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Poetry - Daddy

Sylvia Plath was a twentieth-century American poet who wrote prolifically before her death at the age of thirty. Being of Austrian-German heritage during the Second World War had a drastic and debilitating effect on Plath, as did her father's early death when she was still a child. The themes of her poem, 'Daddy', are obvious from the first line, but ambiguity is there, as well.

Read the poem closely and analytically before trying the quiz.

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Daddy

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.

Sylvia Plath
  1. To whom is this poem addressed?
    It is very tempting to conclude that the poem is explicitly addressed to Plath's own father, but, when analysing poetry, it's wise to remember the distance between the poet and her persona, however small that distance may be (and, in this case, the 'Daddy' of the poem bears a close resemblance to Plath's own father)
  2. 'You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe' -- What effect do these lines create?
    The repetition of the word 'not' gives a clearly negative tone to this nursery rhyme beginning
  3. The poet compares 'Daddy' to....
    He is also compared to the devil in the eleventh stanza
  4. The 'barb wire' in the sixth stanza is an allusion to...
    Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen were concentration camps. The speaker found it impossible to communicate with her father (she thought German, his language, was 'obscene'). Because the narrator uses German ('Ach, du' and 'ich'), the reader knows that she learned a little of the language. Her inability to communicate using German, however, is emphasised by the lines, 'Ich, ich, ich, ich, / I...' It is only when she switches to English that she can finally speak
  5. 'The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna / Are not very pure or true.' -- What do these lines imply?
    Although her father has bright blue, Aryan eyes, the narrator feels that she would not have passed the Nazi test -- she claims to have a 'gipsy ancestress' and says that she 'may be a bit of a Jew'. The Nazi obsession with purity of race would have sent her 'chuffing' off to the concentration camps, she believes
  6. 'And I said I do, I do' -- To what does this line in the fourteenth stanza refer?
  7. Considering the answer to question six, who is the 'model' mentioned in these preceding lines: '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'?
    Her husband, she claims, is exactly the same type of man as her father was (you might have noticed, however, that the narrator describes herself as making him that way)
  8. Which of the following lines means that her husband drained her life and energy during their marriage?
  9. The narrator's father died when she was ten. What does she mean by 'I have had to kill you'?
    Her father's memory is so overbearing that he metaphorically reaches across a continent (from the Pacific Ocean -- 'Frisco' -- to the Atlantic -- Nauset)
  10. The narrator displays ambivalent feelings for 'Daddy'. Which of the following lines contradicts the tone of the rest of the poem?
    If hatred, rage and fear were the only emotions the narrator felt towards her father, would she be so desperate to return to him? Although the narrator describes her father also as 'the black man who / Bit my pretty red heart in two', she immediately follows this with the line, 'I was ten when they buried you.' The 'black man' is death, who violently destroys the narrator at a tender age

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