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It took a long time for readers and critics to appreciate the importance of gender in Plath, and among confessional poets generally. Lowell confesses to a failure to sympathize adequately with his father. Plath, though, reveals a severity in her feelings about her father that makes questions of fairness or sympathy entirely moot. "Daddy, I have had to kill you," she states plainly. Hers is a stunningly performative poetic:

There's a stake in your fat black heart

And the villagers never liked you.

They are dancing and stamping on you. 


They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.


Here in the last strophe of "Daddy" literal biographical truth is obviously irrelevant. The construction of a voice -- nasty, proud, murderous -- is what matters. The second and fourth lines here recover the meanness of an angry child, and the insistent rhymes running through the poems she composed in a rush just months before her suicide repeatedly evoke the source of strong feeling in childhood. After two decades in which American and English poets concentrated their efforts on complications of tone, carefully measured ironies, Plath breaks through to the art of the fantastically overdone.


From The Cambridge History of American Literature, Volume 8, Poetry and Criticism, 1940-1995. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. Copyright © Cambridge University Press.