By Agota Petrauskas

Sylvia Plath, who died by suicide at the age of thirty, may be known for her confessional and somber poetry, but for her short-lived life, she was captivated by the color red. Plath brought out the red in her at most during her complicated seven-year relationship with Ted Hughes. Plath had a dangerous side to her, one that Hughes could not control. And so she felt the most powerful when wearing her red lipstick.

More than 30 years later after Plath’s suicide, Hughes published the collection Birthday Letters exploring her suicide and their marriage. During their marriage, Hughes had an affair with another woman. After Hughes refused to end his affair, Plath attempted to take her life several times throughout the tragic divorce. The last and most significant poem in the collection, “Red,” uses color symbolism to describe their chaotic and dismal relationship and Plath falling into psychosis. He wrote, “Red was your color,” and described her lips as “drip deep crimson.” The poem is filled with allusions to Plath and her color so we can imagine how their room must have looked from his evocative images. Their room reflected their violent relationship, “Our room was red. A judgment chamber,” Hughes writes. A room that was meant to be the most intimate and adored, was made to be threatening. “The carpet of blood / Patterned with darkenings, congealments. / The curtains – ruby corduroy blood, / Sheer blood falls from ceiling to floor. / The cushions the same.” There was no escaping this color for him and Plath wanted that to be known. However, Plath also had a blue side to her and Hughes preferred it, she was quieter and it was easier for him to control her. The last line in Hughes’s poem, “Red,” reads, “The jewel you lost was blue.” But her “red” side allowed her to be free from her “blue” side and the ties that came with it: her relationship with Hughes and her suppression.

The color red became a complex color for her. She used it to feel alive and confident, yet it was what most symbolized her psychosis and depression. Plath had put a red rug under her writing desk after Hughes left her and always wanted her bedroom painted red. Plath also always wore red lipstick that was creamy and bold. Her most iconic lipstick shade was Revlon’s “Cherries in the Snow.” It’s no wonder Plath stuck with one of the boldest and most empowering colors during her time of suffering and heartbreak. Plath’s poem “Tulips” deals with her experience with depression, which readers can see in the lines “The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me,” and “Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.” Even so, red can symbolize life as well, as blood carries oxygen to body parts. The color satisfies almost all of the emblematic elements of poetry. Some of her most influential words were in the last stanza of her poem “Lazy Lazarus,” which reads, “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.” In “The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath,” Plath refers to the color red over one hundred times (What Sylvia Plath Loved | Academy of American Poets.)

Writers turn their space into a creative chamber that resonates with their words. It all comes down to creating an atmosphere for your creative work. Sylvia Plath’s favorite color was red and it became her whole personality. Her affection for the color was one of the best things that could happen for her writing, at least. A simple color influenced her writing to the point that it appears hundreds of times throughout her published work and is what represents her and her poetry. It helped her visually describe and symbolize her relationships, state of mind, body, and much more with this color. It was her source of inspiration, it was and still is, her color.

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