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Introduction to Literature. Lesson FIVE: Roethke and plath Family Relationships. Margarette Connor. Outline. Theodore Roethke “intentional fallacy” “My Papa’s Waltz” discussion Sylvia Plath “Daddy” discussion. Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).

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introduction to literature

Introduction to Literature

Lesson FIVE: Roethke and plath

Family Relationships

Margarette Connor

  • Theodore Roethke
  • “intentional fallacy”
  • “My Papa’s Waltz” discussion
  • Sylvia Plath
  • “Daddy” discussion
theodore roethke 1908 1963
Theodore Roethke(1908-1963)
  • Considered by many critics to be one of the most important American poets of the 20th century.
his influence
His influence
  • “Roethke's pioneering explorations of nature, regional settings, depth psychology, and personal confessionalism--coupled with his stylistic innovations in open form poetics and his mastery of traditional, fixed forms--have secured his reputation as one of the most distinguished and widely read American poets of the twentieth century.”
    • American National Biography.
early life
Early life
  • Born in Saginaw, Michigan.
    • Son of Otto Roethke and Helen Huebner
  • As a child, he spent much time in the greenhouse owned by his father and uncle.
    • impressions of the natural world contained there would later profoundly influence the subjects and imagery of his verse.
  • When he was 15, his father died of cancer
    • would powerfully shape Roethke's psychic and creative lives.
  • 1925 to 1929 at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating magna cum laude.
  • Resisting family pressure to pursue a legal career, he quit law school after one semester
  • 1929 to 1931, he took graduate courses at the University of Michigan and later the Harvard Graduate School, where he worked closely with the poet Robert Hillyer.
  • The Great Depression forced Roethke to leave Harvard and to take up teaching at Lafayette College from 1931 to 1935.
beginning career
Beginning career
  • In the fall of 1935 Roethke assumed his second teaching post at Michigan State College at Lansing
    • soon hospitalized for what would prove to be recurring bouts of mental illness.
  • Throughout his subsequent career Roethke used these periodic incidents of depression for creative self-exploration.
  • They allowed him, as he said, to "reach a new level of reality.”
  • Taught at Pennsylvania State Univ, 1936 - 1943, publishing in Poetry, the New Republic, the Saturday Review, and Sewanee Review.
first book
First book
  • Open House (1941), took ten years to write
  • Critically acclaimed upon its publication.
  • Many poets influenced the work, including TS Eliot, but the book's subjective focus on personal experience marked an important departure from T. S. Eliot's doctrine of poetic impersonality, stated in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," (1917), and from what the New Critics W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley later deplored as the intentional fallacy.
intentional fallacy
Intentional fallacy:
  • “Many modern critics regard a literary work as a public document, complete in itself, and the writer’s intention of writing the work, if he had one other than the invariable intentional of writing the work, an external irrelevance. The error in judging a work by the author’s success or failure in achieving his intention these critics call the ‘intentional’ or ‘generic’ failure. (con’t)

TS Eliot

more on intentional fallacy
More on intentional fallacy
  • In The Verbal Icon, Wimsatt and Beardsley wrote, ‘The poem is not the critic’s own and not the author’s (it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend upon it or control it). The poem belongs to the public….What is said about the poem [such as the poet’s statement of intention] is subject to the same scrutiny as any statement in linguistics or in the general science of psychology.”)
    • definition from Beckson and Ganz, Literary Terms, a Dictionary
bennington years
Bennington years
  • In 1943 he left Penn State to teach at Bennington College,
    • a major arts school in America, known for the number of writers who teach/attend
important second book
Important second book
  • 1948 published second, pivotal, volume, The Lost Son and Other Poems.
    • Includes “My Papa’s Waltz”
  • In the so-called "greenhouse poems," the metaphor of the open house passes into the figure of the glasshouse as the dominant symbol of the self's interior, existential world.
roethke on his work
Roethkeon his work
  • In "An American Poet Introduces Himself and His Poems" (BBC broadcast, 30 July 1953), Roethke described the glasshouse, as
  • "both heaven and hell.... It was a universe, several worlds, which, even as a child, one worried about, and struggled to keep alive."
last ten years height of his popularity
Last ten years: height of his popularity
  • worked last at the University of Washington, where he was mentor to a generation of Northwest poets
  • 1953 married Beatrice O'Connell, whom he had met during his earlier stint at Bennington
  • reputation grew with each new collection, including The Waking which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954.
  • 1955 and 1956 Roethkes traveled in Italy, Europe, and England on a Fulbright grant.
  • 1957 published Words for the Wind, which won all sorts of prizes for poetry
  • Died in 1963, at the height of his popularity.
my papa s waltz 1
My Papa's Waltz (1)
  • The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;

