Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Daddy”, expresses her powerful emotions regarding her father’s life and death, and also her relationship with her husband, Ted Hughes. Plath is a confessional poet and, true to form, the speaker in this poem seems to be herself. D.C. Phelps brings forward the interesting notion that Plath refers not only to her father and husband, but also to her mother. It seems that Plath wrote “Daddy” not to make peace with her domineering father, but to accept the multitude of emotions that her relationship with him has caused throughout her life.
Plath lost her father when she was just ten years old, at a time when she felt deep, unconditional love for him. According to this poem, she then grew up to realise that her father was a dominant and oppressive man. At various points, she compares him to a Nazi, a devil, and a vampire. Further on, Plath refers to her relationship with her husband. However, this appears to be in explaining how she took her husband as a replacement for her father: “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” (lines 72-75). The presence of her husband in this poem only serves to highlight the relationship, and its effects, with her father.
D.C. Phelps, however, contests that “Daddy” not only refers to Otto Plath and Ted Hughes, but also to Plath’s mother. He suggests that the references to Austria, for example “The snows of the Tyrol, / the clear beer of Vienna Are not very pure or true” (lines 36-37), cannot to traced to the life of Plath’s father, but that they can be traced to her mother. Phelps says:
“A personal association with Austria seems far more likely for Plath’s inclusion of these lines, and indeed a close and profoundly significant one exists: Plath’s mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, was of Authrian descent…’ (Phelps, p 249).
He then goes on to explain how he feels Plath’s mother is being included in her wrath of emotions within “Daddy”:
“Plath’s use of Austrian references, in this otherwise so father-oriented poem, suggests that additional focus of her wrath in it – along with Otto Plath and Ted Hughes – was indeed Aurelia” (Phelps, p 249).
This incorporation of her mother into the poem wasn’t something that I had previously considered. However, in the same way as Plath mentions her husband, while still speaking to her father, it is entirely possible that the same applies to the topic of her mother.
“Daddy” is a freeverse poem. There is no specific rhyme scheme in in the poem. There are, however, many end and internal rhymes. The end rhyme is first demonstrated in the opening line, which ended in "do." The ‘oo’ sounds are overwhelming throughout the poem. Similarly, rhythm is important in the poem, despite it not having a specific pattern. There is a great deal of iambic verse, though it is not strictly adhered to. One example of an iambic line is: “You do, not do, you do, not do” (line 1). Irregularities such as these reinforce the idea of Plath’s irregular emotions regarding her father and husband.
The vast amounts of rhyme in this poem makes it read rather like a disturbing nursery rhyme. In a regular child’s rhyme, the persistent ‘oo’ sounds would be comforting. However, in the context of “Daddy” they are overpowering.
The tone of “Daddy” is that of an adult immersed in negative emotions that have consumed most of her life. At times the outrage Plath depicts sounds childlike. At the beginning of the poem the child voice is very much apparent. Plath shows this sing childish repetition, for example: “You do not do, you do not do” (line 1). Plath also leads her readers into the perspective of a child in fear, saying “I have always been scared of you” (line 41). She also leaves the reader in no doubt that, as a child, she was in awe of her father and how devastated she was about his death, and for years afterwards: “At twenty I tried to die / And get back, back, back to you. / I thought even the bones would do (line 58-60).
Towards the end of the poem, the tone then changes from a childish one to a strong, adult one. The contrast is striking and powerful. Plath states, “So daddy, I’m finally through”(line 73) “And I knew what to do” (line 63). The final two stanzas show how Plath’s attitudes towards the man has changed. She demonstrates how, now that her father is dead, she has more control over understanding her true feelings towards him. The final line, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard” (line 80) shows a rebellion; Plath no longer needs to be frightened of the man who oppressed her when he was alive.
Plath uses effective similes, for example, in the seventh stanza. “An engine, an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. / I begin to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew.” (lines 31-35) The similes here show to the reader the degree of suffering that Plath experienced, as she compares it to the anguish millions of Jews went through during World War II. Plath describes her father as Adolf Hitler: “I have always been scared of you, / with your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. / And your neat mustache / And your Aryan eye, bright blue.”(lines 41-44) Path is comparing her father to Hitler, and herself to a Jew.
Phelps, on the other hand, suggests that these references to Plath being a Jew, again, suggest a negative inference to her mother (Phelps, p 250).
“Daddy” is a dark, haunting poem. It seems clear that the poet is speaking to her father, and reflecting on a lifetime of feelings she has had towards him. She suggests, though the poem, that she chose to marry her husband as he was similar to her father and she wanted a replacement. Phelps goes further to suggest that Plath also refers to her relationship with her mother. This seems entirely possible, though it isn’t made as clear as the reference to her husband. Interestingly, Plath wrote “daddy” just four months before her suicide. The poem therefore, does not represent a newly found peace with her father but, rather, an acceptance of the torment she continues to feel.
Plath, Sylvia. “Daddy.” Collected Poems. London: Faber, 1981. 222-24 Print.