Legacy of a Mussel Hunter

There was no telling if he’d
Died recluse or suicide . . .

—Sylvia Plath, “Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor” (1958)

The woman is perfected.

—Plath, “Edge” (1963)


On the Cape that summer you
Were five years removed from New
York as guest at Mademoiselle
That sizzling season of hell:
The Rosenbergs’ electric
Death at Sing-Sing and your trick
Turned as Lady Lazarus—
In poem and book that haunt us
Still—and still five years before
You’d stuff rags under the door
And, the kids safely upstairs,
Fix your place among the stars.


That summer of ’58 you
Saw your first poem in The New
Yorker: “Mussel Hunter at Rock
Harbor,” my star piece, just the clock
To tell your ambition by. PAN,
Your Ouija board, extolled it, then
Miss Moore wrote that you are too un-
Relenting in it. Such great un-
Pleasantness from the grande dame,
Too stingy to lend her acclaim,
Though her syllabics made “Mussel
Hunter”’s mud stench sound musical.
You wrote that a plainer, realer
Poetry was your aim, days later.


That bitter winter you won
Peace, your head in the oven,
There was no telling if you’d
Died mad or driven by Hughes
To despondency’s door or
The stress of perfecting your-
Self in verse that last annus
Mirabilis, riddling us
With why you had reached the edge.
Who can’t regret cautious Ted’s
Wish for forgetfulness, to
Insulate her children, who,
Now grown up, might want to read
Their mom’s last words before death:
Just some sign, hint, clue, or tag,
Not their blacks crackle and drag?

Line 16: The Journals of Sylvia Plath (TJSP)
Ll. 19-20: As quoted in TJSP
Ll. 20-21: TJSP
Ll. 25-6: TJSP
Ll. 37-8: Ted Hughes, Foreword, TJSP
L. 42: Sylvia Plath, “Edge,” The Collected Poems

5 thoughts on “George Held

  1. ah….Sylvia Plath
    took the “irreversible path”
    a permanent solution to a temporary situation
    and your poem is a poignant invocation
    not without its own bitter wrath
    – Monica Enders

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