“Nick and the Candlestick” by Sylvia Plath (Favorite Poem Project)


I remember this very well- that I came home and I was really upset. It was a date situation, I wanted to go out with this girl and I just ended up feeling very bad at the end of it, it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. I just ended up feeling kind of lonely and bereft, I suppose. I came home and I opened this book and I read some of the poems, and up until that point, I think my sense of poetry was that it was always this grandiose, for lack of a better term, highfalutin- not a very real way of using language. And I looked at this stuff and I could not believe it, it was lightyears beyond anything else I’d ever read- it was powerful, it was rough, it was bitter, it was caustic. It was, at the same time, really urgent about a need for love. I was amazed that, here’s a woman who was from a very well-healed, New England existence, and the stuff that she wrote really spoke to me: a man, a Jamaican immigrant- You could hardly get two people in the world more distant in terms of social, economic, intellectual, and religious realities, but- she spoke to me. She spoke to me, she spoke it seems, directly to my life. And because of that, I’ve always loved her work. And I think, in some ways her work was an entrée for me into a larger world of art. And I think when I started looking at other poets, and started looking at the world of visual art is because of Plath. I think you can have deep, profound, transformative experiences, but in a quiet setting. And I think actually, the quiet setting- and I think of this in terms of my lighting- creating this kind of, emotional hush. It’s a place where you can- the viewer can come to and gain access to these other places. This is “Nick and the Candlestick” by Sylvia Plath I am a miner. The light burns blue. / Waxy stalactites /
Drip and thicken, tears /
The earthen womb /
Exudes from its dead boredom. / Black bat airs /
Wrap me, raggy shawls, /
Cold homicides. / They weld to me like plums. / Old cave of calcium /
Icicles, old echoer. / Even the newts are white, / Those holy Joes. /
And the fish, the fish— /
Christ! they are panes of ice, / A vice of knives, /
A piranha /
Religion, drinking / Its first communion out of my live toes. / The candle /
Gulps and recovers its small altitude, /
Its yellows hearten. / O love, how did you get here? / O embryo / Remembering, even in sleep, /
Your crossed position. / The blood blooms clean /
In you, ruby. The pain /
You wake to is not yours. / Love, love, /
I have hung our cave with roses, / With soft rugs— / The last of Victoriana. / Let the stars /
Plummet to their dark address, / Let the mercuric /
Atoms that cripple drip /
Into the terrible well, / You are the one /
Solid the spaces lean on, envious. / You are the baby in the barn. I love this poem because it’s crazy. Because it’s headlong, it’s brutal, it goes all over the place, and it does not proceed rationally. I mean, the first line is: “I am a miner. The light burns blue.” You’re a miner? What blue light? What are you talking about? And the last line is like, this gift from the gods. The Favorite Poem Project is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, fostering America’s creativity and investing in our living cultural heritage. Additional funding has been provided by the John S. and James L. Knight foundation and by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

7 thoughts on ““Nick and the Candlestick” by Sylvia Plath (Favorite Poem Project)

  1. Seph, So well spoken, so well done!  It is wonderful to see the passion you feel for SP.  I, too, feel that passion.  Have you heard her voice?  She also is an artist.  (It's even hard to speak of her in the past tense.  I don't think of her that way.)  If you haven't already done so in your education, I would encourage you to research her life, read her prose, her letters, her diaries, and view her art.  She is such an amazing human being.  Thank you so much for sharing this.  Enjoy your journey as I have.

  2. I love this way of connecting so many different things. The phrase of Seph's that will stick with me for a long time is the way art can create "an emotional hush". He said, "It's a place the viewer can come to and gain access to these other places." So true, of many art forms.

  3. In a very exquisite, lyrical way, Sylvia Plath talks about the experience of giving birth – the cave as a raw, real yet endearing metaphor for her womb.

  4. Seph, stunning reading. I didn't know this poem by Plath. Thank you. I agree, it's crazy but intensely moving. "They weld to me like plums." makes no sense but is perfect. Reminds me: trust the subconscious and allusions. Not that work shouldn't be revised but you got to know when to hold 'em. She knew.

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