Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
The Inevitability of Death
Death, in Plath's work, isn't necessarily something to run from. Rather, it's something to accept and, in some cases, something to seek. Plath writes often about suicide (particularly in the poems that make up her last collection, Ariel) and about how the peacefulness and quiet that comes with dying can be nearly desirable—or, at the very least, something her speaker has encountered and come back from. Emptiness and a lack of belonging often function as metaphors for death in Plath's work, as for many writers. However, the choice of death is most closely connected to a sort of ecstasy, as in the poem "Ariel," which is organized around the central image of riding a horse at dawn. The poem ends,
And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry
Melts in the wall.
Am the arrow,
The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red
Eye, the cauldron of morning.
Death, here, is consistent with becoming more a part of what surrounds: so closely embedded in it, even, that the self dissolves and becomes part of the world's ultimate energy.
Fraught Father-Daughter Relationships
Plath's speaker's relationship with a father figure is mentioned—and mythologized—repeatedly in The Collected Poems. Plath's own father, Otto Plath, died of complications from advanced diabetes when she was eight. "The Colossus," an early poem in Plath's oeuvre (first published in 1957), begins to deal with the idea of a larger-than-life and fatherlike figure. The poem's speaker must excavate and attempt to reassemble the legacy left by a broken god, referred to as a sort of absent father:
O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
The speaker admits, "I shall never get you put together entirely."
Plath's poetic persona for the poems of Ariel takes the examination of a cruel, remote father figure still further. Poems like "Lady Lazarus" use German language and images (as in the references to "Herr Doktor," "Herr Enemy," "Herr God," and "Herr Lucifer") to evoke a powerful presence in stark opposition to the speaker, which many critics connect to Otto Plath's own German heritage. "Daddy," too, uses German—even Nazi—imagery, and it is Plath's most explicit address of the father figure that looms over many of her late poems. The speaker connects her father's death in her youth to her own suicidal tendencies ("At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you") and unhealthy relationships with men. The romantic figure in "Daddy" is often compared to Plath's husband, Ted Hughes:
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.
"Daddy" ends in a kind of exorcism of both the toxic father and the toxic lover. "If I've killed one man, I've killed two," Plath's speaker notes with authority, and the poem ends soon after:
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.