The Moon And The Yew Tree

This series, The Moon And The Yew Tree, was inspired by the poem of the same name by Sylvia Plath.

My interest in the work of both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes began sometime after the discovery of a curious link, of sorts. It transpired that at one time, not only did my paternal grandmother, Helen, live at the same address as both Hughes and Plath, but her life and tragic demise are mentioned in two of Hughes' poems. Although the coroner reported an 'open verdict', Helen almost certainly committed suicide, and did so in the same manner as that which, later, famously took the lives of Plath herself as well as Hughes' next partner, Assia Wevill.

Whilst I had enjoyed some of Plath’s work before, this particular piece, ‘The Moon and The Yew Tree’, wasn't one I'd read prior to starting this project. Following a friend's recommendation to experiment with photographing inside a local yew wood, I found the poem online and, although it is ostensibly an incredibly sad piece, I was quickly captivated by some of the bittersweet imagery in her text.

Plath writes cryptically using beautiful, powerful metaphors. What struck me in particular was her use of nature and the environment around her to symbolise various things in her life. More specifically, light, mist, colour, space, the sky, and of course the moon and yew tree themselves are the romantic icons I have taken the most inspiration from. In creating this series, I sought to explore some of these metaphors further and have concentrated on visually expressing some of her concepts and ideas.

Shortly into my work on this series, I learned that the actual yew tree that Plath observed while writing her poem was still in existence. Having decided to visit the area for further inspiration, I was lucky enough not only to capture images of the tree itself, but to include some of them in my final set.

Research has taught me that, throughout history, the yew tree has represented both death and resurrection. This, combined with the fact that the tree is highly poisonous, further adds to the potency of some of Plath's words, especially when you know a little about her life. For anybody interested in reading more of her poetry, and for those not aware of Plath’s and Hughes' fascinating stories, I would very much encourage you to find out more.

Created over the period of a couple of months, the photographs here represent the finished project.

View the series

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The Moon And The Yew Tree

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 on 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 all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the 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.

Sylvia Plath