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"Lady Lazarus" and "Daddy" are poems which seem written at the edge of sensibility and of imagistic technique. They both utilize an imagery of severe disintegration and dislocation. The public horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the personal horrors of fragmented identities become interchangeable. Men are reduced to parts of bodies and to piles of things. The movement in each poem is at once historical and private; the confusion in these two spheres suggests the extent to which this century has often made it impossible to separate them.

The barkerlike tone of "Lady Lazarus" is not accidental. As in "Daddy," the persona strips herself before the reader ... all the time utilizing a cool or slang idiom in order to disguise feeling. Sylvia Plath borrowed from a sideshow or vaudeville world the respect for virtuosity which the performer must acquire, for which the audience pays and never stops paying. Elsewhere in her work, she admired the virtuosity of the magician's unflinching girl or of the unshaking tattoo artist. Here, in "Lady Lazarus," it is the barker and the striptease artist who consume her attention. What the poet pursues in image and in rhyme (for example, the rhyming of "Jew" and "gobbledygoo") becomes part of the same process I observed in so many of her other poems, that attempt, brilliant and desperate, to locate what it was that hurt.

Sylvia Plath never stopped recording in her poetry the wish and need to clear a space for love. Yet she joined this to an inclination to see love as unreal, to accompanying fears of being unable to give and receive love, and to the eventual distortion and displacement of love in the verse. Loving completely or "wholly" she considered to be dangerous, from her earliest verse on.

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Poems like"Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus’ in the end may not be the triumphs which their momentum and inventiveness at times celebrate. Instead, and this is my sense of them, they belong more to elegy and to death, to the woman whose "loving associations" abandoned her as she sought to create images for them.


From Modern American Lyric: Lowell, Berryman, Creeley,-and Plath. Rutgers University Press, 1978