“No use”

On October 21, 1962, Sylvia Plath wrote one poem that became two. The original two-section poem, which she called “Amnesiac,” separated when The New Yorker accepted one of the sections and not the other.

She was left with the first, rejected section, which she then titled “Lyonnesse,” and the second, New-Yorker-published section, “Amnesiac.”

Both poems begin with the same phrase: “No use.”

“No use whistling for Lyonnesse!” “No use, no use, now, begging Recognize!”

“Amnesiac” is a rant at Ted Hughes, not at all disguised by her use of the third person. She accuses him of forgetting their life together and abandoning her and their children.

In “Lyonnesse,” she accuses God, “the big God,” of forgetting the ancient country that bordered Cornwall, which, according to legend, sank into the sea.

“Lyonnesse” continues: “Sea-cold, sea-cold, it certainly is” – a reply to Walter de la Mare’s “Sunk Lyonesse” which begins “In sea-cold Lyonesse…”

Thanks to her habit of journal-keeping and her resolve to memorialize her experience in writing, Sylvia forgot nothing.

On March 4, 1963, three weeks after her daughter’s suicide, Aurelia Plath wrote an open letter to The Observer in London, to “thank the many kind people…who helped and befriended” Sylvia.

The letter continues: “Those who systematically and deliberately destroyed her know who they are.” Next to this sentence, Aurelia wrote in pencil “A & T” – Assia, the woman for whom Ted Hughes left Sylvia, and Ted.

At the top of the page, Aurelia wrote “Not Sent! No use now!”

This is the difference between being forgotten and trying to forget. The survivor tries to forget. She can no longer act in the interest of the one who’s gone

and my writing this is no use (“No use!” screams the corpse) and not in the interest of you.

 

 

Kathleen Ossip is the author of two books of poems, The Search Engine and The Cold War, and one chapbook, Cinephrastics. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, the Washington Post, Fence, The Believer, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches at The New School in New York, where she was a founding editor of LIT, and she’s the poetry editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly.

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