Sylvia Plath: A Study in Terminal Hopelessness
No wonder she was suicidal. On October 27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts Sylvia Plath was a born into a dark family situation in which her immigrant father was a former Nazi, the very definition of death and darkness, and Plath tasted the harsh sting of abandonment when her father died of diabetes complications when she was only at the tender age of eight. Also Plath herself was born with a strong biological tendency for severe depression and was finally diagnosed as an adult to be suffering from bipolar disorder which was probably triggered by the untimely death of her father,
Plath began to exhibit self destructive behaviors as a teenager when she cut her legs in order to test her own fears of death and suicide, thus she also suffered with suicidal tendencies for nearly a lifetime in addition to clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Then she went on to attempt suicide two more times as a young woman by taking an overdose of pills, once in her mother’s basement and once under the crawlspace under the family home and was finally treated as an inpatient for mental illness. She then unfortunately committed her completed suicide on February 11, 1963 at the age of 30 when she was the divorced mother of two children.
As a student she performed brilliantly, and her first poem was published at the age of eight and went on to sell her first poem to the Christian Science Monitor while in high school and went on to sell her first short story to Seventeen Magazine. She then graduated to attend Smith College where she won the Fulbright fellowship to attend Newnham College in Cambridge England. There she met and married her husband, Poet Ted Hughes, they later divorced over his alleged infidelity.
Plath wrote post-modern confessional poetry expressing her own strong emotions about her personal experiences, instead of masking herself through the voice of a third person character or a narrator, and confessional poetry is still a popular form of poetry of today. Plath was popular, yet she was also controversial because of the dark and violent imagery that she used. In her famous poem Daddy Daddy she angerly dismisses her father out of her life as if she were one his Jewish victims.
BY SYLVIA PLATH
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 bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
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 never could 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 began 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 gipsy 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
Plath’s anger and her victim mentally is self evident in this most compelling poem in which she compares the all encompassing black-hearted influence of a godlike father on her as a shoe that contains her and limits her and victimizes her as if she were one of his hated Jews and she basically “kills” him off out of her life by killing herself. This poem was written shortly before her suicide, thus she says goodbye to him shortly before her own death.
Plath was one of America’s greatest and most intense female poets of all time and was the first person to win the Pulitzer Prize posthumously, but I personally believe that it is important for poets to continue to write and live and for the readers who need us and not die. Sylvia Plath, on the other hand was a poet who lost all hope.