One of my most favorite authors/poets, Sylvia Plath. This poem Daddy has meant more to me in life than probably any other poem. Even beating out my love for Langston Hughes Salvation. Here is my quick bullet point opinion on significantly important poets who wrote great works on what it meant to lose a father, lose both their children and to lose one’s self. (This is a repost by popular request). Thanks for reading.
Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” reads like a personal journal entry. The narrator is speaking to the subject, yet it divulges personal, private feelings the narrator feels about the man she calls “Daddy.” Bearings her heart, the strong feelings she has, the narrator states, “Daddy, I have had to kill you – you died before I had time” (Plath, 2005, p. 1145). The expression of homicidal thoughts about this man is a subject that is uncommon is poetry written in previous centuries. Plath’s remarkable writing style was what made her a literary icon, but her soul bearing journal poetry is indicative of the twentieth century poetry that set itself apart from the previous decades.
In the 16th century, poetry discussed topics of sadness, but with a lighthearted subject matter, such as in the anonymous Elizabethan and Jacobean Poem “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” (Ferguson, 2005, p. 98). Typically heavy in religious subject matter and whimsical fanfare, 16th century poetry can sometimes discuss sadness as if it were no different than “a rest that peace begets,” (Ferguson, 2005, p. 98).
In the 17th century Ben Jonson wrote two poems about the death of his first children, expressing such deep sadness and depression about their passing. Yet these two poem’s “On My First Son” and “On My First Daughter” were kept to an obituary type of expression of his sadness. Keeping with religious preoccupation, but incorporating the reality of death and its finality, Johnson said goodbye to his children in these two poems.
The 18th century began to turn the tide for how sadness was treated in poetry. Emily Dickinson wrote about death as if it were a friend that she accepted as a friend, lashed out at and expected in her daily life. Her most famous “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” poem put her name at the top of the list of important poets of the 18th century, more importantly, on the subject of death and sadness. Emily Dickinson paved the way for poets in the 19th and 20th centuries who lived a life of sadness and depression, then wrote about it. Dickinson made it socially okay to be depressed.
When the 20th century rolled around, poets like Sylvia Plath could openly and without social judgment write poetry that was intimate and beyond the realm of treating death and sadness as something that just happened. Instead Plath took death and sadness and put it in its place. Battling depression herself, Plath gave sadness and death the role it represented in the 20th century, the thief that came in the night and took people from the lives of those who wish they had gotten there first.
When we go through trying times in life we always turn to those that can understand what we are thinking, feeling and trying to say. Poets and authors provide a great resource to fulfil that need. Whether we are talking about 1500, 1800, 2000, or 2014, every human being can connect over issues like loss, love, and other basic human emotions and reactions to them. Today we may take to social network to express ourselves or the internet to find groups of like minded individuals, but it really isn’t much different than the days of Emily Dickinson who used to pen a letter to her other poet friend Walt Whitman and they could share in their feelings of understanding and compassion. Instagram today, but paintings of centuries ago. It all is the same, but with different mediums. Finding solace in loss is extremely accessible these days with internet and all libraries online. Ben Johnson lost both of his children and suffered in a way that is unbearable and unthinkable to any parent, no matter what the date on the calendar states. Literature provides us with that human connection in a way to no Facebook post can. It transcends the quick 140 character Tweet and brings Emily Dickinson right to your living room to discuss death, life and loss. No matter what the subject, literature has that human connection and acceptance that we just can’t get by tweeting #needalendingear or #ashouldertocryon Pick up a book and reconnect to the human being in all of us. No matter what the subject matter, it is there and just waiting for you to #lifealifeoutsideofthewww