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Confessional Poetry: Sylvia Plath
Transcript of Confessional Poetry: Sylvia Plath
Deep-rooted depression stemmed from father's death
Worsened when husband Ted Hughes left her
3 suicide attempts (last was successful)
Wrote poems with mythic and psychoanalytic dimensions
Background & History
Emerged in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s
Poetry "of the personal"
Autobiographical in nature
Exploration of "taboo" subjects
Associated with Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath
How are these 2 poems related to each other?
How relevant are these 2 poems to Confessional Poetry?
A Literature Mentorship Project
By: Chiang Yan Qi (301) and Amelia Tan Ling (314)
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.
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face a featureless, fine
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
These are my hands
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.
It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, thee is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And eat men like air.
Daddy - Analysis
"Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal / And a head in the freakish Atlantic"
Some extent of autobiographical detail
Mixes biographical facts with assertions based on emotions
Shows Plath's distrust of men
Playful, irregular rhyme and meter juxtaposes with violence of language -- reflects internal struggle between loving and hating "daddy"
Vivid use of imagery especially in Holocaust references
Uses heavy cadences of nursery rhymes and baby words (e.g. 'achoo', gobbledygoo'); reflects child's perspective
Repetition of 'oo' sound (e.g. last 2 lines of stanza 10)
Some iambic verse (e.g. line 1)
Implication that father is huge in her mind
Black shoe, lived like a foot: trapped by the shoe (father)
Small enough as a foot to fit into father (big enough as shoe)
Submissiveness and entrapment
"Ich, ich, ich, ich"
"Ich": German for 'I'
Stuttering and stammering
Reference to Hitler and the Nazis
German: Air force
German: My Fight
Written by Hitler
" The vampire who said he was you /
And drank my blood for a year, /
Seven years, if you want to know."
Vampire -- reference to husband Ted Hughes
They had agreed to a divorce on the day Plath wrote 'Daddy'
Plath had known him for 7 years
- title is symbolic of male domination
- compares "Daddy" to a Nazi and speaker to Jew
- speaker failed to communicate with father
The purity of the Aryan race
Jaw: barbed wire of concentration camps
"The tongue stuck in my jaw"
"I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew."
Identifies herself with the archetypal, suffering Jews in concentration camps, tortured by the Nazis
"You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot"
"eat men like air"
predatory psychic dictators
men turned to smoke—the red rage that rises out of the ashes only fuels self-combustion, debunking the idea of transcendence or rebirth at the end of the poem
“A sort of walking miracle, my skin / Bright as a Nazi lampshade, / My right foot / A paperweight, / My face a featureless, fine / Jew linen.”
Horrific remnants of the Holocaust
Compares self to the Jews
" A cake of soap, / A wedding ring, / A gold filling."
Nazis search the dead Jews for valuable items
Rumours that the Nazis made the dead bodies of Jews into bars of soap
"What a trash / To annihilate each decade"
Compares her being to trash
“The first time it happened I was ten. /
It was an accident. / The second time I meant / To last it out and not come back at all.”
Describes her brushes with death
“There is a charge / For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart-- / It really goes. /
And there is a charge, a very large charge / For a word or a touch / Or a bit of blood / Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.”
“The peanut-crunching crowd / Shoves in to see / Them unwrap me hand and foot-- / The big strip tease. / Gentlemen, ladies / These are my hands / My knees.”
Performer; Entertain the audience
Social context of striptease
Ambivalence of suicidal despair
"Dying / Is an art"
Lady Lazarus -- Analysis
acknowledgment that outburst is childish, constructed from fantasy of domination
and abandonment rather than facts
Titled "Daddy" instead of "Father"
speaker compares herself to Biblical figure Lazarus,
who was resurrected by Jesus, because she has been
"resurrected" from attempted suicide three times
Fuses the worlds of corporate pain and personal suffering
Represents an extreme use of the "light verse" technique
Potrays a kind of eternal victim
Speaker's audience is made up entirely of men ("Herr Doktor", "Herr God", "Herr Lucifer" -- allegorical enblems of oppressive masculinity)
Establishes deliberately flippant tone that juxtaposes language
- Lady Lazarus compares herself to Jews during the Holocaust
- references to suicide attempts
- speaker compares herself to Lazarus, a phoenix and a cat
- all three had life after death