Marjorie Perloff: On "Daddy"

As in the case of "The Applicant," Sylvia Plath's explanation of "Daddy" in her BBC script is purposely evasive. "The poem," she says, "is spoken by a girl with anElectra complex. Her 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 before she is free of it." As such,"Dadddy" has been extravagantly praised for its ability "to elevate private facts into public myth," for dramatizing the "schizophrenic situation that gives the poem its terrifying but balanced polarity"-polarity, that is to say, between the hatred and the love the "I" feels for the image of the father/lover.

But after what we might call its initial "Guernica effect" had worn off somewhat, "Daddy" was also subjected to some hard questions as critics began to wonder whether its satanic imagery is meaningful, whether, for example, lines like "With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo" or "Not God but a swastika / So black no sky could squeak through" are more than fairly cheap shots, demanding a stock response from the reader. Indeed, both the Nazi allegory and the Freudian drama of trying to die so as to "get back, back, back to you" can now be seen as devices designed to camouflage the real thrust of the poem, which is, like "Purdah," a call for revenge against the deceiving husband. For the real enemy is less Daddy ("I was ten when they buried you")--a Daddy who, in real life, had not the slightest Nazi connection--than the model made by the poet herself in her father's image:

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.

The image of the telephone is one that Plath's early admirers like George Steiner or Stephen Spender simply ignored, but with the hindsight a reading of theCollected Poems gives us, we recognize it, of course, as the dreaded "many-holed earpiece," the "muck funnel" of "Words heard, by accident. over the phone." And indeed, the next stanza refers to the "vampire" who "drank my blood for a year, / Seven years if you want to know." This is a precise reference to the length of time Sylvia Plath had known Ted Hughes when she wrote "Daddy"--precise as opposed to the imaginary references to Plath's father as "panzer-man" and "Fascist."

A curiously autobiographical poem, then, whose topical trappings ("Luftwaffe," "swastika," "Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen") have distracted the attention of a generation of readers from the poem's real theme. Ironically, "Daddy" is a "safe" poem--and hence Hughes publishes it--because no one can chide Plath for her Electra complex, her longing to get back to the father who died so prematurely, whereas the hatred of Hughes ("There's a stake in your fat black heart") is much more problematic. The Age Demanded a universal theme--the rejection not only of the "real" father but also of the Nazi Father Of Us All--hence the label "the Guernicaof modern poetry" applied to "Daddy" by George Steiner. But the image of a black telephone that must be torn from the wall--this, so the critics of the sixties would have held, is not a sufficient objective correlative for the poet's despairing vision. The planting of the stake in the "fat black heart" is, in any case, a final farewell to the ceremony of marriage ("And I said I do, I do"). What follows is "Fever 103"' and the metamorphosis of self that occurs in the Bee poems.

From Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric. Copyright © 1990 by Majorie Perloff.

Alan Williamson: On "Daddy"

Archetypally, Plath's father is represented either as godlike but fragmentary, protean, inaccessible ("The Colossus," "Full Fathom Five," or else as the dark father, the Nazi and torturer. That this latter image is archetypal, the biographers, I hope, have made clear enough: in life Otto Plath, far from being a Nazi, left the Kaiser's Germany partly because he was a militant pacifist. Possibly the image stems from Plath's early anger at her father as a Prussian "autocrat"; yet her longing for him is so evident, in The Bell Jar and elsewhere, that one's mind is drawn more to the traditional etiology of masochism. In place of what is really feared--abandonment, indifference--malignity or persecution is substituted, both because it implies concern, or at least involvement, intention, on the part of the other, and because it constitutes a very high degree of presence. Nothing is so unlike the inaccessibility of a corpse as the intrusiveness of a tyrant, a jailer, a torturer. In an oblique way, "Daddy" seems to acknowledge all this. At a point in the poem when the Nazi theme has reached a pitch of hysterical inarticulacy ("the brute / Brute heart of a brute like you"), the father's real image suddenly comes to mind, and there is a comic incongruity:

You stand at the blackboard, daddy, 

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

The speaker seems suddenly half-aware that the fantasy image needs defending, and the true grounds of reproach—as well as a much more loving underlying feeling--slip out:

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.

