Books, Personal, Travel, UK

Meeting Sylvia Plath

We had a couple of drinks on our flight, watched a cheesy action movie and read some magazines. We were excited about our decent into Heathrow. On arrival, I unwrapped my computer from its cocoon of bubble wrap and it turned on fine. Ali’s parents met us at the arrival gate. After hugs and hellos, my first time meeting them, we headed towards the hotel. With a welcome bath before bed, I saw a future of more hot showers and even the occasional bath. This made me happy.

The next morning we spent some time arranging the jigsaw of baggage into the rental car and then drove north, Ali and me navigating from the back. The country side was breathtaking. Spring hasn’t yet sprung, so the trees are just as I like them, skeletons of their awakened selves. Green rolling hills, sheep grazing, and the occasional horse. All the signs were in English, all the radio stations were in English and everyone around us spoke English. There is always the reverse culture shock of getting back into a Western country when you have spent some time away, and those of you that have done so, know what I am talking about. And for the rest of you, perhaps it will unfold in words and images over time. But for me, I have gotten better with each visit back and the shock is less for me, but things can still be a bit overwhelming.

There were stone cottages and thatched roofs along the edge of the back roads. We drove through Oxford and I imagined myself walking through bundled in my hat and mittens, gray sky above, walking from ancient building to ancient building discussing Plath and Hughes. I could spend hours reading behind those stone walls, looking out over the cobblestone paths through the sleeping trees.

Our next stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon. Home to Shakespeare. We walked along the river, stood to watch a busker, laughing until our stomachs ached at his performance. Bought some cheep food off the river ferry and then headed to Café Rouge for some coffee and news. We stumbled onto the street where Shakespeare was born and spent more time in his bookshop than his home, there were no fees for perusing the books, whereas entering the home of his birth was out of our budget. But I got a picture. It’s interesting how a cozy town has sprouted up around it. It certainly looks out of place; trees should be where shops stand.

That night, we stayed somewhere on the way to our next destination: Hebden Bridge. It was noted as one of the ten funkiest towns in the world, according to British Airways, and we discovered, the burial site of Sylvia Plath. Ah, Sylvia. She has always been one of my favorite poets, since I was a teenager and first read The Bell Jar and her famous poem, Daddy. After spending most of our time in town sitting in a bookstore, reading Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes, his last book of poetry that reveals much about their relationship as well as his and their children’s lives after her suicide. We walked through the town. It was a crisp windy day, gray skies (I am noticing a theme here…) and many of the shops were closed. But we enjoyed our stroll and stumbling into one bookstore after the next.

After lunch we piled back into the car and drove up to the gravesite. Sylvia is buried in a graveyard next to an old cathedral, rebuilt in 1811. Trees lined the secondary graveyard and we all split up, each inspecting separate rows in search of Sylvia. Ali’s dad, Peter, found her first and I secretly wished it was me. But I scurried over and looked at a plain, but well kept gravesite: “In Memory of Sylvia Plath Hughes — 1932-1963 — Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.” There were jagged, flattened stones framing the site with freshly planted flowers in its bed. We had found Sylvia.