literature of influence: the bell jar

the bell jar by sylvia plath is one of those books to read again and again. here’s one of my favorite passages:

I spent a lot of time having imaginary conversations with Buddy Willard. He was a couple of years older than I was and very scientific, so he could always prove things. When I was with him I had to work to keep my head above water. These conversations I had in my mind usually repeated the beginnings of conversations I’d really had with Buddy, only they finished with me answering him back quite sharply, instead of just sitting around and saying, “I guess so.”

Now, lying on my back in bed, I imagined Buddy saying, “Do you know what a poem is, Esther?”

“No, what?” I would say.

“A piece of dust.”

Then just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, “So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you’re curing. They’re dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together.”

And of course Buddy wouldn’t have any answer to that, because what I said was true. People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn’t see that doctoring all that dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick and couldn’t sleep.

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