"Daddy" is a poem written by American poet Sylvia Plath. It was written on October 12, 1962, shortly before her death, and published posthumously in Ariel in 1963. The poem's implications and thematic concerns have been discussed academically, with many differing conclusions. The relative popularity of "Daddy" can be attributed to Plath's vivid use of imagery and controversial use of the Holocaust as a metaphor. Critics have also viewed "Daddy" as a response to Plath's complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died shortly after her eighth birthday as a result of undiagnosed diabetes.
Structure, form, and rhyme
Plath wrote the poem in quintains with irregular meter and irregular rhyme. The rhyming words all end with an "oo" vowel sound (like the words "through," "you," "blue," "do," and "shoe").
Adam Kirsch has written that some of Plath's works, like "Daddy", are self-mythologizing and suggests that readers should not interpret the poem as a strictly "confessional", autobiographical poem about her actual father. Sylvia Plath herself also did not describe the poem in autobiographical terms. When she introduced the poem for a BBC radio reading shortly before her suicide, she described the piece in the third person, stating that the poem was about "a girl with an Electra complex [whose] father died while she thought he was God. Her case is complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi sympathizer and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other â" she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it".
However, some critics have interpreted the poem in both biographical and psychoanalytic terms. For instance, the critic Robert Phillips wrote, "Finally the one way [Plath] was to achieve relief, to become an independent Self, was to kill her father's memory, which, in 'Daddy,' she does by a metaphorical murder. Making him a Nazi and herself a Jew, she dramatizes the war in her soul.Â .Â . From its opening image onward, that of the father as an "old shoe" in which the daughter has lived for thirty yearsâ"an explicitly phallic image, according to the writings of Freudâ"the sexual pull and tug is manifest, as is the degree of Plath's mental suffering, supported by references to Dachau, Auschwitz, and Belsen."
Other critics who take the same approach of psychoanalyzing Plath via the poem include the writers Guinevara A. Nance and Judith P. Jones. They make essentially the same argument as Phillips. They also write that "[Plath] accentuates linguistically the speaker's reliving of her childhood. Using the heavy cadences of nursery rhyme and baby words such as 'chuffing,' 'achoo,' and 'gobbledygoo,' she employs a technical device similar to Joyce's in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the child's simple perspective is reflected through language."
- Plath, Sylvia, The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, Harper & Row (1981)
- Daddy, Academy of American Poets (poets.org)
- Video: Daddy A dynamic rendition of the poem from Voices & Visions, a video series in the Annenberg/CPB Multimedia Collection.
- Critical essays on Daddy, Sylvia Plath, Modern American Poetry.