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Analysis of ‘Full Fathom Five’ by Sylvia Plath

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Full Fathom Five

Sylvia Plath is a renowned American poet who was known for her confessional poetry. She wrote poems, novels and short stories and a few stories for children. The collection of poems, ‘The Colossus and Other Poems’, ‘Ariel’ are the ones that are still being taken up for study. ‘The Bell Jar’ is a famous novel which is semi-autobiographical and it was published just before her death on February 11th 1963. She was born on October 27th 1932. She lost her father when she was eight years old and she started writing even as a young girl. Her poems got her scholarship to Smith College. Plath was diagnosed as having depression and she attempted to take her life a couple of times. In 1963 she inhaled the cooking gas and took her life. She has left behind voluminous work, a great contribution for American Literature.

‘Full Fathom Five’ was written early in her career and is considered as the most intimate poem about her father. In this poem Plath talks about her inability to ‘fathom’ her father. The poem begins with the poet’s observation of an old man, white-haired and bearded rising out of the sea like the waves. His bear is ‘far flung’ and his hair is ‘miles long’. He is as huge as an ice mountain which cannot be fathomed and that has to be avoided. The lines on his face match his age and his hugeness. He was so magnificent that she felt that he was defying god. She cannot look at him and she feels he is injured. She had heard about his burial but does not believe it because of his ‘reappearance’.

Waist-below he is ‘labyrinthine tangle’ rooted with his bones. No one could see him below his shoulder, defying questions and defying godhood’. Plath believes she was exiled from his kingdom and she could only walk in its borders. She remembers her past with him and specifically remembers his ‘shelled bed’. It is only in the last stanza she addresses that man as ‘father’ as she breathes the ‘thick, murderous air’ of exile. She ends the poem stating that she’d rather ‘breathe water’.

The poem has 15 stanzas with three lines in each stanza. There are no end rhymes making it free verse but the meter is almost same in all the stanzas. However there are a couple of stanzas which has the rhyme scheme ABA. Enjambment is a literary device where the idea of one line ends in the next. There are many enjambments in this poem and one example is

Of the north, to be steered clear

Of, not fathomed.

The words ‘you defy’, ‘white’ ‘rumours’ are used twice and this literary device is anaphora and it gives a lyrical tone to the lines. The title has an alliteration with the beginning letter being’f’. However alliteration is not seen in the poem. Plath was extremely fond of sea and this is reflected in her works. ‘Full Fathom Five’ is an expression of her love for sea and her love and fear of her father, Otto Plath. It is this emotion that made her create her father as the sea god; the poem is emotional and unfathomable.