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Sylvia Plath's "Daddy"

Updated on August 19, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Sylvia Plath

Source

Introduction and Text of "Daddy"

Sylvia Plath's poem, "Daddy," features sixteen five-line stanzas. It has only one rime that appears somewhat scatter-shot throughout the piece, for example, the first line goes, "You do not do, you do not do," and lines two and five rime with line one.

In the second stanza, there is only one riming line. In stanza three, lines two, four, and five contain the rime with "do." The poem proceeds this way throughout all sixteen stanzas.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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 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.

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 reading "Daddy"

Commentary

Plath's widely anthologized poem, which has been inaccurately appropriated as feminist testimony, offers a simple drama of a poor disillusioned girl who hates her father because he died too soon. Out of her fear and loathing, she goes on a childish rampage of hate against a man who can no longer defend himself.

First Stanza: Taunting Her Target

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.

The speaker begins by taunting the target of her displeasure: "You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot / For thirty years." In the second line, the speaker is name-calling someone "black shoe," and as she continues, she claims she had lived in that shoe for thirty years.

The disgruntled speaker shows her dissatisfaction by asserting that she was poor and white and could hardly breathe, and she even feared to sneeze.

Second Stanza: Uncontrolled Hatred

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

In the second stanza, the speaker is out of control with hatred and disgust at the character she refers to as "Daddy." She flings herself into a fit of rage that this character, "black shoe," would have the gall to die before she had a chance to kill him, but now, she is getting her revenge with a vengeance. Again, she reverts to name-calling, as she exclaims, "Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe."

Third Stanza: Prayed for His Return

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 this stanza, the speaker continues with description that denigrates the addressee, until she asserts that she used to pray that he would return to her.

It is at this point that the reader becomes aware that the speaker apparently does not harbor total hatred for her deceased Daddy, and at least earlier in her life, she actually wished he were still in her life.

Fourth - Eighth Stanzas A Nazi Delirium

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.

In these stanzas, the speaker once again loses herself in delirium, metaphorically likening the Daddy to a Nazi and herself to a Jew in death camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz. She rails against Daddy: "I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw." Her tongue stuck in a barb wire snare. She spits out her bitter comparison: "I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew."

It is unclear whether the speaker means that she could not clearly communicate with him before he died or that she is simply angry that he died, and thus she could not talk to him because he had died. Confused adolescent daughters/sons often believe they are smothered by parental rules, but this daughter's father, as readers will understand, has committed only the sin of dying, which was, of course, out of his control.

It becomes apparent that this Nazi association exists only in the mind of the tormented speaker. It does not credibly dramatize any lived experience, because the speaker has not experienced the drama of living under the Nazi regime, which she is attempting to portray.

Such utter fantasized concoction demonstrates a psychological imbalance in the speaker's mind; of course, she cannot be a teenager or in her adolescent years: she must be at least thirty years old, by her own admission in the opening lines, "I have lived like a foot / For thirty years."

Ninth - Sixteenth Stanzas: Final Lapse into Madness

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.

These stanzas are peppered with lines such as, "I may be a bit of a Jew, I have always been scared of you, / Every woman adores a Fascist, Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You / Not God but a swastika." All of these lines function in service of rendering the Daddy as an despicable dictator.

By the last stanza, the speaker has become totally mad, as she spits out disgraceful, disrespectful accusations against her hated target. She childishly claims that the people in their town did not ever like her father and that they are gleeful that he has died. She takes particular adolescent joy in asserting there is a "stake" in his "fat black heart"; thus alluding to vampirism. She then caps her crazed diatribe by claiming she is through. It remain unclear about exactly what she is "through." Likely she means not only her current diatribe but also her concerning herself with the continued hatred she nurtures for the father who died before she could kill him.

Plath's Remarks About "Daddy"

The poem creates a drama in which a woman can be viewed throwing an adolescent temper tantrum in order to bully a man, her father, who died before she could kill him. About her poem, Sylvia Plath has remarked:

The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and her mother very possibly part-Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyse each other—she has to act out the awful little allegory before she is free of it. (From Sylvia Plath by Linda Wagner-Martin, page 196)

Sylvia Plath sculpted her material with the hand of a master. The poem delves into the deep waters of the out-of-control anger that drowns the speaker's psyche in a whirlpool of volatile emotion.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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