by Sylvia Plath
Where It All Goes Down
This poem shifts settings and most of them are metaphorical. So, instead of being in an actual place, we're taken from place to place in the speaker's mind.
The setting in her mind starts out as the black shoe in which the speaker claims to live, but which is actually a metaphor for her father. Then it moves to encompass the whole of the United States, mentioning San Francisco seals and the beautiful waters of a Massachusetts beach. This setting seems like it should be beautiful, but then we remember that there's a statue of the speaker's dead father across the entire United States, and that's pretty creepy.
Then we move to a place that is in Poland, but where German is spoken, that seems to be the place from which the speaker's father emigrated. We hear that this town has been destroyed by war, and the beauty of the beach from earlier in the poem is lost to the desolation of battle. But, since this town has a common name (which we never hear), we can't know which specific town the speaker is talking about.
Then, the poem is in Germany, but jumps back in time to World War II, and the speaker is on a train across the German countryside. She's headed to a concentration camp. Perhaps on the train, she sees the mountains of the Tyrol range, at the border of Austria and Italy, and thinks of Vienna, in Austria. We hear a lot about World War II – there are air forces, tanks, and her father turns into a Hitler-like character. There's even a swastika that blots out the sky. This part of the setting is sinister.
We get a brief break from the sinister setting, and are taken into the speaker's father's classroom. But just when we've caught our breath, we jump right back into a dark setting. This time, though, we're not just somewhere in history – we're somewhere mystical. There are devils, telephones with roots, and vampires. This is the kind of place where it's possible to put the bones of a dead person back together with glue.
By the end of the poem, we're in a village – which, potentially, is just a part of this same devilish place. The villagers are celebrating the death of a vampire, which gives us an idea of the kind of small town this is – full of suspicion and mysticism.
So, courtesy of our speaker's dark imagination, we've journeyed from the US to Germany, then back in time to World War II, and then even farther, to a mystical time when villagers believed in vampires.