Tea Leaves Thwart Those Who Court Catastrophe

I have a handful of favorite poems that became my favorites because they perfectly capsulated a feeling I was experiencing at the time in my life when I first read them.  Even though circumstances change and the poems are no longer looked upon as my own personal theme, they still remind me of that time when I fell in love with them.  Reading them again is like looking at a snapshot of a car you used to own:  you are filled with fond memories of shared experiences, a bit of loss, and a lot of longing.  That crossfire of emotions is exactly how I feel about Sylvia Plath‘s “Ennui.”  I think I must have first looked up the word ‘ennui’ because it was in a book I was reading and immediately fell in love with it, those French with their amazing words for everything.  Words for what feels like there are no words.

ennui = A gripping listlessness or melancholia caused by boredom; depression.

“Ennui” – Sylvia Plath

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,

designing futures where nothing will occur:

cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she

will still predict no perils left to conquer.

Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight

finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard

of, while blasé princesses indict

tilts at terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,

compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;

and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,

while bored arena crowds for once look eager,

hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes

shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.

Today is Sylvia Plath’s birthday, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. She went to Smith College, and while she was there she struggled with bipolar disease, she attempted suicide, but she made it through and won a Fulbright Scholarship to England. In England she met another poet, Ted Hughes, and they got married. She published her first book of poems, “Colossus,” and gave birth to two kids. She wrote slowly, deliberately, and constantly looked up words in her thesaurus. But then her husband left her for another woman, her depression came back in force, and that winter after he left she wrote almost all the poems that would eventually become the book “Ariel.” She was seized with creative energy, and she wrote feverishly, sometimes completing several poems in just a few hours before her kids woke up.

In 1963, she published a novel, The Bell Jar, and two weeks later she committed suicide. She had only published one book of poetry during her life, but she had written enough poems to fill three more books, which were all published after she died, including “Ariel,” which was filled with personal poems about marriage, motherhood, and depression. The poems in “Ariel” are usually considered Sylvia Plath’s best work—poems like “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus.”


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