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Thursday, 15 April 2010

'Daddy' by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath 1932 - 1963
Prologue: This is the hardest blog post I have ever done and I have had it in preparation for a long time and I have been putting off publication until the time felt right. The circumstances of this poem are so desperately sad that it may move you to tears; but how do we know we are alive unless we let a little pain into our hearts?
Read the poem now and I will tell about the heart-rending background at the end of this post.
Have the kleenex ready!

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 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. Written October 12 1962.

Epilogue: Sylvia's father Otto (1885 - 1940), pictured left, died when she was eight years old. She descibed the poem as being about a girl with an Electra complex. He was a cold and aloof man and she came to learn that he had been a Nazi but she married a man just like him, ( "I made a model of you....and I said I do, I do...."). That was the English Poet Ted Hughes to whom she was married for seven years before he left her for another woman. ("The vampire who drank my blood for a year. Seven years if you want to know.")
The imagery in this poem is mightily powerful and can be read in a variety of ways. The language is visceral and pulls no punches. It can be seen as analogy; her relationship with her father likened to Nazis and Jews; the metaphor of feet and shoes and 'fitting' suggesting body parts and the holocaust. Likewise, the references to vampires and blood.
And, even though the poem grips you with it's stark imagery all the way through, still the last line delivers a hard-hitting punch. She has finally detached herself from the obsession of her life but the price she had to pay was terrible. 

The year after writing this poem she sealed her children's bedroom door with wet towels, stuck her head in the gas oven and killed herself. The ultimate irony was to find her own 'final solution'.

If this leaves you feeling low here is a link to something lighter that she wrote after the birth of her first child: 'Morning Song'....(Love set you going like a fat gold watch.)

Actually, there's even a touch of melancholy about that poem too!

5 comments:

from Alicia M B Ballard's Studio said...

I am so no not familiar (generally speaking) with English language poetry that it is a gift to read it in this setting - thank you.

What crossed my mind as I was reading - due to her very strong rejection of him - was that she might have been sexually molested.
Women seldom have such strong dislike, even hatred for an aloof (or shame giving nazi father).
These strong emotions are generally provoked by much stronger, personal/intimate experiences...
Suicide, is too strong of an act to explain/attribute to the stated.
In my humble opinion.

bazza said...

Alicia, I had not thought of that. You may well be right, but it can only be conjecture. I have never seen any published reference but it fits in with the known facts of the case. How awfully sad it all is.

Bob said...

It's a wonderful poem. Your analysis is interesting too.


Thanks Bazza.

bazza said...

Thanks Bob. I see you have been visiting some of my other blogging favourites. Well done!
Hope this post wasn't too depressing.

Tom Eagerly said...

Mr Bazza, this is just so depressing man.
I don't come here to be brought down! I come for the laughs; you know,Philip Larkin, Lierary innkeepers, Hockney, Turner and that sort of thing. Hilarious.