THE POETRY OF SYLVIA PLATH

 

The Disquieting Muses

 

Mother, mother, what illbred aunt

Or what disfigured and unsightly

Cousin did you so unwisely keep

Unasked to my christening, that she

Sent these ladies in her stead

 

 

With heads like darning-eggs to nod

And nod and nod at foot and head

And at the left side of my crib?

 

Mother, who made to order stories

Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear,

Mother, whose witches always, always

Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder

Whether you saw them, whether you said

Words to rid me of those three ladies

Nodding by night around my bed,

Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.

 

In the hurricane, when father's twelve

Study windows bellied in

Like bubbles about to break, you fed

My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine

And helped the two of us to choir:

'Thor is angry: boom boom boom!

Thor is angry: we don't care!'

But those ladies broke the panes.

 

When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced,

Blinking flashlights like fireflies

And singing the glowworm song, I could

Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress

But, heavy-footed, stood aside

In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed

Godmothers, and you cried and cried:

And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.

 

Mother, you sent me to piano lessons

And praised my arabesques and trills

Although each teacher found my touch

Oddly wooden in spite of scales

And the hours of practicing, my ear

Tone-deaf and yes, unreachable.

I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere,

From muses unhired by you, dear mother.

 

I woke one day to see you, mother,

Floating above me in bluest air

On a green balloon bright with a million

Flowers and bluebirds that never were

Never, never, found anywhere.

But the little planet bobbed away

Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here!

And I faced my traveling companions.

 

Day now, night now, at head, side, feet,

They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,

Faces blank as the day I was born,

Their shadows long in the setting sun

That never brightens or goes down.

And this is the kingdom you bore me to,

Mother, mother.  But no frown of mine

Will betray the company I keep.

 

1957

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirror

 

 

 

1 am silver and exact.  I have no preconceptions.

"Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful--

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

 It is pink, with speckles.  I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart.  But it flickers. 

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

 

 Now I am a lake.  A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her.  She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

 

23 October 1961

 

 

 

 

 

 


Daddy

 

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, 0 You

 

No 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.

 

12 October 1962