Sylvia Plath "Daddy"

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“Daddy” – Sylvia Plath (Poetry Analysis 1)

Plath, best known for her confessional poetry is credited to have written the poem “Daddy” in the year, 1962. However, it was posthumously published in 1965. The use of explicit imagery throughout the poem reflects her style. Using the Holocaust as a metaphor, Plath gives the poem its much-intended nightmarish quality suggestive of her complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath. “Daddy” is almost potentially autobiographical in the sense that it provides a vivid, confessional representation of Plath’s mental illness. Plath seems to be using small details from her day-to-day life. These images and references may at first seem incomprehensible from a distance. However, gathering background information on Plath or a scholar providing an explanation in his footnotes help render these references as somewhat comprehensible.

The poem deals with Plath’s over-attachment to her father and the unease and unhappiness it caused within her life. It seems Plath wanted the authoritative repression caused by her father’s overpowering presence yet his utter absence to be blatantly obvious to her audience. She compares her father to a black shoe she has been living inside of; a Nazi: comparing herself to a Jew therefore creating an oppressor-oppressed relationship between her father and herself in the poem; a swastika and finally a vampire of which there were two in her life; her father and her husband. The poem is also a manifestation of her apparent Electra complex. The lines, “I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look” are in reference to her husband, Ted Hughes whom she may have been attracted to cause of his resemblance to her father. It is a deliberation on a paternal relationship that ended when Plath was a child. The poem is almost a declaration of independence but having lived her entire life being unable to communicate her pain and anguish, the idea of finally being able to liberate herself from the sentiment and affirming that “I’m through” towards the end of the poem may have been too much to bear for her.

The poem begins by imitating the structure of a nursery rhyme. The prosodic aspect of poetry sheds light on abstract thought and because the subject matter of the poem is so heavy, Plath may feel the need to begin the poem with a nursery rhyme like structure making it easier to grasp. This childlike intonation is emotionally distraughtful as the poem constantly shifts between the grotesque, the allusions and her fatal rage ultimately leading to the climax towards the end with Plath stating, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” This is Plath’s attempt at changing her situation. The base skeleton of the poem is immersed within a four-stressed rhythm. This rhythmic structure is reduced in the line, “Ich, ich, ich, ich” that along with supporting the four-stress rhythm is also a “barb wire” of the language that cuts of her speech just like in Daddy’s in which ‘I’ is already phonetically present, struggling to be free. Thus, “Ich” is a foreign language word in which the consonants create a barricade that prevent the open vowel ‘I’ to be liberated. Also, when one listens carefully, the repeated usage of “Ich” four times makes it sound like speak which is illustrative of her means of expression in the poem. Plath is finally voicing the way she feels after a lifetime of repression. The poem uses a five-line stanza called a Quintain, which means that there is no set rhythmic structure.

There is powerful imagery, symbolism and word play in the poem. However, it makes one wonder whether Plath intended to write about her father or whether her perception of him. By claiming that she lived within a black shoe, the idea that she has been encompassed within the colossal, watertight image of her father is demonstrated. It explains her posthumous relationship with him. Shoes are designed for comfort and protection and Plath’s father provided her neither of those...
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