Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Well Now~ And Plath

...There goes the 2-5 day posting. 'Course, that was somewhat of a strange way to do things anyhow, so how about this; I'll post when I can, but generally strive for at least once a week.

That said, let's move on to the Plathster, the idol of melodramatic women around the world (keep in mind, Plath also committed suicide). Don't shudder at that statement, though; if you happen to not know Plath, she's a great poet and is notable for particularly unique images and phrases (Plathian!), phrases that pop up in inferior form in many a poetess' work. Honestly, I haven't read a whole lot of Plath (probably 8-9 poems worth), but notable qualities (other than Plathian images) are strong internal rhyme that help build momentum, interesting enjambment and syntax, and the effective employment of repetition. Here's a poem (my favorite as of now) that displays her strengths very well:



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.
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 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.

By Sylvia Plath


Great power through repetition, coupled with unique imagery and phrases typical of Plath; more on the former from Jessica Schneider in the article Mature Poets Steal. I promise you students would be more interested in the poetry unit if we read poems as aggressive as this one, but just the word "bastard" in the last line (not to mention the rest of the poem) is enough to make it ineligible for consideration, most likely. We read "Jilted" in 9th grade, actually; a good poem, but lacking the greatness and sheer intensity of "Daddy" or other select Plath poems.

Also by Jessica Schneider, here's a This Old Poem for Sylvia Plath. Like said, sometimes Plath overwrites, but no matter; she has plenty of good poems worth reading. Here's a 230-poem online compilation if you'd like to delve.

Take Care,


Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

I don't know if my other comment went through, but why would they have you learn "Jilted" of all her poems? I don't get it. I didn't even remember that one.

9:26 PM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Nope, didn't get the other comment. I'm not exactly sure why we learned "Jilted" instead of "Daddy", "Lady Lazarus", or something else great. Probably because it's simpler and more conventionally constructed, so supposedly we get more from it. Wrong, but akin to an academic's thinking. This case parallels the "Why 'Horses Graze' instead of 'A Song in the Front Yard'?" for Gwendolyn Brooks.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I'm a reader of both of your blogs and your poetry and I thought I'd say hi. Plath is one of my favourites among the poets I've been reading, and it would be nice to talk about her with people who aren't caught up in the melodrama of her life.

I made a recent post about Plath and might make another one concerning my initial encounter with her work & Harold Bloom's view of her. I'd love to talk about it with you both!

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Hi Anthony-

Harold Bloom's opinion on Plath is just silly. He lumps her in with Maya Angelou because at least as of now, when you think about female 'popular' poets, those 2 names are the ones that come to mind. Ok, so that's where their similarity ends. Plath is a great poet and Angelou a Hallmark Card writer. The bad thing about SP is that people only see the suicide, and they read her poems with that in mind, rather than just the words on the page. I also tire of people calling her 'that depressing poet'. "Daddy" is hardly 'depressing' since depressing implies self-pity and although she has it in her diaries, it's void from her work. But she is a great one to read for her enjambment and music, and it's sad that this technical skillgets cloaked by the public's view of her suicide.

Also, her novel is nothing much, but that too is a fave among depressed women under 25. But if you read that and then the poems in "Ariel" it's like they were written by 2 diff people.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I agree that Plath is not depressing in her poetry. I think the Bell Jar has done a lot to contribute to Plath stereotypes. It's strange because the suicidal woman thing is a very small, pathetic image whereas in her poetry there is a hugeness--I sometimes think of Wagner or Mussolini. In one of Dan's essays he called her a 'masculine' poet and I think that's exactly it.

The Bell Jar kind of reminded me of something I would have read when I was younger...kind of like a Judy Bloom book but set in college. The Johnny Panic book was something I had to force myself to finish.

4:58 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home