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Aird, E. (2003). The Light of the Mind: Poetry and Depression. Free Associations, 10(3):352-359.

(2003). Free Associations, 10(3):352-359

The Light of the Mind: Poetry and Depression1

Eileen Aird

The Quotation in My title ‘the light of the mind’ is from the first line of one of Sylvia Plath's finest late poems ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’ (Ariel, 1965, p. 36). Written in March 1962, 11 months before her suicide on February 11th 1963, the poem is a reflection on the view from the window of her house in Devon which overlooked a church and its graveyard. The graveyard with its moon and yew trees and the interior of the church with its cold saints are introjected and reflect a static world of depression and alienation with no hope of change: ‘I simply cannot see where there is to get to’.

In Plath's novel The Bell Jar, depression is described as being cut off from connection, imprisoned in the bell jar, where there is no air and no attachment or relationship: Wherever I sat on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air (The Bell Jar, p. 196). Liveliness and connection are lost: the bell jar descends and the trapped self, temporarily without resources, internal or external, sees through a pane of separating glass, but not from a secure position of separation. The Bell Jar ends with Sylvia Plath's heroine, Esther Greenwood, after both psychotherapy and ECT, leaving the hospital with the depression still a threat but lifted for the moment. This is conveyed through metaphors of heat, light, and air, conflicts are at rest and the imprisoning bell jar of depressed selfabsorption is lifted although still present: All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended over my head, I was open to the circulating air (The Bell Jar, p. 227).


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