The Disquieting Muses

The Disquieting Muses: De Chirico and Sylvia Plath


May 23, 1992 was the day of the delivery of the final draft of my degree thesis.

tesi laurea
tesi laurea

I had worked hard to analyse the painting by de Chirico, Le Muse Inquietanti, and the poetry inspired by it by Sylvia Plath.

tesi di laurea-a detail
tesi di laurea-a detail
Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

My professor, Paolo Fabbri, as soon as I asked for my thesis and accepted the subject from him, he was appointed director of the Institute of Italian Culture in Paris.

Imagine my amazement when I presented myself with the first chapters to his studio and I was overwhelmed by cameras and journalists who came to interview him!
Paris-Bologna was not exactly a short and cheap journey for a penniless student in 1992. In fact, I stayed in Bologna, chasing him among his thousand commitments, but I did it.

On 23 May 1992, the final draft of the thesis was handed over to Professor Fabbri for final reading.
I returned home empty, anxious for the outcome of so much work. All this mixed with a feeling of incompleteness and physical and mental fatigue. I had worked with difficulty, the professor’s movements had taken away my concentration, perhaps there were parts to be reworked, perhaps I had ventured with the semiotic squares, the plastic rhymes, the chromatic rhymes, perhaps I had found clues of commonality and meanings too daring. In short, perfectionism tormented my waiting mood.

I went home. I found my brother listening to the radio. There was talk of a very serious attack. He ran me over and told me that a bomb had detonated, a magistrate and the escort were dead. It had happened in Sicily.
I didn’t say a word, I sat down and began to listen.
I still didn’t know that this was the beginning of a dark, violent, scary period. Stained by blood and innocent victims. Not that we hadn’t had any up to that moment of massacres and victims of terrorism, but certainly from that May 1992 there were many and close to each other.
And I had a different awareness.

I sat down and felt that my thesis was only the beginning of a difficult period for everyone.

corriere della sera
corriere della sera

Sylvia Plath, The Disquieting Muses

Mother, mother, what illbred aunt
Or what disfigured and unsightly
Cousin did you so unwisely keep
Unasked to my christening, that she
Sent these ladies in her stead
With heads like darning-eggs to nod
And nod and nod at foot and head
And at the left side of my crib?

Mother, who made to order stories
Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear,
Mother, whose witches always, always,
Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder
Whether you saw them, whether you said
Words to rid me of those three ladies
Nodding by night around my bed,
Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.

In the hurricane, when father’s twelve
Study windows bellied in
Like bubbles about to break, you fed
My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine
And helped the two of us to choir:
“Thor is angry: boom boom boom!
Thor is angry: we don’t care!”
But those ladies broke the panes.

When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced,
Blinking flashlights like fireflies
And singing the glowworm song, I could
Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress
But, heavy-footed, stood aside
In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed
Godmothers, and you cried and cried:
And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.

Mother, you sent me to piano lessons
And praised my arabesques and trills
Although each teacher found my touch
Oddly wooden in spite of scales
And the hours of practicing, my ear
Tone-deaf and yes, unteachable.
I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere,
From muses unhired by you, dear mother,

I woke one day to see you, mother,
Floating above me in bluest air
On a green balloon bright with a million
Flowers and bluebirds that never were
Never, never, found anywhere.
But the little planet bobbed away
Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here!
And I faced my traveling companions.

Day now, night now, at head, side, feet,
They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,
Faces blank as the day I was born,
Their shadows long in the setting sun
That never brightens or goes down.
And this is the kingdom you bore me to,
Mother, mother. But no frown of mine
Will betray the company I keep.

Leave a Comment

My Agile Privacy
This website uses technical and profiling cookies. Clicking on "Accept" authorises all profiling cookies. Clicking on "Refuse" or the X will refuse all profiling cookies. By clicking on "Customise" you can select which profiling cookies to activate.
Warning: some page functionalities could not work due to your privacy choices
What language do you speak?