Daddy (poem)

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"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 1965.[1] "Daddy" is one of the most widely anthologized poems in American literature,[2] and its implications and thematic concerns have been discussed academically, with many differing conclusions.[3]

The relative popularity of the work can be attributed to Plath's vivid use of imagery and controversial use of the Holocaust as a metaphor.[3] 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.[4][5]

Structure, form, and rhyme[edit]

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").

Reception and interpretation[edit]

Critic George Steiner referred to "Daddy" as "the Guernica of modern poetry", arguing that it "achieves the classic art of generalization, translating a private, obviously intolerable hurt into a code of plain statement, of instantaneously public images which concern us all".[6]

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.[7] 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 and her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other – she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it".[8]

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. . . From its opening image onward, that of the father as an "old shoe" in which the daughter has lived for thirty years—an explicitly phallic image, according to the writings of Freud—the sexual pull and tug is manifest, as is the degree of Plath's mental suffering, supported by references to Dachau, Auschwitz, and Belsen."[9]

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."[10]


  1. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Sylvia Plath". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008.
  2. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2009). Personality, Character, and Intelligence: Part Three from What the Dog Saw. Little, Brown. ISBN 0316086185.
  3. ^ a b "Daddy". Sylvia Plath Forum. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  4. ^ "On "Daddy"". 1962-10-12. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  5. ^ "Sylvia Plath". 1963-02-11. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  6. ^ A Study Guide for Sylvia Plath's "Daddy". Gale, Cengage Learning. 2016. ISBN 1410343596.
  7. ^ Kirsch, Adam. The Wounded Surgeon: Confession and Transformation in Six American Poets: The Poetry of Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, Jarrell, Schwartz, and Plath. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.
  8. ^ Plat, Sylvia; Hughes, Frieda (Forward by) (2004). Ariel: The Restored Edition: A Facsimile of Plath's Manuscript, Reinstating Her Original Selection and Arrangement. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 196. ISBN 9780060732592.
  9. ^ Phillips, Robert. "The Dark Tunnel: A Reading of Sylvia Plath." Modern Poetry Studies 3.2 (1972).
  10. ^ Concerning Poetry 11:1 (Spring 1978).

External links[edit]

  • "Daddy", Academy of American Poets (
  • 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