15 of the Best Sylvia Plath Quotes

Books Lists Sylvia Plath
15 of the Best Sylvia Plath Quotes

Sylvia Plath is an anomaly. The brooding literary powerhouse lived two lives: one as a public figure—a celebrated storyteller and venerable poet—and another as a fickle and clinically depressed young woman whose furious scrawls about losing “all delight in life” and wanting to climb back into the womb ended in her tragic suicide at the age of 32.

The bulk of Plath’s work was published posthumously, but the writer was able to see the publication of her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar and a collection of poetry titled The Colossus and Other Poems before she died.

Join us in celebrating Plath’s long-standing, tumultuous legacy by looking through our favorite quotes pulled from her collection of works.

1. On indecision

“Why can’t I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which fits best and is more becoming?” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

2. On the infamous fig dilemma

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” — The Bell Jar

3. On femininity

“Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night … ” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

4. On gender roles

“What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from.” — The Bell Jar

5. On living in the present

“The hardest thing is to live richly in the present without letting it be tainted out of fear for the future or regret for the past.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

6. On growing up

“Why the hell are we conditioned into the smooth strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world, Alice-in-Wonderland fable, only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life?” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

7. On third-wheeling

“There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room.” — The Bell Jar

8. On falling in love

“I am so hungry for a big smashing creative burgeoning burdened love.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

9. On misogyny

“I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women. Woman-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock full of power. They descended, and then they disappeared. You could never catch one.” — The Bell Jar

10. On loving yourself

“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter—for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself … Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

11. On getting out of a funk

“Go out and do something. It isn’t your room that’s a prison, it’s yourself.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

12. On accepting your fate

“So much working, reading, thinking, living to do. A lifetime is not long enough. Nor youth to old age long enough. Immortality and permanence be damned. Sure I want them, but they are nonexistent, and won’t matter when I rot underground. All I want to say is: I made the best of a mediocre job. It was a good fight while it lasted. And so life goes.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

13. On warfare

“What obsession do men have for destruction and murder? Who do we electrocute men for murdering an individual and then pin a purple heart on them for mass slaughter of someone arbitrarily labeled ‘enemy?” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

14. On running out of time

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” — The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

15. On friendship

“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.” — The Bell Jar

Savannah Sicurella is an intern at Paste and listens to a lot of trashy boy-pop. You can follow her on Twitter.

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