Sylvia Plath Mad Girl’s Love Song: Which Thunderbird Should She Have Fallen In Love With?

Sylvia Plath by Computer Graphics Artist Hadi Karimi. We get to see Sylvia in glorious high definition colours. She looks young with healthy salmon pink skin, red lipstick, big brown eyes and medium length brown hair swept to her right with a fringe above her eyes.
Sylvia Plath by CG Artist Hadi Karimi

In 1953 creative genius, Sylvia Plath, wrote one of her most famous poems the villanelle Mad Girl’s Love Song inspired by the anguish of waiting for a lover who never arrives.

In the postscript to her journal entry of March 10, 1956, she wrote:

‘Oh the fury, the fury. Why did I even know he [Ted Hughes] was here. The panther wakes and stalks again, and every sound in the house is his tread on the stair; I wrote mad girl’s love song once in a mad mood like this when Mike didn’t come and didn’t come, and every time I am dressed in black, white and red: violent, fierce colors.’

The Mike in question was Myron ‘Mike’ Lotz, a Yale undergraduate with professional baseball contract offers. According to The Washington Post, Myron Lotz, a zoology graduate at Yale University, also got a medical degree cum laude.

However on line 16 on the final stanza she exhorts in her wonderful scything scorpio Sylvia Plath way how:

I should have loved a thunderbird instead’

Which makes anyone with a heart leap to her defence and say ah yes quite right Sylvia you go girl, but which Thunderbird should you have loved instead?

Here are her choices from Jeff Tracy and his five sons who were named after the first American astronauts into space:

  1. Jeff Tracy, aged 56, is the patriarch of the Tracy Family, on Tracy Island. He is the son of combine harvester driver from a Kansas wheat farm. After the mysterious death of his wife, he raised these five sons while building up his civil engineering, construction and aerospace business that made him one of the richest men in the world.
  2. Scott Tracy, possibly aged 26, and named after astronaut Scott Carpenter. He is the pilot of Thunderbird 1. Educated at Yale and Oxford. A natural leader who keeps a cool head, a head that was based on actor Sean Connery.
  3. Virgil Tracy, aged 24 is the second son and was named after Virgil Grissom and is the pilot of Thunderbird 2. He was the first character to use the International Rescue radio code “F-A-B” in the first episode. He likes painting and playing the piano.
  4. John Tracy, possibly aged 24 and the third son, is named after astronaut John Glenn. He is a noted scholar of astronomy and a Harvard graduate with a degree in Telecommunications. His quiet intellectual nature makes him perfect for a solitary life as the occupant of the space station Thunderbird 5.
  5. Gordon Tracy, aged 22, named after astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper. He is a highly trained aquanaut. Of all the sons, he is the funny one, which gives him a tendency to get into trouble with Dad Jeff over his flippant sense of humour. He likes playing chess, going fishing or playing the guitar.
  6. Alan Tracy, aged 21, the fifth and youngest son named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the pilot of Thunderbird 3. He is an accomplished sportsman and former racing driver, he can at times be bad-tempered and reckless. The most romantic of all the Tracy brothers, he is involved with Tin-Tin the daughter of Kyrano, the caretaker of Tracy Island although he finds himself also attracted to Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward.

Thunderbirds Aren’t Go

Oh damn and blast! I’ve just looked it up and Thunderbirds the British supermarionation science-fiction television show was made by Sylvia and Gerry Anderson in 1965 – 12 years after Mad Girl’s Love Song was penned. Ack. That’s gutting because it was fun while it lasted, especially as Virgil Tracy bears such an uncanny resemblance to Ted Hughes, as does, as one helpful reader pointed out, Scott Tracy to Myron Lotz.

It looks like the thunderbird that Plath refers to is most likely a legendary creature, the mythological bird sacred to certain North American indigenous peoples.

This thunderbird is wooden (not a mechanical puppet in any way shape or form) and is considered a supernatural being of power and strength. Historians have suggested that stories of the thunderbirds were based on discoveries of the pterosaur fossils by native Indians.

Thunderbird on Totem Pole

It would have been Sylvia Plath’s 88th birthday today, if only she knew how much her poetic outburst at being stood up by her early boyfriend Myron Lotz, before the arrival of Ted Hughes on the scene, led to such an enduring poem.

Mad Girl’s Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead:
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The poem, originally published in Mademoiselle, issue August 1953, a New York magazine for young women, has been poured over and critiqued and analysed, with themes on madness, delusion and the truth and reality of love.

On the Wikipedia entry, Mad Girl’s Love Song, critics Daghir and Al Masudi, in a deeper psychobiographical analysis of the poem, wrote about how Sylvia Plath’s poem cuts up the world into three through the use of tercets, and tropes light, darkness and dreams to slice up reality into life, death and dreams.

Other psychobiographical criticism by Panelatti, Ponterotto and Pouche, points to the explanation that this exploration between life and death that Plath writes about was influenced by the death of her father, whose loss was traumatic to Plath. They also say that Plath expressed in her journals that she chased after men whom reminded her of her father as well as had dissociative episodes remembering him.

As well as these illuminating insights, this poem, for me at least, will always be, if not Sylvia Plath’s saddest poem, surely the holder of Sylvia Plath’s saddest line in: But I grow old and forget your name.

Even though she never grew old, her words took on a life of their own.

The only two books that were published before her death at 23 Fitzroy Road, near Primrose Hill, London on 11th February 1963 were The Colossus and Other Poems and her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar.

Since then, largely because of her book of poems Aerial, first published posthumously in 1965, her work has become one of the leading Anglo-American cultural voices in the 20th century.

In this new millennium, her work and influence has expanded exponentially especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Internet.

The latter medium allows an exciting new canvas for the ascent of “Pop Poets” like the OG of #instapoety Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Wayheed, the latest in a courageous line of confessional poets whose style has a Sylvia Plath stamp of influence all over it.

See Plath’s original poem as it was published in Mademoiselle Magazine in the archive of the British Library.

If you are interested in finding out more about Sylvia Plath’s life and works which can be quite an intimidating mountain upon first appearance, one of the world’s leading scholars on her Karen V. Kukil is a great person to follow.

To see more mind-blowing hyperreal 3D computer generated works of art see Hadi Karimi’s website.

For the latest news of Thunderbirds follow Gerry Anderson on Instagram.

For more Nikki Wordsmith Sylvia Plath inspired poetry read Mummy.


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