Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras Poetry Friday Reading Themes

[Poetry Friday] Love’s Bones in Sylvia Plath’s “Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest”

poetry friday

Myra here.

It is tougher than usual to find poems that would suit our bimonthly theme just right as we continue to feature Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras: Spooks and Spectres. 


As I look through various possibilities, I was surprised to discover that we have not shared any of Sylvia Plath’s poems for Poetry Friday. Her touch of darkness and the pungent taste of her misery (still alive despite her death) linger through her verse. For more lighthearted and fun poems, I encourage you to drop by Doraine Bennett’s blog of Dori Reads, our Poetry Friday host this week.

And so, here is Sylvia Plath’s ruminations about ghosts and priests and love’s bones.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest by Sylvia Plath

In the rectory garden on his evening walk
Paced brisk Father Shawn. A cold day, a sodden one it was
In black November. After a sliding rain
Dew stood in chill sweat on each stalk,
Each thorn; spring from wet earth, a blue haze
Hung caught in dark-webbed branches like a fabulous heron.
Hauled sudden from solitude,
Hair prickling on his head,
Father Shawn perceived a ghost
Shaping itself from that mist.
‘How now,’ Father Shawn crisply addressed the ghost
Wavering there, gauze-edged, smelling of woodsmoke,
‘What manner of business are you on ?
From your blue pallor, I’d say you inhabited the frozen waste
Of hell, and not the fiery part. Yet to judge by that dazzled look,
That noble mien, perhaps you’ve late quitted heaven?’
In voice furred with frost,
Ghost said to priest:
‘Neither of those countries do I frequent:
Earth is my haunt.’
Come, come,’ Father Shawn gave an impatient shrug,
‘I don’t ask you to spin some ridiculous fable
Of gilded harps or gnawing fire: simply tell
After your life’s end, what just epilogue
God ordained to follow up your days. Is it such trouble
To satisfy the questions of a curious old fool?’
‘In life, love gnawed my skin
To this white bone;
What love did then, love does now :
Gnaws me through.’
‘What love,’ asked Father Shawn, ‘but too great love
Of flawed earth-flesh could cause this sorry pass?
Some damned condition you are in:
Thinking never to have left the world, you grieve
As though alive, shriveling in torment thus
To atone as shade for sin that lured blind man.’
‘The day of doom
Is not yet come.
Until that time
A crock of dust is my dear home.’
‘Fond phantom,’ cried shocked Father Shawn,
‘Can there be such stubbornness —
A soul grown feverish, clutching its dead body-tree
Like a last storm-crossed leaf? Best get you gone
To judgment in a higher court of grace.
Repent, depart, before God’s trump-crack splits the sky.’
From that pale mist
Ghost swore to priest:
‘There sits no higher court
Than man’s red heart.’

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

13 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Love’s Bones in Sylvia Plath’s “Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest”

  1. Oh, hadn’t seen this one before. Very evocative and atmospheric. Gives me the chills for sure. What great lines she composed: “Dew stood in chill sweat on each stalk” and “In voice furred with frost”.


  2. Love God’s trump-crack! I hadn’t seen this Plath before. Thank you for posting – positively grisly!


  3. Sylvia Plath – how I love Sylvia Plath…dark, haunting, brilliant poems. Thanks for sharing this gem today, Myra.


  4. Julie Larios

    This one gave me the shivers. B.J. is right – that “trump-crack” can snap bones all by itself! I wish Plath had lived longer (and conquered her demons.) Thanks for posting it, Myra.


  5. She writes such a comment about man, doesn’t she? I don’t remember reading this before either, Myra. It’s interesting to see the story in dialogue. Despite the somber idea, she brings the story quite to life!


  6. Chilling! I haven’t seen it before. It’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing it.


  7. Definitely spooky!


  8. maryleehahn

    Definitely full of creepy! Great for your challenge!


  9. Ooooh. Your “pungent taste of her misery” is as wonderful as the poem! I do love that ghost smelling of woodsmoke and speaking in a voice furred with frost. Fabulous!


  10. Whoa. I think I need a warm bowl of mama’s chicken soup to stave off the chills from that one!


  11. I hadn’t read it either – thanks so much for sharing, Myra. That blue heron image hooked me right in – such gorgeous, chilling language throughout.


  12. “a blue haze/Hung caught in dark-webbed branches like a fabulous heron.” — Haunting, but so vivid. I can see it.


  13. Pingback: [Poetry Friday] Margaret Atwood’s Questioning the Dead |

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