Sensing Sylvia Plath
Crossing the Water
by Sylvia Plath
Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.
A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.
Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;
Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls
Hailed as one of the most celebrated and controversial poets of her generation, Plath’s poetry is powerful, turbulent and complex – far, you might imagine, from the experiences of a group of young students at a special school in West Yorkshire.
As this week’s Creative Curriculum session began, Vicky read the poem above. She asked the children if they would listen and try to remember any of the words from the poem, a hush fell, Vicky’s lilting voice emphasized the words that would later appear as props: black boat, cut-paper people, fishes, lilies. Most of children were looking and listening intently but at the end of hearing the poem only one child remembered one word: ‘black’.
The teacher said “shall we read the poem again?” Vicky said: “let’s explore it, instead.”
And so the props came out: the black organza that Vicky wafted over the children’s heads; the map and torches which the children used to make shadows with their hands that covered Canada; the floral spray and the water lilies; the cellophane drops of water. And then the children held the shadow puppets, including the black boat and fishes, which danced across the screen as Vicky read the poem again. Now what can we remember?
“black boat” “cut-paper people” “fishes” ‘flowers”
And so:'[t]he senses mediate the relationship between self and society, mind and body, idea and object. The senses are everywhere (Bull et al. 2006, emphasis in the original)
Bull, M., Gilroy, P., Howes, D. and Kahn, D. (2006) ‘Introducing Sensory Studies’, Senses and Society, 1(1): 5–6.)