sylvia plath – daddy


ted hughes and Sylvia Plath

Sylvia and TedUnseen Sylvia Plath poems deciphered in carbon paper
Sylvia Plath – Daddy (poem)

Written shortly before her death, and published posthumously in Ariel in 1965, . Otto Plath died shortly before her eighth birthday as a result of undiagnosed Diabetes Mellitus. The voice of the poem, not to be confused with Plath, develops an Electra complex. It deals with her deep attachment to the memory of her father, and the unhappiness it caused in her life. “Daddy” is a response to Plath’s complex relationship with her father and her mixed feelings at his death. She does this through reinventing her father as a Nazi, and herself as a Jew, creating an ‘oppressor-oppressed’ relationship.

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 gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the 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 Taroc pack and my Taroc 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 villagersnever liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

“Daddy” has a nursery-rhyme-like quality. Plath begins using this device on the first line of the poem, with

“You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years,”

She continues to establish this almost childish quality throughout the poem, in the first stanza calling to mind the nursery rhyme There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. She continues this throughout the poem, for example using ‘Achoo’ instead of ‘sneeze’, ‘chuffing’ to describe the noises made by a train, or the use of the word ‘gobbledygoo’ to describe things generally attributed to Nazis. These rather innocent, childlike phrases and images in the poem are juxtaposed with the dark, rather disturbing subject matter; images of concentration camps, nazis, vampires, and devils.

Portrayal of Plath’s relationship with her father
The poem “Daddy” is only one of several addressing her father. The others being most prominently “Full Fathom Five” and “The Colossus”. As with these two poems, in “Daddy” Plath portrays her father as a very religious man. She describes his take on religion as something that is very near and dear to him. She even goes as far to accuse him that he put his own religious beliefs before his family and his health. Seeing as how he had a treatable form of diabetes, he refused because allegedly it interfered with his religious beliefs. Because of his refusal of treatment it resulted in his death, which Sylvia took personally (being 8 and all), therefore she sees her father as a very cold person because of his putting religion before family and health.

“Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
[…]
And a head in the freakish Atlantic”

In all three of these poems, her father is portrayed differently. In “Full Fathom Five”, he is portrayed as the god of the sea; surfacing only on occasion. He is portrayed as ancient, ethereal, mysterious, and powerful. Quite differently, in “The Colossus”, he is portrayed as a massive fallen statue, who Plath has spent her life trying to reassemble, and in so doing, resurrect. In “Daddy”, Plath continues in the same vein as “The Colossus”, portraying her father in the same manner. However, “Daddy” differs from the others in that it shows an attempt to change the situation. Plath states: “Daddy, I have had to kill you.” By this, she of course means her unhealthy relationship with the memory of her father. The extent to which her father’s memory affected her is obvious; especially from the twelfth stanza on. She states

“At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.”

Here Plath refers to an attempted suicide by overdose on sleeping pills, stating that it was an attempt to get back to her father, to be with him in death. She continues by stating that:

“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.”

The ‘man in black with a Meinkampf look’ is a reference to her husband, Ted Hughes (who dressed head to toe in black), from whom she had recently separated. She portrays their relationship as a manifestation of her Electra Complex, that she was attracted to Hughes because he reminded her of her father. In the next stanza, Plath describes the outcome of this relationship.

“If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two-
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,”

The two men she refers to are her father and Hughes. Killed here means that she has moved on, and forgotten about them. Although from the portrayal of both of them as vampires, it is obvious that this was not done easily, that Plath endured seven years of marriage to this ‘vampire’. But, as she says in the poem “So Daddy, I’m finally through.” In stating this she means that she has overcome the memory of her father, and has moved on.

Nazism and the Holocaust
Some of the most prevalent imagery in “Daddy” relates to the Holocaust. This is because of the manner in which Plath chooses to portray her father and herself, as a Nazi, and as a Jew, respectively. Plath chose, presumably, to do so because the relationship between the Nazis and Germany’s Jewish population is one of the most violent and upsetting in modern history. This retelling of Plath’s history is an attempt by her to overcome her Electra Complex. She turns her father into a Nazi, and herself into a Jew so that she can stop loving him, and move on with her life.

Lascia un commento