The father's negative omnipresence, while it conveys a truth about the state of obsessive mourning, also expresses an unappeased wish on the part of the hurt little girl whose voice can still be heard here.

[. . . .]

[T]he vampire mythology of "Daddy" . . . confirms the Laingian presupposition that intimacy saps one's limited stock of vital forces, threatens one's very being. But, by a deeper logic, if men are the undead, it means that they are the dead: the "dead lover," the dead father, returning in his death-denying disguise of omnipotent will. To find love a negative, obliterating experience is thus to feel reunited with the father. Insofar as the "blood flood" signifies menstrual blood, it is also to become one with the barren moon-goddess, the evil father's consorts In this overdetermination, we come very near the core of the masochist theme in Plath's work.

"Daddy" represents a vengeful literary assimilation, after the separation, of Plath's marriage to the same complex, and the same ritual. To reproduce the (masochistically transformed) image of the father, she has chosen a man for his dominating, sadistic qualities, regarding even his sexuality, like Marco's or Irwin's, as a torture instrument:

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.

And yet the opening premise itself ("I made a model of you") implies the possibility that she has merely imagined him this way, or else made him this way by her will to respond only to this element in him; and thereby has, in a sense, destroyed him, or at least the relationship ("If I've killed one man, I've killed two"). It is, after all, the destruction of the model that makes the voodoo rite of exorcism effective. There is a burden of guilt as well as abusiveness to this passage, which can only be glossed over if it is to be read as a straightforward attack on the husband's character. Rather, the poem, here as in the passage quoted earlier, wavers near the Jungian therapeutic point at which the archetype becomes so inflated that it can no longer be imposed on a living, or even a dead, person. If the separation is not completed, it is perhaps because the archetype is occasioned by an absence, not a presence; so that, grim as it is, it alone offers the possibility of connection. As Holbrook has pointed out, the concluding rhyme-word "through" means not only through with the father in his vampire disguise, but through to the father where he actually is--in the grave.

It should be clear why--without denying Plath insight into the social harmfulness of supermasculinity as an ideal--I disagree with a radical feminist interpretation of her work. Its burden, on the more intimate level, seems to me not sexual "oppression" but the ambiguous attractions a more-than-human Other may hold for ego weakness in either sex. Plath's writings describe a complex of feelings in which (as in the masculine Madonna complex) the other sex does not easily ‘scape whipping. If men are figures of indomitable will, they are morally beyond the pale--as in the lines from "Three Women": "It is these men I mind.... They are jealous gods / That would have the whole world flat because they are." But if they are not gods, the note of sexual contempt for "small" men quickly becomes audible. It was Plath's strength, and a good deal of her despair, that she realized--if not precisely this--the possibility that deep conflicts among her conscious and unconscious values and wishes might have made her unhappiness almost inevitable.

From Introspection and Contemporary Poetry. Copyright © 1984 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Charles Molesworth: On "Daddy"

When I speak of Plath's concealment I want to stress the counterforce of her confessional impulses, of the part of her poetic temperament that makes her turn a poem about the hatefulness of her father into a quasi ritual, a Freudian initiation into the circlings we create around our darkest secrets.

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.

Strangely Transylvanian and oddly chthonic, the father in "Daddy" is one only someone under analysis, or perhaps an adept in advanced comparative mythology, could easily identify. But so great is the pain borne by the poet's exacerbated sensibility that only the appropriation of the greatest crimes against humanity will serve as adequate counters for it:

I may be a bit of a Jew.


I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. 

And your neat moustache

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.

Here the repetitions, the insistent rhyming on the ou sound, and the tone of mixed contempt and fascination all serve to mimic and perhaps to exercise a child's fixation on authority, self-hatred, and guilt. Who but a supreme egotist could take the plight of the victims of genocide as the adequate measure of her own alienation? Perhaps if we didn't know the comfortable bourgeois background of Plath's family, we could say the poem was about authority "in general," about the feminists' need to make clear the far-reaching power of chauvinist "enemies." But instead we hear the tones of a spoiled child mixing with the poem's mythical resonances. Indeed, the petulance of the voice here, its sheer unreasonableness masked as artistic frenzy, found wide and ready acceptance among a large audience.

