This essay assesses the interpretative consequence of the now wide and uncontrollable dissemination of an error, identifying three variants in an early poem by Sylvia Plath entitled Black Rook in Rainy Weather (1957). The first of these variants is a sophistication introduced in the Pulitzer Prize-winning edition of her Collected Poems, which is used as the copy-text for most contemporary anthologies that include the poem. In order to isolate and characterize the additional variants, the two extant audio recordings of Plath reading the poem have been collated with the typescripts and printed versions. The essay asserts the textuality of the tape recordings in terms of a phenomenon the author calls “aural sophistication”, concluding that the recorded voice is less valuable as an index of authority than as a witness of how subtle textual variations irrevocably affect interpretation. The effect of these three variants reveals a self-possession and resilience Plath rarely embodies in her poems, an uncharacteristic posture that manifests the poem’s relation to Emily Dickinson’s poetics of witness.


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pp. 98-121
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