I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It’s worse than a barnyard.

Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.

Scaling little ladders with glue pots and pails of Lysol
I crawl like an ant in mourning
Over the weedy acres of your brow
To mend the immense skull-plates and clear
The bald, white tumuli of your eyes.

A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered

In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stroke
To create such a ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem The Colossus

16 Comments

  1. VAIBHAVI says:

    It is a very gr8 poem . I loved the poem . I liked the gist of the poem . I have no words to express my feelings .

  2. jean says:

    I do not think the thirty years should throw anyone off. She was trying to figure him out and piece things together even before he died.

  3. jean says:

    I enjoyed getting into the background a little bit with my daughter, who was studying the poem. She did some research and found the Colossus of Rhodes broke into pieces 54 years after it was built, which was (about?) the age of Otto Plath when he died. Also the fluted bones and acanthine hair seem to be referring to broken down Corinthian columns (acanthus leaves often adorned their capitals). Plus, of course, the reference to the sun (the Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of Helios) and the sound of the keel heard no more (it was the lighthouse guarding the harbor). The black cypresses of the region also fill out the scene. Since Plath was so keen on these details, I don’t understand why she refers to a ROMAN forum, when everything else, even the Oresteia (read “Electra complex”), is Greek. Maybe it is because Roman discourse was known to be more “pithy”, and her father remained an enigma to her. She obviously revered him.

  4. Lucy says:

    Ivana, I like your interpretation/ analysis of the poem. I too see it that way, though I mention god-husband-father. It also is interesting since academia and literature were then very male-centric. Trying to please and fit in makes sense. I also think many attempt to analyze a “confessional” poet’s poems through the events of her life. What matters is the lyrical beauty and wit, at least for me. Thanks.

  5. Ivana says:

    This was the first song by Sylvia Plath I ever read, and I fell in love with it and her poetry immediately. It’s still my faovurite poem.

    I generally agree with those who said that the poem is about her father, but I don’t think it’s just that. Notice that she says she spent 30 years trying to dredge his throat? Sylvia was 30 years old when she wrote this poem. Her father died when she was about 10. So she didn’t spend 30 years trying to get to grips with his death. This enforces my feeling that this poem is not as much about her father, the real Otto Plath, but about the powerful male archetypical figure in her soul, her “animus”, the dream father-lover-husband figure she adores but feels opressed by, because she cannot be free of it/him, and she cannot be happy because she doesn’t have him. This is how I felt about this poem when I first read it – and thatwas before I had any idea about Sylvia Plath and her life. I felt it as my own because I have never lived with my father and he never meant anything to me, but I have been building an elusive dream male figure in my mind, you could even say, a father/brother/lover/godlike figure.

    “30 years” means that she has spent her entire life, eversince she was born, taking care of that figure. After her father dies, she has been her trying to re-build it.

    Another thing I have to point out: I, too, felt, that she tended to blend her father (or rather, her memory of him) and her husband, as seen in “Daddy”. But she wrote Colossus before she married Hughes, so “married to shadow” had nothing to do with her marriage or his subsequent infidelity. She is married to shadow because she has been living in the shadow of this powerful male figure she has created in her mind, and she is “married” (that is, she has tied her life to) a shadow – an elusive, unreal figure, a ghost, an illusion.

    “Daddy” is in a way a, a sequel to The Colossus. Here she was sadly thinking about her life of memories and dreams, in “Daddy” she was full of rage after her attempt to recreate this dream (her love and marriage to Hughes) had fallen apart.

  6. Lucy says:

    I think Frede’s comment is being misconstrued. I feel she is being sarcastic. As for spelling, she is probably not a native english speaker.

  7. Amber says:

    Well FREDE its really too bad you can’t put gender aside (I feel sorry for you…) JAQUE you are too quick to judge SP. Yes she was bipolar, but at that time it wasn’t treated effectively,they used electric shock therapy, she suffered through her manic depression all her life. All this aside I think Colossus is a beautiful poem, she has finally understood that no matter how hard she tries she cannot put her father’s memory back together entirely and therefore will never be free to forget. At the end I think she refers to her husband as she is’married to a shadow’ a reference perhaps to his infidelity…

  8. Lucy says:

    I think she is referring to father, husband and god. I see the first stanza as a humorous description of male orgasm as “braying.” The gigantic male is statue and shelter and earth. She shelters in the ear. It is a truly witty, sad and lovely poem. It took me thirty-five years to appreciate Plath.

  9. John says:

    I’m sorry you feel that way FREDE from Belgium but it is the genius of Plath we all marvel at regardless of her gender. We should try to appreciate poetry for what it is; not whom it is written by. And you may want to check your spelling by the way.

  10. Jennifer says:

    This poem is so beautiful, so encompassing. No matter what you believe it represents (though I do agree in the significance of the statue as her father), Sylvia Plath drags her life into the ancient with nostalgia, fondness and overwhelming despair.

  11. Natasha says:

    I believe the poem is talking about her father. In the poem she spent thirty years trying to put the “statue” back together to no avail. This represented her trying to get over her fathers death and realizing that it would never be. The poem describes how she trys to put her father “back together” and she isn’t getting anywhere.

  12. Natasha says:

    I believe the poem is talking about her father. In the poem she spent thirty years trying to put the “statue” back together to no avail. This represented her trying to get over her fathers death and realizing that it would never be. The poem describes how she trys to put her father “back together” and no matter how much time she spends on doing this task it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

  13. Carissa says:

    The poem is obviously referencing her father. The great god, looming over her throughout her life. the entity she could never forsake, nor live up to. The unwavering figure of masculinity encompassing a sort of Greek tragedy. At least that’s what I understood it to be.

  14. Annie says:

    Some people will just never understand..

  15. frede says:

    A female poet couldn’t be crazy and depressed in a genius way could she? THAT would be a privilege to a man of course. I mean, please, isn’t there any laundery to do?

  16. Jaque Strap says:

    No wonder she killed herself! She was obsessed with a mythical statue. I bet when she found out it wasn’t real, it tore her apart. Ohhhh yeah, the fact that she was a crazy, depressed poet didn’t help.

Leave a Reply to John Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Sylvia Plath better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.