents, nor with a fickle and demanding peer group.

Sexuality is powerful in this. It can bring the most intense, positive and tender rewards of new-found young adulthood, or it can be a rushed and empty disappointment. Today scores of 16- and 17-year-old girls are already bored with the selfish fumblings of a series of boy partners and the disappointing lack of intimacy, meaning or real enjoyment. They have lost the energetic charge that comes from unfolding this aspect at their own pace. The media says sex will get you loved, and the reality is for about five minutes. Mall culture turns girls into a product, used and discarded.

Women should celebrate their sexuality: #

In Colour Purple, ironically it is Shug Avery, Mister’s mistress, who ultimately rouses Celie’s self worth by her approval. Theirs is a bizarre but mutual relationship; Celie accepts Shug into her home, baths her, feeds her, combs her hair and encourages her to start singing again. In turn Shug gives Celie her self-respect by singing for her, dressing her, stopping Albert’s beatings, helps her achieve financial independence and teaches her to enjoy her own body.

Despite her initial comment of: “God, you’re ugly”, Shug and Celie develop a mutual rapport after Shug’s realisation of Celie’s inner beauty when she sees Celie’s smile. This develops into a wholesome, esteem building, lesbian s-xual relationship and Celie first becomes aware of sex as a positive morale boosting force.

“Sexual pleasure in a woman is a kind of magic spell”

According to Simone de Beauvoir, it commands complete abandon; if the moment opposes the magic of caresses the spell is broken."

Nikki Gemmell continues:

“How easy it is to dissolve that spell. The female path to organism is such a fragile, delicate one, so easily lost. Our organisms are shy little things to coax out, insisting on concentration and focus and then of course complete abandonment; such a tricky combination.

As Alice Munro said:

“Sex seems to me all surrender - not the woman’s to the man, but to the person - to the body.”

It takes time to surrender; to enter the sacred, exhilarating zone when we’re jolted into life, combusted into light. The best sex involves a sense of connecting on the deepest level, with two people who are utterly in the moment.

All good sex aids self-esteem for both parties.

Nikki Gemmell continues:

Thank you, God, for giving us the only organ on the human body devoted purely to exquisite sensation: the clitoris. That tiny little pleasure dome has 8000 nerve endings crammed into it (twice as many as the penis).

In Greek mythology, when Zeus and Hera visited the hermaphrodite Tiresias to determine whether it was men or women who experienced more pleasure from sex, Tiresias replied:

“If the sum of love’s pleasure adds up to 10, nine parts go to women, only one to men.” Nikki Gemmell

Or as Sister Margaret Farley expresses it in Just Love

“Many women have found great good in self-pleasuring – especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure – something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers.”

Fragments from 60 lines of The Rose Thorn (Der Rosendorn) discovered on a strip of parchment in the library of Melk Abbey, Austria, dating from 1300, has been called the earliest form of the Vagina Monologues – an argument in verse between a woman and her vulva, originating in the Middle Ages.

In the poem, a virgin woman (junkfrouwe) argues in a free-flowing, often witty dialogue, with her speaking vulva (fud) about which of them is held in the higher regard by men.

The virgin argues that it is by her looks that men are won over, whilst the vulva, accusing the virgin of putting too much stress on her appearance, says it is she who provides the true pleasure. The two decide to part company, but find themselves deeply unhappy and so reunite to allay their suffering. They conclude that they are better together, as a person and their sex are quite simply inseparable. (Kate Connolly in Berlin – The Guardian 27 Jul. 2019)

Plath’s early relationships with boys and men allows readers in a very different era to understand the regime of repression and hypocrisy under which she suffered.

Plath had a strong sexual appetite that she felt bound to deny and hide in the name of feminine virtue, respectability, thus of course, hypocrisy, even as she went out on countless dates with aggressive, sometimes assaultive men.