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Slyvia Plath committed suicide on the 11th of February, 1963. This year marks the 58th anniversary of her death. I discovered Plath’s work when I myself was deeply entrenched in my own battle with Major Depressive Disorder, an illness I still struggle with. Her poems inspired my writing and brought me comfort when I needed it most. The Bell Jar, her semi-autobiographical novel, felt like something I had written in a dream (I can only hope to one day be so talented). For the first time since I had begun struggling with depression, I felt understood. 

In 2018, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts and more than 48,000 deaths by suicide in the United States, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the country. There were more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide. This number has since gone up, making suicide an international public health crisis that has only worsened since Plath’s death in 1963.

Plath did not die, she was killed by her illness. I often see her story equated to failure. It is failure that took and continues to take the lives of so many by suicide, but not their own. It is the failure of our society and our mental health system. It is negligence and stigma that takes and takes, and has caused us to lose so many. Plath’s suicide was not a show of weakness — anyone who has read her poems, novel, or diaries will know that she displayed immense strength in the face of intolerable pain. Her writing is not always pleasant, but it is always honest. Perhaps if more people read her work, they would gain better insight into the horrors of mental illness. It is only through understanding the particularities of these painful conditions that we may seek help, and seek to help those around us. Today, I mourn her death, and hope to raise awareness about the illness that killed her. During my senior year of high school, I wrote this poem in her honor: 



I have carried you around with me

Like a fat, all-consuming house cat

For many months now –

I have lived under your weight,


In your shadow,

Side-stepping, I move away

When you walk into the room,

When you emerge – 


A poet in the light.

I will never be a mother,

I will never be

My mother’s daughter –


I list all of the things that I

Will Never


And the blame?


Myself, myself,

The Self. 

What is?

Bones and brains,


Every bone conspires against me,

I am my memories

And yours,

Head in oven,


A bottle of pills;

I wanted to sink too,


I fight the tide.


The silence of silence,

My own silence;

They hold up a mirror,

Point out the flaws


I know all too well –

I can see you,


And an Inexplicable Vacancy.


Cardboard boxes

In the rain.

Pale, defenceless,

I am sorry.


For all I have taught myself,

All I have learned,

And what you taught me:

I cover the mirror,


Turn off the light –

I cannot see myself,

I cannot see you,



Am I safe?


If only I had known

That reason and sentiment,

Love and agreement,

Are mutually exclusive.


Gabriela Jatene

Columbia Barnard '22

Gabriela Jatene is a dog mom and senior at Barnard College, studying History and English. Contact her about her articles or fear of crickets at gsj2106@barnard.edu
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