But I hung on like death:

Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans

Slid from the kitchen shelf;

My mother's countenance

Could not unfrown itself.

 We see family dynamics here; the little boy is clinging to his father, he’s a little bit afraid; her mother is not happy

my papa s waltz 2
My Papa's Waltz (2)

The hand that held my wrist

Was battered on one knuckle;

At every step you missed

My right ear scraped a buckle.

a painful memory for the little boy but also NOT a painful memory

my papa s waltz 3
My Papa's Waltz (3)

You beat time on my head

With a palm caked hard by dirt,

Then waltzed me off to bed

Still clinging to your shirt.

  • The title “Papa,” the author chooses the familiar and the affectionate; and Waltz is the loving dance; there’s pain and fear here, but there’s also love and affection.
  • other interpretation of this poem the child is being abused?
sylvia plath 1932 1963
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
  • Mixed reactions to her poems
    • her suicide and relationship with her husband Ted Hughes, who later became Britain’s Poet Laureate, often color reaction to her works.
  • Daughter of Otto Plath and Aurelia Schober, German immigrants to the US.
    • Father an entomologist who taught at Boston University
    • Mother later taught secretarial skills there
father s early death
Father’s early death
  • 1940 Father died when Plath was 8 of diabetes mellitus, which at the time was a very curable disease.
      • Upon his death a friend only asked, "How could such a brilliant man have been so stupid?"
  • The disease contributed to gangrene in his toe, which turned black from the disease.
    • This appears in “Daddy”.
early education
Early education
  • Excellent and hardworking student, had already published some of her stories and poetry before she left high school.
    • Her first poem appeared when she was eight in the Boston Herald (10 August 1941, page B-8)
  • Scholarship to Smith College, an excellent woman’s college in Massachusetts. Entered in September 1950.

Schoolgirl Plath

early successes
Early successes
  • Beginning in 1950 began publishing in national periodicals.
    • "Youth's Appeal for World Peace” published Christian Science Monitor ,16 March.
    • Short story "And Summer Will Not Come Again" appeared August Seventeen
    • Poem "Bitter Strawberries" appeared Christian Science Monitor ,11 August .
  • Throughout 1951-2 published quite a bit.
  • 1953 also writing articles for local newspapers like the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Springfield Union as their Smith College correspondent.
important experiences
Important experiences
  • Her short story, 'Sunday at the Mintons' won first prize in a Mademoiselle contest.
  • From this story, she also won a one-month, summer Guest Editorship at Mademoiselle.
  • She spent June 1953 in NYC, and was hoping to be admitted to Harvard’s Summer Writing Program for the rest of the summer.
    • She did not get accepted.

Plath around this time

first suicide attempt
First suicide attempt
  • 24 August 1953, Plath left a note saying, "Have gone for a long walk. Will be home tomorrow."
  • Instead, she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills in the family’s basement in a suicide attempt.
  • She was found and spent many months hospitalized, receiving many treatments, including shock treatments.
the bell jar
The Bell Jar
  • The novel, The Bell Jar , written under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, is a thinly disguised memoir of the period in her life from the Mademoiselle internship through her recovery.
back to school
Back to school
  • Readmitted to Smith in the Spring 1954 term and went on to graduate summa cum laude.
  • Won a Fulbright Scholarship Newnham College, Cambridge University, a life-changing event.