From The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry. Copyright © 1979 by the Curators of the University of Missouri.

Margaret Dickie: On "Daddy"

In "Daddy" and a number of other late poems, the most difficult problem is the effort to assess the poet's relationship to her speaker. Because "Daddy" calls upon specific incidents in Plath's biography (her suicide attempts, her father's death, her marriage), we are tempted to identify the poet and the speaker directly, although such an identification cannot account for the fact that Plath employs techniques of caricature, hyperbole, and parody that serve to distance the speaker from the poet and at the same time to project onto the speaker a strange version of the poet's own strategies. "Daddy" becomes a demonstration of the mind confronting its own suffering and trying to control what it feels controls it. The speaker's simplistic language, rhyme, and rhythm become one means by which she attempts to charm and hold off the evil spirits. Another means is the extreme facility of her image-making. The images themselves are important for what they tell us of her sense of being victimized and victimizer; but more significant than the actual image is the swift ease with which she can turn it to various uses. For example, she starts out imagining herself as a prisoner living like a foot in the black shoe of her father. Then she casts her father in her own role; he becomes "one grey toe / Big as a Frisco seal," and then quickly she is looking for his foot, his root. Next he reverts to the original boot identity, and she is the one with "The boot in the face." Immediately she finds "A cleft in your chin instead of your foot." At the end she sees the villagers stamping on him. Thus she moves from booted to booter as her father reverses the direction, and the poem's sympathies for the booted or booter shift accordingly.

The mind that works in this way is neither logical nor psychologically penetrating; it is simply extremely adept at juggling images. And it is caught in its own strategies. The speaker can control her terrors by forcing them into images, but she seems to have no understanding of the confusion her wild image-making betrays. When she identifies herself as a foot, she suggests that she is trapped; but when she calls her father a foot, the associations break down. In the same way, when she caricatures her father as a Fascist and herself as a Jew, she develops associations of torture which are not exactly reversed when she reverses the identification and calls herself the killer of her vampire-father. The speaker here can categorize and manipulate her feelings in name-calling, in rituals, in images - but these are only techniques, and her frenzied use suggests that she employs those methods in the absence of any others. When she says, "Daddy, I have had to kill you," she seems to realize the necessity of the exorcism and to understand the ritual she performs, but the frantic pitch of the language and the swift switches of images do not confirm any self-understanding. The pace of the poem reveals its speaker as one driven by a hysterical need for complete control, a need arising from a fear that without such control she will be destroyed. Her simple, incantatory monologue is the perfect vehicle of expression for the orderly disordered mind.

In talking to A. Alvarez, Plath called her late poems "light verse." "Daddy" does not seem to fall easily into that category, despite its nonsense rhymes and rhythms, its quickly flicking images. It is neither decorous nor playful. On the other hand, considering its subject, it is neither ponderous nor serious. Above all it offers no insight into the speaker, no mitigating evidence, no justification. Perhaps Plath's classification is clear only if we consider her speaker a parodic version of the poet - and, of course, if she were consciously borrowing from Hughes's animal poems, these poems must be read as a comment on his poetic voice as well. Plath's speaker manipulates her terror in singsong language and thus delivers herself in "light verse" that employs its craft in holding off its subject. For all the frankness of this poem, the name-calling and blaming, the dark feeling that pervades it is undefined, held back rather than revealed by the technique. The poet who has created such a speaker knows the speaker's strategies because they are a perverted version of her own, and that is the distinction between the speaker's "light verse" and the poet's serious poem. If this poem comes out of Plath's own emotional experience, as she said her poem did, it is not an uninformed cry from the heart. Rather, Plath chooses to deal with her experience by creating characters who could not deal with their own experiences and, through their rituals, demonstrate their failure.

[. . . .]

Plath's poem shows the limitations of the mind that operates only to rehearse the perfect kill. . . . "Daddy" is a poem of revenge, and its violence is a reaction against torture. . . .

