‘The Table’ is a poem in the ‘Birthday Letters’ collection, which contains eight-eight poems detailing the life Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes had together before Plath’s untimely death. In particular, ‘The Table’ is a poem about the writing desk Ted Hughes made for his then wife, Sylvia Plath, which ended up unlocking all of her father’s darkness as she wrote poetry on it.
The main metaphor of the poem is that the writing table equals a door that unlocked the darkness inside Plath and the memories of her father. The lines: “I did not / Know I had made and fitted a door / Opening downwards into your Daddy’s grave” has Hughes openly acknowledging his mistake, his role in Plath’s downfall, though he wasn’t aware at the time. The adjective ‘fitted’ tells the reader that this door was carefully crafted, but Hughes was blissfully ignorant to what the devastating repercussions would be. “Opening downwards into your Daddy’s grave” refers to how he ‘ghost’ of Plath’s deceased father has been resurrected through Plath’s writing – he’s not literally resurrected, but the connection Plath establishes with her father through her poetry almost seems to lessen the boundary between her world and the spiritual realm where he father resides. The adverb ‘downwards’ refers to the grave, which is literally down in the ground. However, I also believe that the line is written in bitter hindsight; Hughes is saying that Plath went through that door herself to be with her father in death, and Hughes cannot let go of his role in her demise. The line shows his hindsight, his remorse for what he has done, similar to the poem ‘Error’ that recognized the move to Devon as one of Hughes’ greatest mistakes in his marriage. There, Hughes asks, “What wrong fork / Had we taken?” which is a rhetorical question as he knows that he is at fault for bringing her to Devon.
This idea of the many roles Hughes plays in Plath’s life is explored from another angle in the second stanza, during his nightmare, where Hughes uses the analogy of an actor by comparing himself to “an actor with his script / Blindfold through the looking glass”. The use of figurative language in the verb ‘blindfolded’ relates to Hughes’ lack of control, his inability to see and properly carry out the script of their life. I believe that this is perhaps his way of trying to negate any responsibility on his part for what happened to Plath, mainly out of guilt and sorrow. He realizes just how much she meant to him, for now only he remains “on the empty stage”, sour and alone, and now that the play is concluded he is left with the startling and somewhat tragic realization that he is not the hero of his own life, but instead is merely the supporting actor in Plath’s life.
A major theme explored in ‘The Table’ is the idea of Plath’s father still playing a prominent role in Plath’s life, especially when she was writing poetry and could finally truly explore her repressed emotions she had regarding her father. The metaphor, “Your Daddy resurrected” makes this appear like a curse, an unwelcomed haunting by some ghostly apparition rising from the dead, invading the world of Hughes and Plath, especially since the stress falls on the word ‘Daddy’, like it is a bitter taste in Hughes’ mouth. This idea carries on when Hughes writes, “While I slept he snuggled / Shivering between us”, a haunting image conjured up in the mind of the reader. ‘He’ refers to the father, and the use of the phrase ‘between us’ emphasizes how Plath’s father was driving a wedge between their marriage. Plath loved her father and broke apart after his death. Hughes finds himself to be a poor substitute, unable to fill the hole in Plath that her father’s death left. In the line, “Finding your father for you and then / Leaving you to him” Hughes accepts that he is not able to complete Plath like her father did. He also reminds us that he takes a share of responsibility for bringing out Plath’s demons, for he was the one that ended up “finding [her] father” by creating the table. Also, the informal noun ‘Daddy’ is capitalized to highlight his importance and prominence in their lives, just like it is in ‘The Bee God’, which is a poem about Plath’s late father. There, Hughes states, “you bowed over your Daddy”, which is not only a reference to Plath’s poem ‘Daddy’, but a reference to how Plath bowed over her father’s memory in an almost worshiping way, signifying the bond the two of them shared. Such a theme is reaffirmed in the verb ‘resurrected’, which carries with it religious connotations. It implies that Plath’s father was not just the god of bees, but of Plath as well.
A prominent theme in ‘The Table’ that a lexical field revolves around is death, a dark theme that sets the morbid and ominous tone for the entire poem. Hughes says the desk was made from “coffin timber. Coffin elm”. The repetition in the use of the noun ‘coffin’ emphasizes the idea that each poem Path wrote on the desk brought her closer to her grave. Words like ‘grave’ and ‘resurrected’ scattered throughout the poem bring forth imagery surrounding a world of darkness and death that the couple now find themselves in, a world that has been unlocked by the writing table Hughes had made. In regards to the aforementioned ‘door’, the phrase, “following [Plath’s] pen, / The words that would open it” relate to how Plath’s poems were the cause for her spiral into depression. However, it was mainly due to Hughes insistence and encouragement that Plath concentrated on her poetry so much, a grave mistake that soon enough led to her death. The lexical field is continued in the poem ‘Red’, which has a repeated use of the nouns ‘blood’ and ‘bones’, dark images that conjure feelings of death, especially since they are regarding Plath. Plath’s story was incredibly tragic, hence this imagery is powerful in reminding the reading the full extent of what her severe depression led to.
In conclusion, ‘The Table’ is a deep and developed look at the catalyst of Plath’s growing depression and how a simple writing table could unlock so much of her tragic past that it ultimately led to her untimely death. The utilization of many metaphors and repeated imagery, along with the links and references to other poems throughout ‘Birthday Letters’ weave a detailed narrative of Plath’s life and ultimate downfall, making ‘The Table’ a vital piece in this intricate puzzle.