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Daddy -- Sylvia Plath

I was tempted to write "404: Poem Not Found", but I restrained myself...
(Poem #404) Daddy
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Tarot pack and my Tarot pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of *you*,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You---

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two---
The vampire who said he was you
and drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always *knew* it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
-- Sylvia Plath
Reams have been written about Sylvia Plath and her relationship with Ted Hughes;
here's the final paragraph of an interesting essay I found on the web:

"By analyzing "Daddy" in terms of the vampire metaphor we see how the poem
attacks the speaker's husband on a symbolic level while condemning her father on
a literal level.  Although Heather Cam points out that "Otto Plath and Ted
Hughes . . . are no more a Nazi Daddy nor `a man in black with a Meinkampf look'
than Plath is a gipsy Tarot mistress who feels herself to be Jewish" (431), the
vampire metaphor corresponds exactly with the poet's situation at the time she
wrote the poem.  While she had once loved her husband, she was suddenly forced
to realize that he was capable of treating her horribly.  In writing "Daddy" she
seems to have realized the degree to which her feelings of abandonment following
her father's death, which was out of Otto Plath's control, set up the
devastation she felt following Hughes' departure, which was his conscious
action.  It is only natural that she would find an image which would link the
two men but condemn only Hughes for his abandonment of his family.  Seeing
Hughes as a monster, Plath wrote "Daddy" in an attempt to overcome her feelings
for him while exorcizing the memory of her father's equally painful though
unintentional abandonment.  Despite the mixing of father and husband in the
antagonist of "Daddy" it is  obvious which man Sylvia Plath is addressing with
the poem's last line, written during the breakup of her
marriage and three months before her suicide: "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm
through" (80). "

        -- from http://members.aol.com/raisans/plath.htm

Reading Plath's poetry is always a gut-wrenching experience [1], but it's
rewarding, too, in its own way. 'Graphically macabre, hallucinatory in their
imagery, but full of ironic wit, technical brilliance, and tremendous emotional
power'[3], 'poetry of this order is a murderous art'[4].

Today's offering is all the above and more. As a poem it's astonishingly vivid
and powerful: the single, insistent rhyme, the almost hysterical repetitions of
phrase, the multiple layers of meaning and metaphor, and above all, the passion
driving each and every word - all of these combine to make it an emotional
tour-de-force.

thomas.

[1] which is possibly why she hasn't featured on this list as extensively as
some 'lighter' [2] poets.
[2] word used in both senses.
[3] The Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org
[4] I don't remember who said this, but it was somebody famous.

[Links]

There's a Plath bio accompanying 'Winter Landscape, with Rocks', at
poem #53

For sheer power, there are few poems that can compare with 'Ariel' (which,
despite my normal indifference to Plath, is one of my favourite poems ever),
at poem #129 (though one of our readers wrote in to say that it 'blurred
the line between poetry and madness' - which may be true, but which doesn't
detract from the experience in any way)

A milder poem than either of the above is 'Child', at poem #366

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Betty Van Slyke said...

1. Why would you not want to include "Daddy"?

2. There is a typo on this page ...

than Plath is a gipsy Tarot mistress who feels herself to be Jewish" (431), the
vampire metaphor corresponds exactly with the poet's situation at the time she

... should be: gypsy

Anonymous said...

Clear DayThis Poem was written in 1998 by my son Malcolm Jason Alcoff while
he attended Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Malcolm passed away in July of 1998.

He was a brilliant student and a wonderful writer, please credit his work
properly.

Thankyou,

Ivan Alcoff

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