The River Cam, Cambridge

ted hughes
Ted Hughes
  • February 1955, at a party she met Ted Hughes, a young English poet whose works she had just read and memorized.
    • The attraction was intense and instant.
  • They married June 1956 in London.
    • The partnership with Hughes, while eventually personally destructive, was a strong and positive influence on Plath’s development as a poet.
back to america
Back to America
  • 1957, Hughes won first prize in the New York Poetry Center contest judged by Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender for his book The Hawk in the Rain.
  • Plath was offered a teaching job at Smith College.
    • She studies hard to finish her graduation exams
  • In the fall, they go to America.
teaching experience
Teaching Experience
  • Plath was very unsure about her own teaching ability, and was extremely frustrated by the lack of time for her own writing.
  • At the end of one year, the couple decided to focus on their writing and give up academia.
  • Fall 1959, Hughes and Plath stayed at Yaddo, a famous writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York,
  • Plath finally had a breakthrough in her writing.
    • During this time, she had been closely reading the poetry of Theodore Roethke.
  • Plath was also pregnant, and Hughes wanted the child born in England. In December 59 they went back
major output on two levels
Major output on two levels
  • 1960, settled in London.
  • In April, Frieda Rebecca, was born.
  • Plath's first collection of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems published in October.
    • Demands of motherhood limited her writing output.
illnesses and writing
Illnesses and writing
  • February 1961 Plath had a miscarriage followed closely by an appendectomy, which left her hospitalized for a number of weeks
  • The illness led to a writing frenzy. According to the only authorized biography, Bitter Fame, she began The Bell Jar in March 1961 and wrote it in 70 days.
joy and sadness
Joy and sadness
  • January 1962 had a son, Nicholas Farrar
  • She starts another frenzy of writing around April of that year.
  • May 1962, Plath discovers Hughes is having an affair.
    • Tried to patch up their relationship on holiday in September, but it deteriorates.
  • He moves out.
major writing frenzy
Major writing frenzy
  • October 1962 and January and February 1963 she created an incredible output of poems, including “Daddy”.

Plath with her children, Frieda and Nicholas

the end
The End
  • On February 11, 1963, Plath commits suicide, though some think it may have just been a cry for help that went awry.
misguided critics
Misguided critics
  • The critic Elizabeth Hardwick writes that Plath’s father died “of a long illness, but there is no pity for his lost life” adding that “he did not kill anyone and the ‘fat black heart’ [of the poem] is really Plath’s own” and concluding that to bring “strangers, the town…into the punishment of her father. . .is somehow the most biting and ungenerous thought of all.”
daddy 1
Daddy (1)

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

daddy 2
Daddy (2)

Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time--

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal

daddy 3
Daddy (3)

And a head in the freakish Atlantic

Where it pours bean green over blue

In the waters off beautiful Nauset.

I used to pray to recover you.

Ach, du.

she’s remembering praying to have her father back

daddy 4
Daddy (4)

In the German tongue, in the Polish town

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common.

feel unprotected after her father died; after the war, anti-German feeling going on; We can feel the girl’s hatred , anger, and shame.

daddy 5
Daddy (5)

My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.

So I never could tell where you

Put your foot, your root.

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.

And the language obscene

daddy 6
Daddy (6)

An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.

daddy 7
Daddy (7)

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.

daddy 8
Daddy (8)

I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat mustache

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—

daddy 9
Daddy (9)

Every woman adores a Fascist,

The boot in the face, the brute

Brute heart of a brute like you.  her father abandon her emotionally

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

But no less a devil for that, no not

Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.

I was ten when they buried you

daddy 10
Daddy (10)

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,

And they stuck me together with glue.

And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

 She replaced her father with another man

daddy 11
Daddy (11)

And a love of the rack and the screw.

And I said I do, I do.

So daddy, I'm finally through.

The black telephone's off at the root,

The voices just can't worm through.

she’s talking about a new man, not her father anymore. The new man is her husband.

daddy 12
Daddy (12)

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--

The vampire who said he was you

And drank my blood for a year,

Seven years, if you want to know.

daddy 13
Daddy (13)

Daddy, you can lie back now.

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.

daddy 14
Daddy (14)
  • When we read closely, we see that she’s dealing with her emotions that she had with her father and moved it (the emotion) to her husband.