"Full Fathom Five" (linked through Plath's picture above) is the first poem that Sylvia Plath wrote that hints at the paradigm-shattering voice she would develop later, particularly in connection to specific psychological themes. Prior to this poem, Plath's urge to deal with her "daddy" issues expressed itself only through reworkings of fairytale archetypes and, as we saw with "Sonnet to Satan," ironic jabs at authority.
This is the poem where everything changed. It is, in effect, Plath's baptism into Confessionalism, although Confessionalism had not yet been invented, and the poem stops well short of being authentically confessional. The opening lines of this Shakespearian titled poem make it clear that Plath, like Hamlet, is no stranger to her father's ghost:
Old man, you surface seldom,
Then you come in with then tide's coming
The connection between memories of her father, the sea, and the moon (tides) is foundational to Plath's poetry. You can't fully understand Plath's work if you are blind to this essential starting point. Plath has received a wound (her father's death) and she turns back to childhood memories of the sea to console her. But instead of lolling around on the sands turning angelic bronze under the Boston sun, the sea is calling her to not only get wet, but to drown.
As Plath sinks into the sea in the poem, she falls through the ghost of her father who seems to dissolve before her as she drowns. The sea, the psyche, and poetry are fused in this space where all solid things start to show cracks, and -- in fact, threaten to become nothing more than ghosts.
Of great interest here is that "Full Fathom Five" is only one of two poems she wrote that day. The other "Lorelei" describes her complete drowning as she suicides into the sea to escape the patriarchal world of solids.
In "Full Fathom Five" Plath cries out for her father's "shelled bed" and in "Lorelei" she begs the sirens to "ferry" her to her death. These poems, written back to back while Plath read a book by Jacques Cousteau, express violent, contradictory desires for life, for death, for love, for masculinity, femininity, for God, for nature.
The key thing to take away from this is that these are starting points for Plath. She is just barely creaking the door open to her genius. The dissolving power of the imagination is a starting point, not an end. The next stage, a la alchemy, is to fuse things back into new forms.
Another important poem, "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" was written by Plath the next day and this poem became her first New Yorker poem. This one is the "capstone" of Plath's juvenilia. It's the poem all the others were building to and it's also her forever goodbye to the "Ocean 12-12W " world of her childhood. A successful fusion of the past.
Or should have been. As we'll see later, Plath's paradisal past continued to haunt her to the very end.
So a trilogy of sea-poems written in two days that foreshadow a lot of what would later form into Plath's mature work. All three are well worth reading and show all of the classic Plath riffs with diction, figurative language, and archetypes. I'd talk about them more but the blog would get too long.
Next Monday, we'll talk about Plath's poem "Medallion" one of the first poems that shows the fracturing of her relationship with and marriage to the poet Ted Hughes.
Poems Written: 314
Rejections: 23 (13 tiered)
Poem written today: "Cherry Finder"
If you need a hand revising and polishing:
1) Have me do it for you! Click the "Poem Polisher" button below. I've helped lots of poets.
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