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In 'Daddy' she addresses the dead father in the following way: 'Ghastly statue with one grey toe / Big as a Frisco seal', and this image recalls the title-poem of the earlier volume in which the father-daughter relationship is treated through the medium of an archeological metaphor. As in 'The Beekeeper's Daughter' the meaning of the poem lies not on the surface but through the accumulation of allusions and suggestions. The image of the devotion of great effort to the cleansing and repairing of a massive statue, a task which has already occupied thirty years yet seems no nearer completion, and which engrosses and subjugates the persona, whose humorous derision is underlain by a total commitment to her task, is fascinating and powerful in itself. However it seems impossible to separate meaning and metaphor without doing the poem a serious injustice for its menace lies in the skillfully maintained balance between the concrete situation with its appropriate visual details and the relation of these details to the underlying emotion. The last three lines of the poem, for instance, contain much more than a particularly striking image:

My hours are married to shadow.

No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel 

On the blank stones of the landing.

This final image has considerable pathos and beauty and is imaginatively in unity with the growing despair of the earlier verses, but read in conjunction with the line which immediately precedes it, it is also a statement of the submission of the restorer to the broken statue and her acceptance, indicated in the word 'married', that there can be no escape from this memory into a more vital relationship. In such a life everything must be shadowy, blank, lonely, but she accepts her isolation almost with fervour.

'The Colossus' has the direct, conversational tone of the later poems and it is written in the five-line verse which Sylvia Plath was to use most consistently in Ariel, in fourteen out of the forty poems, although in this first volume only six poems have five-lined verses. The earlier tendency to choose the esoteric or archaic word has now disappeared, although the rather unusual 'skull-plates' is also used in another poem of this group, 'Two Views of a Cadaver Room'. The verses are not rhymed and the line lengths follow no regular pattern; the poem is by no means formless but is much less strictly and rigidly controlled than those poems written two years earlier. In this greater elasticity can be seen the forerunner of Sylvia Plath's later style which she admitted was much closer to the rhythms of spoken English than that of her earlier poetry,


From Sylvia Plath: Her Life and Work. Copyright © 1973 by Eileen M. Aird.