Sylvia
Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October  27th, 1932. She was a poet and a
novelist, notorious for her confessional style of her writing. She discovered
her affinity for writing by keeping a journal. She worked as a guest editor for
a popular magazine in 1953 and shortly after that she had a failed attempt to
commit suicide.  Sylvia Plath struggled
with depression and mental illness her entire life and this eventually culminated
in 1963 when she took her own life.

Confessional
poetry is the representative writing style of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s,
which approached intimate subject matters, more specifically subject matters
that were once considered taboo, issues like death, trauma, drug abuse, sexual
guilt, alcoholism, suicide and depression. Confessionalism is also
characterized by first-person narration, or “the poetry of the I”. These poems
are written from a first-person view, allowing the reader to get closer into
the thoughts and feelings of the author. As some critics describe it,
confessional poets use the first-person narrations to “widen the scope of the
poem” and as a “tool to increase a reader’s emotional identification with the
writer”. Another trait of this type of poetry is represented by its
autobiographical character. Unlike other “I” poems, in confessional poetry, the
speaker and the poet are the same entity, and the speaker writes with the sole
form of reference being his own life and experiences.

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As
mentioned above, Path was a major figure, a pioneer of confessionalism. One of
the most well-known poems by a confessional author is “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath.
Part of “Ariel”, published shortly before her death, this poem is a dark,
controversial modern poem which uses a multitude of literary devices such as
allegory, allusion and methapors to portray the idea of a girl victim finally
liberating herself from her father.

Plath
says herself “Here is a poem spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her
father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact
that her

 

father
was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly Jewish. In the daughter the two
strains marry and paralyze each other- she has to act out the awful little
allegory once over before she is free of it.”

            Despite the fact that the title
“Daddy” instantly creates a positive image suggesting love, warmth and
security, the poem is filled with resentment and hatred that Plath felt toward
her father ; the poem deals with an impressive amount of suppressed anger and
bad blood. This antithesis between the two concepts draws the attention of the
reader from the first line : “You do not do”, in which the speaker openly
states that she is done dealing with her father’s ghost. This line also sets a
tense atmosphere from the very begging of the poem. The first stanza portrays
her feeling suffocated, and trapped living with her father. She remembers being
scared to even breathe in his presence. The “black shoe” that she’s been
limited to live in, is a metaphor for his father, and inside the shoe is the
narrator who is about to escape. But the only way to liberate herself is by
killing her dad, and this image is connected with the actual death of her
father in real life, when she was only eight years old. He had his leg
amputated and as a result of that his toe turned black from gangrene. This
episode is directly linked to the line in which Plath describes the toe as “big
as a seal from San Francisco”. Another matter that connects Plath’s poem to her
real life are the places in which the statue’s head is in : “the Atlantic”, “in
the waters of beautiful Nauset”, Cape Cod. These are all places her family used
to go on holiday. She finds temporary beauty in these places, in the form of
“bean green over blue water” and even prays for her father, for his health.
Plath’s father has been born in a polish town, named Grabow. This town has been
destroyed multiple times by wars and this adds up to the fact that her dead,
who is associated with “every German”, has destroyed life. The narrator finds
her situation similar to the jewish people who were transported with death
trains by the Nazi so they could kill them by gassing. Plath even indentifies
with a jew.

            The voice used in “Daddy” is that of
the first person, which is a trait specific to confessional poetry. The
narrator directly addresses her father and throughout the

 

poem
she uses first-person pronouns and second-person pronouns such as “I”, “ich”,
you”. Regarding rhyming, most sentences are ending with the “oo” sound, with
words like “do”, “shoe”, “achoo”, “you” etc, which are hard sounds, but at the
same time depict her status as a childish figure in relation to her imposing
father. This is also enforced by the use of the word “daddy” and the sounds
mentioned before.

            As a whole, the poem represents an
attempt to blend the personal with the mythical, dealing with the subject of
morality and death.

Another
impressive work of the same author is “Lady Lazarus” which shares a lot of
common traits with the well-known poem “Daddy”, but at the same time has its
own particularities. “Lady Lazarus” is also a dark poem, published in the same
book named “Ariel”.

The
title is a metaphor itself, making an allusion to the Biblical character,
Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, but Plath rather identifies
with the Lazarus decaying in his tomb than the Lazarus who rose from the dead.

The
main theme in  “Lady Lazarus” is death,
more specifically suicide, which also represents a common thing between this
poem and “Daddy”. Suicide is considered to be a taboo matter; “Lady Lazarus”
approaches this subject in depth, which represents a characteristic of
confessional poetry. The death theme is tightly related to the author’s real
life experiences once again. Her multiple (real-life) suicide attempts are
depicted in the very beginning of the poem: “I have done it again”. This line
is later suggestive for the fact that Path attempted and failed to commit
suicide before. Each attempt took place once in a decade. She presents her
recovery from these failed attempts as a failure, while her attempts are
presented as accomplishments: “Dying is an art” that she performs
“exceptionally well”. This illustrates her aspiration to mastering the “art of
dying”, culminating with her actual death. Also, by characterizing dying as an
art, she introduces a third party to her monologue –the spectator- to both her
deaths and resurrections. For the reason that death is a “performance”, there
automatically needs to be a public. The “eager peanut-crunching crowd” is
invited but it is also criticized for

 

only
participating from the side. She presumes her “voyeurs” are deeply devoted,
therefore they would pay the “large charge” to see her hurting. Plath also
associates the crowd with the Germans who stood aside while the jews were sent
to death. The Holocaust references are obvious and also link the two poems.
Lady Lazarus addresses a man as “Herr Dokter”, “Herr Enemy”, “Herr God” and
“Herr Lucifer”, she also goes on to portray her face as a “Nazi lampshade” or
as a “Jew linen”. These allusions are mainly used to engage the lecturer,
making him feel complicit, just as Germans were toward the Holocaust.

Regarding
form, “Lady Lazarus” is written in first-person, just as the first line of the
poem depicts : “I have done it again.” In the first thirty lines of the poem
there are ten stanzas with three lines each. These are also called tercets and
they are shorter than the complete sentences; Plath uses tercets to illustrate
the relevance of each sentence, perceiving the “shortness” of these sentences
as a more effective way of addressing an issue and also for increasing the
dramatic impact and the exhibitionism of the entire poem.

As
most of her work does, Sylvia Plath’s poems are overshadowed by her tragic,
tumultuous and full of suffering life. Similar to her poem “Daddy”, “Lady
Lazarus” is deeply rooted in her turbulent life experiences and her agonizing
depression, portraying events of her life in a profound manner. Autobiography
is a relevant trait of the two poems; Plath depicts events from her life such as
her struggle with depression, her wish of dying but also her family-related
issues. Least but not last, the author’s approach of taboo themes such as
death, suicide and depression constitutes a major trait of confessionalism in
poetry, which can be found in both poems. Therefore, both “Lady Lazarus” and
“Daddy” assemble the most relevant characteristics of confessional poetry.