Part of the London Literature Festival, I attended a very moving performance of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel¬†at the Southbank Centre yesterday.

Plath died 50 years ago, leaving a final collection of poems that became the posthumous collection Ariel.

At this performance, 40 female performers and poets read one poem each from the restored edition of the final unedited manuscript. Plath’s daughter Frieda Hughes introduced the evening.

It was a very special performance for many reasons, not least the poems, some of which, for example Cut, Lady Lazarus and Daddy (which we heard being read by Plath herself) were very familiar, but others less so. One of these was Tulips, read wonderfully and movingly by Juliet Stevenson, which utterly gripped me.

From Tulips:

‘The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.

Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in

I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly

As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.

I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.

I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses

And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to the surgeons…’

‘…My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water

Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.

They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.’