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why i write

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Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was an American poet, novelist, children’s and short story author who is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry.






You ask me why I spend my life writing?
Do I find entertainment?
Is it worthwhile?
Above all, does it pay?
If not, then, is there a reason? …
I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.

source: Plath, S. (1975). Letters home: correspondence 1950-1963. New York: Harper & Row, p. 34. Ms. Plath wrote this poem at age 16; she committed suicide at 30 … “took her own life” as the expression goes.


5 responses »

  1. I watched my reaction to this piece with curiosity.
    I’m familiar with that ‘voice within me that will not be still’.
    But I can’t say I know that voice.
    What part of me is it? Restlessness? Discontent? Neediness? Curiosity? Is it even ‘spiritual’ – whatever that may mean?
    It’s only stilled when I’m graced by that ‘other’ place – the place that is no place.
    And then I read the footnotes above.
    Marveled that she wrote that at age 16.
    And recalled Anne Frank and her diary.
    And then I read that Sylvia Plath committed suicide.
    And I shrank. Recoiled.
    What is this reaction?
    Guilt? Fear? Shame?
    And is it also that ‘still small voice’?
    Or something else?

  2. Why Write?

    Roger Rosenblatt

    When we were kids, the attendant at the man-made river in the
    amusement park put us in bright blue inner-tubes and sent us down a
    waterfall and down we would go, spinning, bounding, eyes open, mouth
    open. But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was when you’d hit
    the bottom of the waterfall, and you would look and see that there was
    a bend in the river. A bend in the man-made river. What lay around
    that bend? What promise? What sense of progress?

    A bend in the river — always something that purports to give us
    something more. Not only our own rivers, but the older rivers, the
    Yangtze, the Congo, the Thames, all leading people somewhere new,
    somewhere different. Perhaps somewhere better. America is a bend in
    the river. A place arrived at by water that was supposed to give us
    equality, freedom, things that were part of a better life. We as a
    species are supposed to move around a bend in the river.

    So why is it about a year ago, I stood on a yellow bridge that spanned
    that Kagera River between Tanzania and Rwanda, and looked down at the
    waterfall, not man-made, and saw bodies rise above the waterfall? This
    was no amusement park. The victims of the Hutu murderers, Tutsies and
    some Hutus who had sympathized with the Tutsies, their bodies rising
    over the waterfall and coming down. When they hit the bottom, some of
    the bodies would get stuck in pools, and some would get stuck on
    rocks, and others might make it around a bend in the river. If they
    made it around the bend in the river, they would head toward Lake
    Victoria. You remember Lake Victoria — one of the spots where
    civilization was said to begin? You remember civilization?

    I don’t know why I should have been surprised to see all that death.
    We recollect from Biology One that we are a slow-evolving species,
    that it will be eons upon eons before we learn to get along in groups.
    The debate about the nature of man was always between reason and
    passion, between the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century.
    The eighteenth century said that men were to be reasonable. The
    nineteenth century said that men were to reach for the stars, that
    people could, in fact, touch God. Three cheers for reason, three
    cheers for passion.

    But what I began to think about in Rwanda is that all this reason
    versus passion business was bunk. A game. The nature of man lies under
    the river. Under the Kagera River or all rivers, sort of like an eel.
    An eel so long that it traverses the entire river. So long it does not
    have to move to be wherever it wishes to be. It is in all places.
    Norman Maclean said: “All things merge into one, and a river runs
    through it.” I don’t know much about rivers, but I had a sense of the
    eel. I had a sense of the monster.

    So the question is, in my case and in the case of many of you here:
    Why write? Why tell stories? The reason I tell stories is to stay on
    top of the river, to stay afloat and to tell others to stay afloat, to
    reach for them, to keep us all afloat. Because, for the monsters,
    there will be once in a while, a spark, a gleam, some light under the
    dark water. That will be a story, too, and we will tell that story.

    Ray Bradbury wrote a story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about
    nuclear annihilation. The title of the story comes from a poem by Sara
    Teasdale on the same subject. If one actually believes that all are
    going to be annihilated, why write?

    Because we have to. Because the thing is in us. It’s like a biological
    fact. We are the stories ourselves, telling one another to one another
    about one another.

    There are good, sound reasons for writing. We learn what we think when
    we write. It’s an odd process, a mysterious process. The sheer play of
    language, the sheer sound of language: “there will come soft rains.”

    The hilarity of language. God, I miss George Bush. Bush once said that
    he admired Vaclav Havel “for living or dying — whatever — for
    freedom.” On the 1988 elections, he predicted “the undecideds could go
    one way or the other.”

    We also write to undertake a journey, to create an adventure from the
    past into the future. We move around the bend in the river.
    Anticipation is all. The vehicle of that journey is the sentence. The
    single sentence.

    Interesting word, “sentence.” There is a finality to it. One is
    sentenced to death. One is sentenced to watch the O.J. trial.
    Sometimes one is sentenced to life, which is a nice contradiction in

    But for a writer a sentence doesn’t achieve finality until the end,
    and up to that point the sentence is a bend in the river. You begin to
    write the sentence. You do not know where it will end. Where it will
    lead. The amazement of this process is that the reader, when he or she
    reads that sentence, cannot know where it ends either.

    And when the sentence comes to a dot, it is strangely both conclusive
    and unsatisfying. You don’t want it to end. At one’s best, one writes
    to find God in the sentence. But God is always in the next sentence.
    How like her.

    The main reason for writing is to call out to others, to make contact
    with others, to break the silence, which is our most monstrous threat.
    The force under the river is silent

  3. Peter,
    are you having fun with us?
    your newest Blog – Disconnect – is disconnected
    It doesn’t seem to open
    Nor to return from whence it came – your Home page
    Disconnect indeed!

    • not intentionally, malcolm. “dis-connect” is meant to be thursday’s post, timed for just after 7 am. surprised you got a glance of it already. good night. your patience will be rewarded. peter

  4. i have a favourite little cove where i stop during my morning deliveries to write my daily ‘morning papers’ – a free-form type of writing that has become like a meditation for me…and surprisingly provides inspiration when i read it again later on…
    …what flows from my being serves to inspire my being…this always amazes me!


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