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The Ariel poems emerged from an enclosed world - the crucible of Sylvia's inner being. Sometimes the enclosure is a hospital, sometimes it seems to be a fairground (as with "The Applicant" and "Lady Lazarus") or monstrous Grand Guignol ("Daddy") where fearsome, larger-than-life puppets cavort as they might before a mesmerized child. With "Daddy," written on the twelfth, the nursery-rhyme jingle is incantatory - a deadly spell is being cast. A ferocious rejection of "daddy" is taking place; the most damning charges imaginable are being hurled at him. Yet the wizardry of this amazing poem is that its jubilant fury has a sobbing and impassioned undersong. The voice is finally that of a revengeful, bitterly hurt child storming against a beloved parent.

[. . . .]

Anyone who has heard the recording of "Daddy" that Sylvia made for the British Council that October will remember the shock of pure fury in her articulation, the smoldering rage with which she is declaring herself free, both of ghostly father and of husband. The implication is that after this exorcism her life can begin again, that she will be reborn. And indeed on ethical grounds only a desperate bid for life and psychic health can even begin to excuse this and several other of the Ariel poems. . . .


From Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Copyright © 1989 by Anne Stevenson.