Full Fathom Five

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Full Fathom Five  


In Sylvia Plath’s poem, "Full Fathom Five" she describe her father in beautiful and abstract terms which signify aspects to the relatioship Plath had with her father.  This poem, along with other works from Sylvia Plath, provide a lot of insight into the type of relationship she might have had with her father.


The imagery Plath uses to describe her father is reminiscent of fairy tails and monsters, where the idea she gives me about her father is a larger-than-life character which is made of the sea; huge, with white hair, and beard.  She describes her father's hair as a huge net, which gives him a larger than life size, common to the perception a young girl would have of her father.  Another word that comes to my mind when thinking about her father is that he was an extremeley fathomable figure in Plath's life, something very possible due to the fact that her father died when she was barely eight years old.  This is consistent with the title of the poem 'Full Fathom Five'.  Plath's view of her father as this large fable-like, mythical characater.  In the poem she describes him as one who 'surfaces seldom'.  This line refers to her not knowing her father for a long time, and at the time she did know him (from birth to age eight) she was quite small and vulnerable compared to the formidable presence of ones father.


Another clue to Plath's reverence towards her father is the reference she makes to him being 'inscrutable'.  A young child is very likely to see their father as difficult to approach, or ask questions.  An ideal father is one who is loving and approachable, but Plath's description of her own father conveys neither feature.  Undoubtedly a troubled childhood which can be infered from this poem is consistent with the subsequent events of Sylvia Plath's life.  Plath went through years of depression, eventually commiting suicide in 1964.  



I suspect that Plath had a great deal of anger surrounding her fathers death, perhaps for leaving her so early.  Yet at the same time, she expresses an anger for the life her father led while he was living, implicating some sence of insest in their relationship. Plath wrote another poem about her father entitled 'Daddy' in which among other things, Plath calls her father a bastard.

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"Full Fathom Five." 123HelpMe.com. 24 Jun 2018
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  Coupling that comment with the reference to her father's "shelled bed" inferes an inappropriate relationship between her father and she.


 This poem most likely comes from Plath's own personal experience of her fathers death when she was only eight years old. 


The Phrase "Full Fathom Five" appears in Shakespeare's "The Tempest", in Ariel's song.  Both pieces of Literature have references to 'the old man under the sea'.




Old man, you surface seldom.

Then you come in with the tide's


When seas wash cold, foam-

Capped: white hair, white beard,


A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves

Crest and trough. Miles long

Extend the radial sheaves

Of your spread hair, in which wrin-

kling skeins

Knotted, caught, survives

The old myth of orgins

Unimaginable. You float near

As kneeled ice-mountains

Of the north, to be steered clear

Of, not fathomed. All obscurity

Starts with a danger:

Your dangers are many. I

Cannot look much but your form


Some strange injury

And seems to die: so vapors

Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.

The muddy rumors

Of your burial move me

To half-believe: your reappearance

Proves rumors shallow,

For the archaic trenched lines

Of your grained face shed time in



Ages beat like rains

Of the ocean. Such sage humor


                         Durance are whirlpools


                         To make away with the ground-

                         Work of the earth and the sky's


                         Waist down, you may wind


                         One labyrinthine tangle

                         To root deep among knuckles, shin-


                         Skulls. Inscrutable,


                         Below shoulders not once

                         Seen by any man who kept his head,

                         You defy questions;


                         You defy godhood.

                         I walk dry on your kingdom's border

                         Exiled to no good.


                         Your shelled bed I remember.

                         Father, this thick air is murderous.

                         I would breathe water.









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