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The Life and Poetry of Sylvia Plath

What the reader learns about the poem's speaker and her father is that the father is dead ("you died before I had time"); that she wanted him back ("I used to pray to recover you"); that he intimidated or overwhelmed her in death ("I never could talk to you"); that she was guilty and oppressed by this ("I think I may well be a Jew"); that she was ambiguous about her feelings ("Every woman adores a Fascist"); that he was a teacher ("you stand at the blackboard"); that she attempted suicide ("at twenty I tried to die"); that she rejected the oppressiveness of his memory and overcame her guilt ("There's a stake in your fat black heart"). These may be precisely the facts that will be confirmed by the facts of Plath's biography and the feelings that will be confirmed by her journal entries. But in the poem, on the printed page, these are the facts that the poet ascribes to the speaker of the poem. There is no indication (though there is always the suspicion) that the speaker is Plath or someone very like her. Nor is there anything to indicate that this is not all a fiction. Poets have invented suicides, murderers, aviators and bee-keepers. Poets have also been all these things. But what does it add to the reading of the poem to know that these are, for the most part, details of Plath's own life? The rage in the poem is no more intense for knowing that much of it is autobiographical. But, if it is read as autobiography, the art of the poem


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