Part of me likes to think she herself purposely created the controversy, so after her death she could send us all into a literary downward spiral, our fingers growing tired from online debates in forums, snatching up every copy of The Bell Jar each of us could find only to turn to that last page and know, once and for all, which word it is.
Well played, Ms. Plath, well played.
So yesterday I got some new ink, of that popular quote that constantly has everyone up in arms. And, like for so many others, it means something very special to me. But I didn’t just open up my copy of The Bell Jar and point; I did do some research online, exploring both sides of the controversy before I had the words branded on me for all eternity.
And this is what I took away from my browsing:
No one knows for sure, except Plath herself.
– If you search “brag”, Google tries to tell you you’re dumb:
Showing results for i listened to the old bray of my heart (Surely that’s what you actually meant to say.)
– Good Reads agrees with “brag”:
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
– Some people here aren’t sure either way:
– And Peter Steinberg seems pretty damn sure it’s “brag”:
Of course this post is stemming from my annoyance by someone who told me to “do my research” because I am so obviously wrong, but instead of responding with “no moron, I’m right”, I’ll say to each, his own.
I like to think the correct quote is brag; but what if it is bray? Both words make sense.
the loud, harsh cry of a donkey.
any similar loud, harsh sound.
Her heart very well could be making a loud, harsh sound; a bray. It’s making its presence known; it’s crying out.
to use boastful language
; boast: He bragged endlessly about his high score.
verb (used with object)
to boast of: He bragged that he had won.
This makes sense, too; her heart is boastful, which it has every right to be. After all, it’s what’s keeping her alive. That “I am, I am, I am” is the chanting of her heart’s bragging rights.
In my opinion, “brag” also seems to make more sense in the context of the book; reaching the end of things, an epiphany maybe, after Joan’s funeral, that maybe not all is lost for Esther? It seems that the death of one of her best friends reminded her of how very alive she still is.
“There would be a black, six-foot deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
I am, I am, I am.”
And so, for me, the “brag” of my heart means something very special. It’s a constant reminder of how precious life is, even when there is no light. All I have to do it lay a hand across my chest and give a silent “thank you” to that ever boastful part of myself.
(And while hundreds of others are branded by the same words, it means just as much to them as it does to me, “brag” or “bray”.)
So there it is. Which version do you prefer?