This poem by Sylvia Plath is from The London Magazine‘s June 1960 edition. For more from our archive and for original issues from our back catalogue, discover our Legacy Issues from 1954 onwards.
Full Fathom Five
Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide’s coming
When seas wash cold, foam-
Capped: white hair, white beard, far-flung,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long
Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins
Knotted, caught, survives
The old myth of origins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice-mountains
Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:
Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form suffers
Some strange injury
And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors
Of your burial move me
To half-believe: your reappearance
Proves rumors shallow,
For the archaic trenched lines
Of your grained face shed time in runnels:
Ages beat like rains
On the unbeaten channels
Of the ocean. Such sage humor and
Durance are whirlpools
To make away with the ground-
Work of the earth and the sky’s ridgepole.
Waist down, you may wind
One labyrinthine tangle
To root deep among knuckles, shinbones,
Below shoulders not once
Seen by any man who kept his head,
You defy questions;
You defy godhood.
I walk dry on your kingdom’s border
Exiled to no good.
Your shelled bed I remember.
Father, this thick air is murderous.
I would breathe water.
By Sylvia Plath.
October 27th is Sylvia Plath’s birthday. The London Magazine has the honour of having published many of Sylvia Plath’s poems originally, and to mark the occasion we’re sharing her poem ‘Full Fathom Five’, which appeared in TLM first in June 1960, and was later published by Faber & Faber in The Colossus and Other Poems.
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