> Lynn > Poets & Poetry of Egg Rock


Sylvia Plath

SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963) grew up in Winthrop, MA., and became a world-renowned poet before taking her own life. In her Egg Rock poem, and in the excerpt from her novel The Bell Jar, Plath uses Egg Rock as a stage for suicide. For more on Sylvia Plath, visit the website of The Academy of American Poets.

                     SUICIDE OFF EGG ROCK


Behind him the hotdogs split and drizzled
On the public grills, and the ochreous salt flats,
Gas tanks, factory stacks-that landscape
Of imperfections his bowels were part of-
Rippled and pulsed in the glassy updraught.
Sun struck the water like a damnation.
No pit of shadow to crawl into,
And his blood beating the old tattoo
I am, I am, I am. Children
Were squealing where combers broke and the spindraft
Raveled wind-ripped from the crest of the wave.
A mongrel working his legs to a gallop
Hustled a gull flock to flap off the sandspit.

He smoldered, as if stone-deaf, blindfold,
His body beached with the sea's garbage,
A machine to breathe and beat forever.
Flies filing in through a dead skate's eyehole
Buzzed and assailed the vaulted brainchamber.
The words in his book wormed off the pages.
Everything glittered like blank paper.

Everything shrank in the sun's corrosive
Ray but Egg Rock on the blue wastage
He heard when he walked into the water

The forgetful surf creaming on those ledges.


from: The Colossus and Other Poems (New York: Alfred Knopf) 1981.
Courtesy: Alfred A. Knopf


The Bell Jar
Chapter Thirteen….

          Cal and I lay side by side on an orange-and-green striped
towel on a mucky beach across the swamps from Lynn. Jody
and Mark, the boy she was pinned to, were swimming. Cal
hadn't wanted to swim, he had wanted to talk, and we were
arguing about this play where a young man finds out he has a
brain disease, on account of his father fooling around with
unclean women, and in the end his brain, which has been
softening all along, snaps completely, and his mother is de-
bating whether to kill him or not.


   I lifted my head and squinted out at the bright blue plate of
the sea-a bright blue plate with a dirty rim. A big round gray
rock, like the upper half of an egg, poked out of the water
about a mile from the stony headland.
   "What was she going to kill him with? I forget."
   I hadn't forgotten. I remembered perfectly well, but I
wanted to hear what Cal would say.
    "Morphia powders."
    "Do you suppose they have morphia powders in America?"
    Cal considered a minute. Then he said, "I wouldn't think
So. They sound awfully old-fashioned.:
    I rolled over onto my stomach and squinted at the view in
the other direction, toward Lynn. A glassy haze rippled up
from the fires in the grills and the heat on the road, and
through a haze, as through a curtain of clear water, I could
make out a smudgy skyline of gas tanks and factory stacks and
derricks and bridges.
   It looked one hell of a mess.
   I rolled onto my back again and made my voice casual. "If
you were going to kill yourself, how would you do it?


   I thought drowning must be the kindest way to die, and
burning the worst. Some of those babies in the jars that
Buddy Willard showed me had gills, he said. They went
through a stage where they were just like fish.
   A little, rubbishy wavelet, full of candy wrappers and or-
ange peel and seaweed, folded over my foot.
   I heard the sand thud behind me, and Cal came up.
   "Let's swim to that rock out there." I pointed at it.
   "Are you crazy? That's a mile out."
   "What are you? I said. "Chicken?"
Cal took me by the elbow and jostled me into the water.
When we were waist high, he pushed me under. I surfaced,
splashing, my eyes seared with salt. Underneath, the water was
green and semi-opaque as a hunk of quartz.
   I started to swim, a modified dog paddle, keeping my face
toward the rock. Cal did a slow crawl. After a while he put his
head up and treaded water.
   "Can't make it." He was panting heavily.
   "Okay. You go back."
I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim
back. As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor
in my ears.


   Cal had turned around and was swimming in.
   As I watched, he dragged himself slowly out of the
neck-deep sea. Against the khaki-colored sand and the green
shore wavelets, his body was bisected for a moment, like a
white worm. Then it crawled completely out of the green and
onto the khaki and lost itself among dozens and dozens of
other worms that were wriggling or just lolling about between
the sea and the sky.
   I paddled my hands in the water and kicked my feet. The
egg-shaped rock didn't seem to be any nearer than it had been
when Cal and I looked at it from the shore.
   Then I saw it would be pointless to swim as far as the rock,
because my body would take that excuse to climb out and lie
in the sun, gathering strength to swim back.
   The only thing to do was to drown myself then and there.
   So I stopped.
I brought my hands to my breast, ducked my head, and
dived, using my hands to push the water aside. The water
pressed in on my eardrums and on my heart. I fanned myself
down, but before I knew where I was, the water had spat me
up into the sun, the world was sparkling all about me like blue
and green and yellow semi-precious stones.
   I dashed the water from my eyes.
   I was panting, as after a strenuous exertion, but floating,
without effort.
   I dived, and dived again, and each time popped up like a
   The gray rock mocked me, bobbing on the water easy as a
   I knew when I was beaten.
   I turned back.

from: The Bell Jar (New York: Harper & Row) 1971. Courtesy: HarperCollins Publishers