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April 29, 1974

Ariel's Flight: The Death of Sylvia Plath

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City.

JAMA. 1974;228(5):595-599. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230300035025

EARLY in the morning, during a London winter so chill that the water pipes had frozen in her flat, a 30-year-old woman took two pitchers of milk and some bread up to her two young children so they would have food in the morning, returned to the stark blue-whiteness of her kitchen, lay down to rest with her head in a gas oven, and died. Sylvia Plath, so intelligent and efficient and sensitive, did everything exceptionally well, including both living and dying. Yet beneath the false bravado she felt "like Hell." Just prior to her death she wrote a small body of poems, published posthumously in the volume Ariel, of astonishing pain and power which has already become a modern classic. They portray aspects of the private world of mental illness that led to her unexpected death. Her suicide was a tragedy in the true—not the popular sentimental—sense, for she