♦ Poem No. III ~ Daddy

This week’s poem is by a poet who inspired me for quite some time in the past couple of years and still does occasionally. I’m sure she’s inspired, still inspires, and will inspire millions of people across the globe: Sylvia Plath.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was an American poet, short story writer, and a novelist. She studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 at the age of 24 and they lived together in the United States then moved to England. They had two children together: Frieda and Nicholas. That was before she received acclaim as a professional writer/poet.

Some of her writings were published under the pen name, Victoria Lucas.

Plath Suffered from depression at the age of 20, and eventually committed suicide on February 11, 1963 at the age of 30. She was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen, with her head in the oven, having sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet cloths and towels. At approximately 4:30 a.m., Plath had placed her head in the oven, with the gas turned on.

It has been said that Plath had not intended to put an end to her life. “According to Mr. Goodchild, a police officer attached to the coroner’s office” – as Plath’s best friend, Jillian Becker, wrote – “[Plath] had thrust her head far into the gas oven… [and] had really meant to die.”

Sylvia has described the quality of her despair as “owl’s talons clenching my heart.” In his 1971 book on suicide, friend and critic Al Alvarez claimed that Plath’s suicide was an unanswered cry for help.

Sylvia Plath was known to have carried Confessional Poetry to another level with her writings, and was also best known for her two published collections: The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel.

In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, which is a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.

Other notable awards that she’d won are: Fulbright Scholarship, and Glascock Prize [1955].

This week’s poem was written on October 12, 1962, shortly before Plath’s death and later published in 1965 in Ariel. It’s under the title, “Daddy“. The fame this poem has taken is believed to be due to the richness of imagery, as well as the controversial use of the Holocaust as a metaphor. Critics have also viewed “Daddy” as a response to Sylvia’s complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died shortly after her eighth birthday as a result of undiagnosed diabetes.

Plath’s rejection of religion was also obvious in the poem as a potential theme. Plath clearly compares her father to God and later of the a devil, encouraging some to suggest that she was openly attacking her own religious beliefs. She was raised as a Unitarian, which is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting.



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 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 gipsy 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.


~ by Núr on August 5, 2012.

2 Responses to “♦ Poem No. III ~ Daddy”

  1. Her writing is amazing. The theme of her poem is something I can relate to well. I’m off to look for some more of her poems. :)


  2. I’m glad you are a fan. I was actually going to post “Electra on Azalea Path”, but then I thought, ‘Daddy deserves to be pointed out even if it’s the most famous poem by her. It’s awesome to point out WHY it’s the most famous poem’.

    I believe the greatest poems are those written from a personal life-aspect but still carried off in a decent literary way such that imagery and figurative language is balanced out with emotions throughout the piece.


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