Sunday, September 19, 2010

Required Poet: Sylvia Plath Part I

While we actually read quite a few of Sylvia Plath’s poems that made it on the M.A. exam list, we really only got to talk about “Daddy.” And since I already feel incredibly inadequate when dealing with poetry, not to mention Sylvia Plath’s poetry, I think I will just cover this poem for now. Hopefully I will have the chance to get a better handle on the other poems later. But until then…


Plath was most often grouped with the Confessional Poets. The Confessional Poets tended to draw on painful personal experiences for their poetry. The experiences are usually embarrassing and unflattering, and often deal with issues of mental illness, sexuality, and pretty much any kind of family dysfunction.

Other Confessional Poets of the time included Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke (who shares the same item number as Plath in the M.A. exam list), and Anne Sexton.


As far as “Daddy” goes, one common theme throughout the poem is that of the Holocaust. Plath paints her father as a follower of Hitler, with German words sprinkled throughout the poem. To take the metaphor just one more step further, in stanzas seven and eight, Plath begins to describe herself as a Jew.

The other prominent theme in this poem is that of death. In line six, Plath declares “Daddy, I have had to kill you.” Plath’s real father died of complications after his leg was amputated when an infected toe became gangrenous. With this in mind, this line doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, she does proceed to “kill” him in the sense that she makes him out to be one of the most deplorable type of people on earth – a Nazi (she also proceeds to liken him to the devil and a vampire). She mentions the actual death in line 57 (“I was ten when they buried you”), and then admits to the purpose of her own attempted suicide in lines 58 and 59 (At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you). And because she died before she had her chance to kill him herself, she “made a model of [him]” in line 64. Her model of him is the model she is making in the poem, and then she proceeds to slowly kill him. Plath is so obsessed/upset over her father’s death that the two declarations that she is “through” do not at all ring true.

Another interesting thing about this poem is that it is written in the style of a nursery rhyme. When it is spoken in such a way, its adult themes and issues become even more disturbing.


In 1962 when this poem was written, the Holocaust was not talked about as readily as it is now. This choice of metaphor was actually quite shocking at the time. And what makes this even more interesting is that Plath’s father was incredibly anti-Nazi.

And as already mentioned, Plath’s father died after a complication from a surgery. It was a completed accidental death, but Plath seems to blame him for dying too soon, even though she vows she would have killed him herself anyway. Plath proclaimed that her father was an autocrat and that she both despised and admired him. She admitted to wishing him dead, but when he did die, she imagined she had killed him.

So that is what I have for “Daddy.” Next week I’ll be able to cover all of the stories by optional short story writer Flannery O’Connor that are on the M.A. exam list. I am actually really excited about that as I love her stories and I am interested to see what my professor has to say about this southern writer.

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