Daddy by Sylvia Plath | Analysis

Daddy by Sylvia Plath | Analysis

Daddy by Sylvia Plath Analysis

Sylvia Plath wrote the poem Daddy on October 13, 1962 which was broadcast by B.B.C. along with Lady Lazarus. It was published in the magazine Encounter on October 4, 1963. It was later on published in various magazines such as the New Poetry and Time Magazine. Afterwards it was included in the volume Ariel under the title Poems by Sylvia Plath.

Popularity of the Poem, Daddy

Daddy is the most famous and popular poem of Plath. The reputation of Plath as a poet mainly rests on this poem. This poem is often compared with Picasso’s graphic painting ‘Guernica’ in which dead and torn bodies of common people are painted as the victims of barbaric aerial bombing. It presents a similar picture of the bombing of a village of General Franco’s Facists.

The extreme left and extreme right edge of this landmark painting shows two women-one at each edge-throwing up their face and hands while in a contorted body position but also in a frozen, silent gesture- a “voiceless” shrick forming in the work’s totality, “a chorus of two shrieking women.” Incidentally, Sylvia Plath herself was a keen student of paintings in fact, she was commissioned by a New York art magazine, Art News, to write poem-commentaries (somewhat after the manner of WH Auden’s, ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ in which he had mused on two paintings-including The Fall of Icarus – by Peter Brueghel, hanging in Brussels museum). By March 1958, Plath had written some eight poem-commentaries, about which she wrote to her mother.

The Biographical Element

Daddy is the most biographical poem of all the poems, she wrote from 1950 to 1962. in the varies of the second stanza of the poem, she points out the God-like quality of her father but at the same time she refers to a fatal sickness which killed him. On account of her serious illness, the following lines give us the idea of her amputation of her toe. Ghastly statue with one grey toe Big as a Frisco seal.

Plath also refers to the Polish origin of her father, Otto Plath. Her father used to speak in German which she could not understand.

A critic has rightly observed Daddy as a parricidal poem, seemingly too macabre and morbid to pose a question, “How could a poem like this ever be conceived?” The poem opens with an open defiance of the father, “You do not do, you do not do,” reverberating Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot both. Part of the tonal spell comes from this rhyming refrain the you” sound which continues to gain crescendo till the heroine is Sally Through with the demon lover and the exorcism ritual ends The father is called a ‘Black shoe in which the speaker has lived for thirty years “Poor and white, recalling the legend of the old lady living in a shoe. But now the daughter, bent on taking revenge on her father dismantles his earlier image of a Colossus and pulls him down to a ludicrous level, marble-heavy a bag full of God/Ghastly statue with one gray toe/Big as Frisco seal, she then traces his family root to Germany, The land of Hitler. She herself becomes a victim of Nazi pas chamber. A Jew, Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen for the time being, the daughter enjoys the torture with mosochistic delight.

The mood of the poem ‘Daddy‘ is defined rebellious and forth right and it is this mood which is reflected in all the poems of this period. In the last period the two things mattered to her writing and her domestic life. P. Rajani rightly observed: In the first week of November, 1962, she wrote to her mother, “my hours of solitude in my study are most precious, those, and the hours I spend with my darling babies.” But even as she talked about the joy looking after her babies, she declared quite honestly that domesticity choked her and that babies made life ‘fantastically difficult this conflict between creativity and childcare plagued her life. Despite her various problems, Plath wrote twenty five poems in October and eleven poems in November, and by the middle of the same month her second volume of poetry was ready.

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Mood of Frustration

This poem expresses the mood of frustration of Sylvia Plath. The last year of her life was quite miserable because Ted Hughes whom she had married in 1956, had separated from her. She was looking after two children lonely in England. She was so hopeless that she expressed her complete dislike for her father in the following stanza:

“If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two

The vampire who said he was you

And dranks my blood for a year,

Seven years, if you want to know.

Daddy, you can lie back now.”

She became so hopeless that she decided to commit suicide that seemed to her a great deliverer. She wrote some lines to convey convenience death would be a perfection:

“The woman is perfected Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment.”

Before she puts head into burning gas range after opening oven, she has taken care to lay down breakfast neatly for her babies. She has also closed the doors and windows of the kitchen closely. Thus she ended the life of a most promising, eloquent and daring poet of the century. She died miserable and tragically but her poetry survives. She has become a great poet with a great poetic quality. She has become a critical mystic poet in American poetry. A critic has rightly observed: “Although her work suggested that she was a deeply troubled young woman, casual acquaintances have often described Sylvia Plath as bright, creative, pleasant and otherwise unexceptional. That such a paradox exists is clue to Sylvia’s nature.”

Thus Daddy is one of the best and significant poems of Sylvia Plath, being a composition of the last phase of Sylvia Plath. It has all the qualities of Plath poetry. It is an autobiography in at the same time. It is a rare combination of the private and the universal: it is an expression of her anger at her father and at the same time it is a strong condemnation of Nazism and Hitler’s outrages. It is quite rhymical and musical. A critic rightly observes :

In any event, the daughter-speaker, in the end, is “through” (“finished with” or “at the end of all relations or dealings with”) with “Daddy, Daddy, you bastard….” The father is a “bastard” in the modern, slang, sense of being a “vicious, despicable or disliked person”, disliked, not only by the daughter-speaker, but also by the anonymous “villagers”. He was perhaps disliked because he was a blood-sucker, vampire, who, so to speak, fed on others and reduced them to being zombies or the Living Dead.

The Technique of the Poem

The poem’s greatness consists not so much in its horrible theme as in its technical excellence. It makes use of the nursery rhyme, rhythm to suggest the innocence and vulnerability of the daughter. Although the pattern of thyme is irregular, Plath makes use of the same rhyme in all the sixteen five-lined stanzas of the poem. The result is that the poem acquires a weird and unnerving chant preparing us for the final virtual murder of the persecutor.

The poem starts with a steady rhythmic beat as is evident in the opening line (“I do not do, I do not do’) and culminates in a hysterical and savage outburst. (“Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through”). The final triumphant dance of revenge is executed against the background of nursery rhyme rhythm, colloquial diction and the ritualistic chanting of the word “you”. This, in collaboration with the internal rhyme (“Knew”/”you”) and end rhymes (“you”/”you”/”you”/through”), creates the impression of one psyched into frenzied behaviour.

The energy and force of the speaker is evident in the choice of syllables that explode on articulation. More than the lexical meaning, it is the sound of the words that communicates the emotional range of the speaker. The poem has a variety of tones created by broken sentences, incomplete sentences, sentences without main verb, repetition of certain words, use of German words. The language is plain, the rhythms hypnotic and the content horrible, making the poem Plath’s work par excellence. Steiner considers Daddy the “Guernica” of modern poetry….. it is both historinic and in some way, arty, as is Picasso’s outcry.

Even at that time she had deep respect for her father although, he was a strong follower of Hitler. But Plath had tolerated all the outrageous behaviour of her father.

In the last stanza in the poem, the poet, Plath says that she has completely removed her father from her heart by killing. She has killed two persons – Otto Plath and his figure of a blood sucking evil spirit. She also blames for drinking her blood and tortured her for seven years. In the last stanza, she calls her father black-hearted man and the neighbours of his village never liked him.

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