I remember the first time I encountered Sylvia Plath. I was a sophomore in high school and, after a long freshman year of studying mythology, I was glad to move on to poetry.
The first poem of Plath’s I read was “Daddy.” The title intrigued me because most girls my age no longer called their fathers daddy. Instead, they used the shorter, less formal dad. But I had a case of arrested development, I suppose. My dad had moved away when I was eight while I was still in the daddy-calling phase. Nearly thirty years later I still call him Daddy.
What initially seems like a term of endearment becomes more scornful as the poem continues. As a teenager I related to the complex emotions the poem evoked because I loved my father, but at the same time I was angry for being left behind. The poem is full of adoration, fear, loathing, and self-loathing – all the feelings I experienced. “Daddy” was only the beginning.
“Lady Lazarus” is my all-time favorite poem of Plath’s. As an angst-filled teen who contemplated suicide on a daily basis, the theme of the poem resonated with me. I felt connected to another person across time and space. It gave me a reason to live.
I became obsessed with Sylvia Plath. I read everything I could about her and was stunned to learn that she had committed suicide. I guess I thought she would have outgrown the impulse. In a strange way I credit Sylvia Plath for saving my life. The fact that I was so closely connected to someone whose light was out permanently had a sobering effect.
To this day, when I read Plath I feel the same connection. I feel as if I know her, or at least know how she felt at one point. I’m sad that she died before I was born and that she’ll never know how important her words were to me and countless others.
Rest in peace, Lady Lazarus.