I have been working on analyzing “The Colossus” for some time now. It seems like I have neither the time nor the patience to finish it the way I want. Ideally I would have carried my thoughts further, and outlined the fine details of my theory. Alas, there are many other blogs I want to (and need to) write. Here are where my thoughts had taken me up to this point:
Before analyzing the poem, I feel it is necessary to identify what the Colossus is. The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It stood over 30 meters high and was designed in the image of the Greek god Helios. Helios, Greek for Sun, rode a chariot from east to west everyday pulling the sun. The statue was destroyed in an earthquake around 226 B.C. Funding was available for it to be rebuilt, but an oracle’s prophecy led to it never being reconstructed.
It is through this information I feel it is fair to identify the Colossus in this poem as a symbol of a patriarchal system.
“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.”
At the point in time in which Plath wrote this poem there were not many famous female poets. None-the-less, the system of male domination was changing. The above passage references how the patriarchal system has come tumbling down and can’t be put back together. The sounds from the failed system aren’t words, but animal noises, showing that there was no real argument as to why the system should have remained the same.
“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.”
In this stanza the history of the Colossus comes in handy. The oracle in ancient times condemned the rebuilding of the Colossus once it had fallen. (After reading The Bell Jar it is interesting to note that the oracle was a female virgin. Plath in the book, along with several of her poems, stresses the importance of remaining pure in the biblical sense. Here she is asking the patriarchy if they think consider themselves as great as this pure, young figure of female power–reversing the binary of male superiority over women.) It is a common belief that god has ordained that men are superior to women, made in the image of god, etc. She says she has tried to clear the loose sand from the patriarchy’s throat for 30 years, about how old she was when she wrote the poem. The loose sand should be easily removed, but in this case resists.
“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.”
Here Plath uses domestic objects to show her place/role among the system. Through her domestic role of cleaning and mending she tries to clear the eyes of the Colossus so it can see.
“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 this stanza Plath calls out the patriarchy: alone it is a grand traditional system, but in conjunction with the rest of the world it is weak.