Daddy by Sylvia Plath
3 March 2002


This is a hideous, loathsome poem. I do not hate it as I hated Pied Beauty; it's not for me to hate or love or like, only to react to. React to it I did when I first heard it read out. My literary mind went numb and froze, and whatever I was trying to write died and trickled off the edge of the page, lacking commas and full stops. When I read it for myself it seemed not so horrid. That first exposure must have caused me to develop immunity to it. Indeed, it gets less repulsive every time I read it. Now it even has rhythm.
I wish I knew some more of the story behind it. Irritatingly, there is no biography in the front or back of the anthology in which I found the poem. I shall look on the Internet for one.

This woman knows her craft, and a brief glance through the rest of the anthology shows me that she's chosen to use her talent to create images that are largely bitter and black rather than beautiful. I just realised why I am so afraid of the poem. I have had at least one friend, perhaps two or three, who thought and spoke in these kinds of images, with this kind of anger. They're images I would rather not remember.


5 March 2002

I have just looked up a biography of Sylvia Plath ( - a very good site, if a little limited in its scope - Hemingway should certainly be there as well). There are several intriguing details that have added to my understanding of Daddy. First, she was married to an English poet named Ted Hughes. Can this be the same Ted Hughes who penned Six Young Men? The priestess of depressive poetry could certainly have fitted Hughes's obviously morose nature.

Her father and mother were both German, by their names and occupations (I believe both were professors of German at some stage). Taking this fact and adding to it several details from Daddy ("In the German tongue, in the Polish town..."; "... where you / Put your foot, your root"), I can assume with some degree of certainty that Mr Otto Plath (originally Platt) was born in German Poland, or that he lived there for a time while Sylvia was young. It would have had to be while she was young - he died when she was only eight.

Anything else I can come up with is pure guesswork. Perhaps he was somehow involved in the Polish blitzkrieg - it's possible, Sylvia would have been six at the time. Perhaps, as she was so young, her memory of him is distorted by the shame of having German parents in late 1930s America - shame, or horror, or something similar, perhaps. Or perhaps the Nazi imagery ("a barb wire snare"; "Chuffing me off like a Jew"; "your Luftwaffe... neat mustache... And your Aryan eye"; "Not God but a swastika"; "a Meinkampf look") is supposed to be a metaphor, for... what? The Germans as a people? Her resentment at her father's death from grangrene, which she saw as a partial suicide? I don't know. Finding out more has caused me to know less.


back to litblog