that brings Shelley to mind: “the eggnmiraculous upon the ledge, the birdncompact upon the egg, its generousnwarmth, its enviable patience, its naturalnfortitude and grace.” He likewise finds atna business-machine show the triumph ofnthe human spirit, as men and womennstand among the pieces of hardware,noblivious to their glitter, delighting insteadnin the subtle sexuality of onenanother. His portrait of a moose calf andntwo fawns at the Bronx zoo is a prosenreverie of a finely tuned sensibility, onenthat holds out some hope for 20th-centurynman.nJbliade’s autobiography was originallynwritten in Romanian and was probablyndesigned to hold communion withnthe dead and to preserve for a few of thenliving the image of an intellectual communitynwhich lived and died in EasternnPoetry of Personal MisfortunesnSylvia Plath: The Collected Poems;nHarper & Row; New York.nSylvia Plath: The Journals; Dial Press;nNew York.nAnne Sexton: The Complete Poems;nHoughton Mifflin; Boston.nby Robert C. SteensmanInsanity and suicide have longndarkened our literary tradition. In then18th century, for example. Swift, Sterne,nJohnson, Chatterton, Cowper, and Collinsnwere all haunted by the fear of losingntheir wits. Chatterton, at age 17, tooknarsenic and gave his life to what Yeatsncalled “the Savage God”; later he wasnimmortalized as “the marvelous boy,”n”the heaven-born genius,” one of then”inheritors of unfiilfilled renown” eulogizednby the Romantics. In more recentnDr. Steensma is professor of English atnthe University of Utah.nEurope between the two Great Wars.nWhite was writing for an audience thatndidn’t care whether his narratives werenset in New York or in the hinterlands, sonlong as they were entertaining andnrevealed the recognizable face of modernnlife. What each has succeeded in doing isnto commemorate the concrete details ofnlife in a way that is more and more valuednby contemporary readers. Nonfictionalnnarratives now outsell novels, and poetrynis once again personal, intimate, andnautobiographical. The public confessorn—provided he confesses in sufficientndetail—is not only purged of his sin butncelebrated. This trend is by no meansnwithout its dark side, but at least it suggestsnthat some people have stopped tryingnto explain life in terms of grandnpolitical and economic schemata andnhave started paying attention to the finentexture of the created order. Dntimes Hart Crane, John Berryman, SylvianPlath, and Anne Sexton have taken theirnown lives, while others have been mesmerizednby the sound of what Sextonncalled the “bells of Bedlam” in describingnher own pyschoses.nBy the time of their deaths, Plath andnSexton had already begun to make theirnreputations as young American poets.nBoth possessed bright talents, and bothnhad written poetry which, though oftennuneven, seemed to assure them places innthe American literary tradition. Intense,nsomber, painful—at times shocking—ntheir work evidenced a stylistic andnthematic flowering which was to be nippednby Plath’s death at 30 in 1963 andnSexton’s at 46 in 1974.nBut the spirit of our times has causednthe two women to be viewed in somencircles not as poets but as martyrs for thenfeminist cause. The publication in 1963nof Plath’s disturbingly autobiographicalnnovel. The Bell Jar, which deals with hernearlier mental breakdown and suicide attempt,nmoved one critic to describe the.nnnbook as “one of the few sympathetic portraitsnof what happens to one who hasngenuinely feminist aspirations in ournsociety, of a girl who refuses to be annevent m anyone’s life. “Joyce Carol Gatesnbelieves that Plath is a tragic figure whonreflects “the pathological aspects of ournown era that make a death of the spiritninevitable.” For Maxine Kumin, Sextonn”delineated the problematic position ofnwomen—the neurotic reality of the timen—though she was not able to cope in hernown life with the personal trouble itncreated.”nThus both have been canonized as artisticnand sensitive women destroyed by ancruel and chauvinistic world which deeplyndistrusts the female as artist and careerist.nPlath and Sexton are, from thisnperspective, to be numbered amongnWordsworth’s sainted few: “We poets innour youth begin in gladness; /But thereofncome in the end despondency and madness.n” Sexton herself seems to have anticipatednthis situation in “The Big Heart”:nThey hear hownthe artery of my soul has been severednand soul is spurting out upon them,nbleeding on them,nmessing up their clothes,ndirtying their shoes.nThe theme of the severed artery appealsnto the morbid modern literary taste withnits emphasis on egotism and violence.nThese three new editions will provenboth a blessing and a curse: a blessingnbecause they are well-edited texts of genuinenpoets, but a curse because they willninspire wagonloads of misleading psychiatricnand feminist criticism. Recentlynawarded the 1982 Pulitzer Prize fornpoetry, the volume of Plath’s works containsnabout 275 poems (including 50nitems of “juvenilia”). The Sexton booknreprints about 350. The journals of Plathncover the years from 1950 through 1962,nbut, for reasons not entirely clear, havenbeen published in a strangely incompletenstate. Scholars and historiansnnow have excellent material to worknwith, but the necrophiles will, unfortunately,nfind a rich vein of fool’s gold.n]oveinber 1982n