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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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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-
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-
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.