Bleak Places

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Last summer’s reeds are all engraved in ice as is your image in my eye; dry frost glazes the window of my hurt; what solace can be struck from rock to make heart’s waste grow green again? Who’d walk in this bleak place?

-Sylvia Plath, from “Winter Landscape, with Rooks”

 

Sometimes—usually in the winter—I feel drawn to Sylvia Plath, and to this poem in particular. Sometimes I recognize that, while certain challenging times have passed and they no longer define me, I want to remember them—not re-live them or dwell in them—but remember them.

 

Sylvia Plath wrote this poem in 1956, the same year she married fellow poet Ted Hughes. Her poem explores the twofold process of exploring one’s pain—awareness of suffering, as evidenced in the bleak winter landscape, and the desire to flee one’s suffering, seen in the image of the rook—a bird seeking escape through flight.

 

Plath ends her poem with the question, Who’d walk in this bleak place? She, obviously—by the mere writing of this poem—is walking in this bleak place. But, is that such a bad thing? Sometimes it is helpful to walk in a bleak place, to remember one’s pain, to remember the loss of a loved one, to remember moments of sadness or depression. And then, to cease walking in the bleak place, and fly away and see—from above—the bleak landscape fade. To see and remember that we are no longer in that bleak place.

 

Through the act of remembering, we honor loved ones we lost, we honor times in our lives we have survived, we honor states we have surmounted. We remind ourselves that we are strong, that we are survivors, that winter can be cold and bleak and at times frightening, but spring does come, as do buds and flowers and joy and warm hugs and watermelon, and linen sundresses.

 

There are times when it is beneficial to walk in bleak places, remembering that we—like the rook—can always soar.

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