Love her or hate her you have to recognise Sylvia Plath’s poetry

Sylvia Plath, the tortured poet of the mid 20th century, has been dead for almost twice as long as she lived yet, almost 60 years after her death, the very mention of her name can start a literary war.

Plath is is as close to Marmite woman as you can get. There are very few poetry lovers who do not fall into either the pro-Plath camp or the anti-Plath camp.

Of these two groups one sees poet Ted Hughes, her husband, as anathema and the other as a man much maligned by his wife’s devotees.

Personally I do not take extreme sides such as this. I certainly see Plath as a woman with a great burden on her shoulders, beginning with her father’s death when she was just eight years old (in fact eight years and one and a half weeks old). He suffered from diabetes and died not long after the amputation of one of his feet because the diabetes had not been treated.

It is certainly something that sticks in a child’s mind and may have had a lot to do with her later depression and serious mental problems which came to a head with an attempted suicide (not her last) when she was just 20.

It was not much later than this that she met and fell in love with English poet Ted Hughes and the two wrote more than 80 poetic missives to each other in a very short space of time.

The marriage lasted until her death but by then they had been separated for more than a year.

One of her most controversial poems, Daddy, was written not long before she died, a suicide bid which, unlike so many previous ones, actually succeeded.

Whatever your view of the stormy relationship of two such brilliant poets, one American the other British, this poem may well provide an insight to her mind in the months before she died.

Daddy

by Sylvia Plath

1932-1963
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you,
You died before I had time --
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours green bean over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you,
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common,
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two,
So I could never tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you,
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you,
And the language obscene.

An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I begin to talk like a Jew,
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo,
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy.
In the picture I have of you.
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy you bastard, I'm through.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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