This poem explores the use (but failure) of memory to understand the present.
It can be paired with Plath's poem Nick and the Candlestick
In The Shot, Hughes uses the extended metaphor of a bullet exploding from the barrel of a gun to convey how the death of Otto Plath sent Sylvia Plath onto a destructive trajectory that led her to Ted as she sought to both avoid and confront the trauma her father caused her.
Beginning with ‘Your worship needed a god,’ Hughes suggests the hole left in Plath’s life by the passing of her father, and also the role that father-figure would play. Hughes then recounts Plath’s past attempts at seeking such a relationship, but his characterisation of her ex-boyfriends as ‘Ordinary jocks’ (which also oozes with resentment and jealousy) suggests that no one was able to meet her requirements. The imagery ‘Your Daddy has been aiming you at God,’ encapsulates how Otto’s death sent her searching for someone to replace him as a father-figure in her life. Obviously, that person was Hughes. He makes a direct reference to Plath’s poem Daddy through his use of ‘Your Daddy, the god with the smoking gun.’ In that poem, Plath explores the psychological harm her relationship with her father caused her, and her resentment towards him for it. She also confesses that she found release and closure in creating a similarly toxic relationship with Hughes. Indicating his feelings towards being characterised by Plath as a ‘vampire’ – and indeed offering something of an explanation for why she felt that way – Hughes makes light of her suffering in with the lines ‘your sob-sodden Kleenex / And your Saturday night panics.’ He moreover references her deceit in ‘Under your hair done this way and that way.’ The final stanza articulates Hughes’ inability to care for her, as he relies on the absurd ‘witchdoctor’ to provide help. Instead of being able to save Plath, Hughes was only able to recover some intimate, sentimental artefacts – ‘A wisp of your hair, your ring, your watch, your nightgown.’
Hughes’ poem therefore represents an admission of both helplessness, guilt and frustration towards his relationship with Plath that builds on his initial acknowledgement of vulnerability and ignorance that is referenced to in the final lines of Fulbright Scholars.