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Friday, August 08, 2008

Reader's Diary #384- Sylvia Plath: Ariel


This being my first exposure to a collection of Plath poems, I was struck by some aspects: her repetition, her rhymes and other word play, her darkness and her contradictions.

At times the poems were either funnily executed or executed funnily. It takes a particularly sinister and cynical sense of humour to name a poem "Death & Co," or to write "I could never talk to you./ The tongue stuck in my jaw./ It stuck in a barb wire snare./ Ich, ich, ich, ich."

There was something about the peppy yet careful rhythm that seemed to scratch--but not cut-- across the grain of the gloom, like someone not using poetry as medicine but as a drug.

And how was it she could avoid be controlled by a metaphor, jumping from images as diverse as a Nazi lampshade to a peanut-crunching crowd to a seashell within a single poem, yet be controlled by a subject (dying) for an entire collection?

I normally don't like thinking so much of the poet, feeling that the poems should speak for themselves. However, Plath's poems, being confessional, make it difficult not to try and psycho-analyze her. So, does it mean she's failed if I understand her less? Maybe. But I liked her more. Crazy.

Daddy
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

(Read the rest here.)



6 comments:

TadMack said...

I have to admit that this one's a hard one, but anyone who has hated and feared a father has some of the bottom line of it, I think.

I'm impressed that you're foraying into the unknown with Plath. She's... a difficult treasure.

Kelly Fineman said...

Is Ariel the one that came out after her death? If so, then I believe that her husband rearranged her poems (and possibly omitted one or two). "Daddy" is a great poem, particularly when read aloud. In the movie Sylvia, Gwyneth Paltrow performed the lasts few lines (they couldn't get permission from the estate to actually use the poems). I can still hear the last lines ringing inside my head based on that performance.

Love the sample from "Death & Co." with it's "Ich, ich, ich, ich": the double meaning (the sound of a stuck tongue, someone who only talks about themselves (ich being I in German), etc., is extraordinarily witty. I confess to not having read one of her collections yet, although I've read a few of her individual pieces.

John Mutford said...

Tadmack: From what I've read, when her dad died she was young and had him up on a sort of pedestal. My feeling is that to cope with his death, she had to invent a possible alternate identity for him, one far less flattering, in order to cope.

Kelly: It is, and he did. I read that the original arrangement started off more gloomy and became increasingly more positive towards the end. Without having read it the way it was intended, I'm not sure if the husband/editor made good decisions or not.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have just realised that I have never read Plath's poetry, just her novel, The Bell Jar, which seems like a horrible oversight. One more for my to do list.

Bybee said...

I'm reminded of "Pollock" when Lee tells Jackson Pollock, "You did it Pollock; you've cracked it (modern art?) wide open."

Sylvia Plath cracked it (confessional poetry) wide open. I think she knew it, but couldn't really believe it, hence the suicide.

Considering how things turned out, Ted Hughes probably came up with the best arrangement for this book. It certainly ratchetted up the mystique even more.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I haven't read The Bell Jar, but after Ariel, I now want to. I have it penciled in for June 2023.

Bybee: The concept of "confessional poetry" rubs me the wrong way. I translate it in my head to "self-centered poetry". Yet in Ariel, for all the self-absorption, Plath was able to make herself the subject without repeling me. Perhaps it has something to do with her almost comedic approach to her darkside, or more likely, it was that her confessions were always told in relation to others and how they've bred her outlook.