Daddy, by Sylvia Plath

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.

 

 





2 Comments

  • Jules Odendahl-James says:

    Thanks for posting the full text of this piece Jamie. There is SO much to say about the poem. An entire life-time’s worth of study. For now, I’ll direct you to a weblink that illustrates the breadth of literary criticism about “Daddy”: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/plath/daddy.htm

    And I’ll just pull one particularly apt and succinct description from the dynamic duo of literary critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, who write this about Plath in their 1998 masterpiece *No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the 20th Century, Vol. 1 The War of the Words* (Yale UP):

    “In such famous late poems as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy” she fantasizes vengeful victories won by female speakers who openly act for themselves.”

    I’m not sure if I think Nora’s leaving her husband and children qualifies as an act of vengeance (some critics at the time reacted as if Nora’s choice made her little more than a modern Medea — http://show20results20www.nationaltreasures.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/AJVS/article/view/1116).

    Also, there’s little evidence to support the presumption, based on the tone and violence implied in the poem, that Otto Plath victimized his daughter. Plath’s speaker and the “Daddy” she addresses are constructions that helps the author channel and alleviate her feelings of abandonment (by her father’s untimely death), her own unfinished grieving process, and the realization that she’s married a man who bears some of the same dark and unhappy feelings that she associates with her father:

    I made a model of you,
    A man in black with a Meinkampf look

    And a love of the rack and the screw.

    It’s in this transference of power, control, and desire from father to husband that we have the strongest link between Plath’s speaker and Nora.

  • Jules Odendahl-James says:

    October 27, 2011 would have been Plath’s 79th birthday. Beginning Nov 2 (through Dec. 16) the Mayor Gallery in London will exhibiting a series of Plath’s never before seen pen and ink drawings. Take a look at them here: http://flavorwire.com/224298/sylvia-plaths-ink-drawings .