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Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s The Moon and The Yew Tree

Patti Smith, widely regarded as the influential figure and trailblazer of the Punk movement, shares a profound connection with the literary icon Sylvia Plath. In her memoir, “M Train,” Smith eloquently recounts her pilgrimage to Plath’s resting place, and in doing so, she reveals how the poet’s spirit stirs within her a compelling urge to write. This powerful testament to their connection highlights the enduring impact of Plath’s work on artists beyond the realm of literature.

One can appreciate this connection further through Smith’s performance of Plath’s poem, “The Moon and The Yew Tree.” While Smith’s rendition may seem more direct and accessible compared to the intricate and cryptic style often associated with Plath’s writings, it allows the profound darkness and emotional depth of the poem to resonate with its audience. Maria Popova, the curator behind The Marginalian, aptly describes this particular poem as one of Plath’s masterpieces, marking it as a poignant depiction of depression that ranks amongst the most powerful in the annals of literary history.

The Moon and The Yew Tree by Sylvia Plath

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs at my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy spiritous mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky –
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness –
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness –blackness and silence.

Smith’s interpretation of “The Moon and The Yew Tree” is a testament to her ability to honor the essence of Plath’s work while infusing it with her own unique voice. It underscores the idea that art, regardless of the medium, has the capacity to transcend time and connect kindred spirits across generations. In this convergence of two artistic souls, we witness the enduring power of literature to inspire and move those who are drawn to its depths.