...toward the region where our thick atmosphere/Diminishes, and god knows what is there.
"...toward the region where our thick atmosphere / Diminishes, and god knows what is there." Charles Mudede

Let's begin by recalling what Ezra Pound once said about the ideal condition for music and poetry: "Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance... [and] poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music." For now, let's forget that Pound became a fascist and that his poems were more imagistic than musical—and we will also stay clear of the horrors he created in the name of Li Bai—and focus on the music that fills Plath's poem, which can be read here.

Sponsored
The 15th Annual HUMP Film Festival is now online, hosted by Dan Savage! 16 sexy films, showcasing a huge range of sexualities, shapes and sizes, streaming from your home!

You can find the poem in The Colossus and Other Poems, which is available at local bookstores. Or you can just listen to the poem, which she read in 1958, five years before she committed suicide in a London apartment:

Listen to the music here: "Of sulphurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums," and here: "Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost / Fringe of mundane vision, this ghost goes," and here: "And moo as they jump over moons as new / As that crisp cusp toward which you voyage now."

Plath is not subtle or sophisticated. She is still a young poet (in her mid-20s). She will never be an old poet. And it's likely that the old Plath would, when the time came, have been embarrassed by the young Plath's inability to repress or refine such shameless alliterations, the source of so much of the music in "Ghost's Leavetaking," which to me reads like a gorgeous pop tune arranged with strings. Indeed, the middle of the poem opens a moody and dubby song, "Back," by the much-neglected 90s triphop band Alpha.

Support The Stranger

The poem is about waking up at 5 am. At that moment, with the twisted sheets about us, there is the transition from a dream to reality. This is the hypnopompic twilight, which is not exactly a mirror of the one before sleeping, the hynogogic twilight. In the transition to the Plathian real, which is mundane, the dream is the ghost; but it does not depart to the "gizzard" of the earth (the underworld, the region of the dead) but to heaven, to a point in the sky where the "thick atmosphere / Diminishes, and god knows what is there."

Plath's God at once knows and does not know. In this way, her maker is much like the contradiction that's deep within the atoms of matter. The quarks, the most elementary particles (they get their name from James Joyce's line "Three quarks for Muster Mark"), are three in all. But they cannot be separated, due to a strange, almost magical property of the force that binds them. The more you pull the quarks apart, the stronger this force becomes. And so we have at the bottom of creation a contradiction: individuals who are not individuals. And at the top of the Plathian sky, a God who knows everything and nothing.


I dedicate this post to the late Amber Curtis, one of the wonders who opened the gates of Seattle to me.