by Sylvia Plath
Stanzas 2 & 3 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time –
- The poem no longer seems like a nursery rhyme in this stanza. In line 6, the speaker tells her father that she has had to kill him, as if she's already murdered him.
- But then in line 7, the speaker says that he died before she "had time," though she doesn't make it 100% clear if she means to say "before I had time to kill him." It could mean something like, "before I had time to get to know him," or "before I could make him proud."
- Either way, it's shocking that our speaker claims she had to kill her father. After hearing this violent sentiment, we're not sure if she's sad that he died, or if she's angry, or what.
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
- After we hear that the speaker's father is dead, the phrase describing him, "Marble-heavy," helps us imagine the stiff heaviness of a corpse, or even a marble gravestone.
- The "bag full of God" could refer to a body bag, or the speaker could be saying that the skin around our bodies is nothing but a bag.
- Either way, the image of her father as a bag full of God shows her conflicted feelings about him. Maybe her father died when she was young and he controlled her world – a sort of God over her life. Perhaps his death caused memories of him to have more control over the speaker's life – so he seems, to her, to be as powerful as God.
- What is the speaker's view of God anyway? Is it positive or negative?
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
- These lines show us that the phrase "Marble-heavy" was partly meant to set up an image of the speaker's father as a statue. But he's no normal statue – he's ghastly, like a gargoyle.
- Then Plath shows us that this statue is humongous. One of its gray toes is as big as a "Frisco" (as in San Francisco, California) seal (as in the blubbery animal – here's a picture). But its head is all the way across the United States in the Atlantic
- The speaker describes the Atlantic as "freakish," but it sounds pretty, pouring its water, green as a bean, over the blue of the ocean. The speaker even comes right out and says that Nauset, a region on the shore of Massachusetts, is beautiful.
- These lines show us that the statue stretches from coast to coast of the United States, with a toe in the Pacific and a head in the Atlantic. But, remember, the statue is actually the image of the speaker's dead father in her head.
I used to pray to recover you.
- After we've gotten the image of the father as a statue, stretching across the US, the speaker says that she used to pray to "recover" him. "Recover" seems to mean "regain," but could also imply a second meaning of "get healthy again."
- Knowing our speaker, "used to" is the important part of our line. She doesn't pray to get her father back any more.
- Then we get down to line 15…and we're not speaking English anymore. Even not knowing German, we can get a pretty good sense from the small sounds of these words that it's a sort of sigh. The phrase in German actually means "Oh, you."
- Plath's father was a German immigrant, which probably explains why she's writing this little sigh in his language when she thinks of praying to get him back from the dead. We don't know yet if it's a sad sigh or an angry sigh.