This page shows two locations – where the poet Slyvia path died and where she now lies. The blue plaque on a charming street in Chalcott Square in London is where she gassed herself. Yet her grave a long way away in the quaint and quiet village of Heptonstall (not far from my house in Todmorden.)
She was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. She came to Britain to study at Smith and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together in America then in England.
Her semi-biographical novel The Bell Jar is probably her most famous book and her confessional poetry advanced that genre of writing
Where she died
The flat is at 25, Fitzroy Road, London, NW1 8TU (near Primrose Hill.) I was stopping in a hotel in Hampstead and just had to have a walk down to this place. It was here where Sylvia was living after she and Ted had split up. She was so depressed her doctor kept trying to persuade her to go to hospital. He prescribed her antidepressants though its debated now that they made her worse not better.
On 11th February 1963 the nurse arrived to help out with Sylvia’s two children. There was no answer and she had to get a workman to help gain access. They found Sylvia with her head in the gas oven. At about 4:30 that morning she had used wet towels to seal the door to stop gas fumes reaching her children.
Was it a cry for help? Who knows but she had left a note with her neighbour downstairs reading "Call Dr. Horder" including the doctor's phone number. Would someone intent on killing themselves do this? Against this the coroner’s records said he head was thrust so deeply into the oven she had meant to die.
Some argue that Ted drove her to suicide but he was devastated in a letter to one of Sylvia friends he wrote "That's the end of my life. The rest is posthumous."
Where she now lies
The grave resides in Heptonstall cemetery. When I walk through the village I always make a point of visiting the grave. There’s nearly always somewhere looking at it and, on photos shown, this was no exception. When I passed through the iron gate into the cemetery I could see three people bent over a grave, one laying a bouquet of flowers. I pretended to visit another grave until they had gone but I could tell by their accents they were American or Canadian. I was right – there were new flowers on the grave.
There’re often objects on the grave and the stone - coins, love notes, a mask, cards, necklaces, candles, crystals, pens, face masks...well just look at the photos. I usually open the bits of paper left on the gravestone and read them (before the rain smudges the ink.) She seems to be adored even now.
Even though Ted Hughes was blamed for pushing her over the edge mentally there was much depression in her family. She had tried to kill herself in a car crash prior to gassing herself in London.
The gravestone has been vandalized a few times by those aggrieved that "Hughes" is written on the stone. Attempts have been made to chisel it off leaving only the name "Sylvia Plath." Abuse to the grave stone increased when Ted’s partner Assia Wevill killed herself and their four-year-old daughter Shura in 1969. Hughes had the damaged stone removed for repair and sometimes left the site unmarked.
I don’t know if those pens in the bucket were for people to take. I picked up a Staedler pencil to take with me but slid it back. I’m not superstitious but if bad luck exists I’m sure taking stuff from graves beckons it over. There were some RAF soldier’s graves nearby so I did a quick salute for them. I always look at the age and they’re nearly always young bucks of 18 to 25 but one was 52 years old.