Plath's depiction of the monomaniacal daughter-victim-killer suggests she was aware that such a figure was far from a genius. The simplicity of her language matches the simplicity of her thinking; in fact, her violent rage has subsumed all other feelings or thoughts. . . .The father-husband figure whom she finally kills is then a "Panzer-man," "A man in black with a Meinkampf look," emblem of all the black men who have loomed as threatening forces in her poetry.

From Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Copyright © 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Eileen M. Aird: On "Daddy"

The poem has already received a good deal of critical attention which has focused on the autobiographical aspect. The danger of such criticism lies in its assumption that the poem is objectively 'true', that it bears a precise relationship to the facts of the poet's life. Without a doubt this poem embodies most forcefully the feeling which runs through her later poetry that the distress she suffered was in some way connected with her memories of her dead father, but the poem cannot be literally or historically true. Otto Plath, who was born in 1885 and came to America at the age of fifteen, died when his daughter was nine and certainly could not have been the active German Nazi officer of the poem. However he was of pure Prussian descent and one of his daughter's obsessions was that, given other circumstances, it might have been that he would have become a Nazi. In the same way her mother, Aurelia Plath, who is of Austrian descent, could have had Jewish blood and if she had lived in Europe might have become one of the host of murdered Jews. In terms of the poem itself the mother figure is unimportant; the daughter appropriates the mother's attributes and the relationship is developed through the father-daughter, Nazi-Jew complexity. Questioned about this poem by Peter Orr, Sylvia Plath explained:

In particular my background is, may I say, German and Austrian. On one side I am first generation American, on one side I am second generation American, and so my concern with concentration camps and so on is uniquely intense. And then, again, I'm rather a political person as well, so I suppose that's part of what it comes from.

When she described the poem at another time she did so in dramatic terms which included no overt hint that the situation described was her own:

The poem is spoken by a girl with an Electra complex. Her 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 paralyse each other--she has to act out the awful little allegory before she is free of it.

The poem exploits Freudian psychology which argues that the child is, at some stages in its development, 'in love' with the parent. The girl reacts with hate for the father who has made her suffer by dying at such a point in her development. The description of the father as 'marble-heavy' and a 'ghastly statue' reveals the ambivalence of her attitude for he is also associated with the beauty of the sea. The image of the father as a statue echoes the similar conception of 'The Colossus'; here, as in the earlier poem, the statue is of huge and awesome proportions. The ambivalent feelings of fear and love have remained with the daughter as an obsession which dwarfs and restricts her own life, and in an attempt to rid herself of it she must ritually destroy the memory of the father:

Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time--

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,


She first attempted to do this by joining the father through suicide but then found an escape through marriage to a man with many of the father's characteristics:

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.


The psychological is only one aspect of the poem however. Sylvia Plath extends the reference by making the father a German Nazi and the girl a Jew, so that on a historical and actual, as well as on an emotional level their relationship is that of torturer and tortured. The boot image of the first verse can now be seen not only as an effective image for the obsessional nature of the daughter's neurosis, but also as carrying suggestions of the brutality associated with the father as Nazi officer. The transition from father-daughter to the Nazi-Jew relationship is simply and dramatically effected. The hatred of the daughter merges into the emotional paralysis of her recognition, as Jew, of him as Nazi: 'I never could talk to you. / The tongue stuck in my jaw.' The jaw becomes the barbed wire of the concentration camps, and the repeated self-assertive 'Ich' of the German language recalls the sound of the engines carrying Jews to the camps. In revolt from the obscenity of the language--which is an extension of the emotional revolt against the father--the daughter begins to talk like a Jew, that is she identifies herself with the archetypal, suffering Jew of the camps. She now describes the father as a Nazi officer and no longer associates him with God but with a swastika 'So black no sky could squeak through'. The theme of intermingled love and hate arises again as the daughter comments on the sexual fascination of cruelty:

Every woman adores a Fascist, 

The boot in the face, the brute 

Brute heart of a brute like you.


It finds a further echo in the description of the husband who is also 'A man in black with a Meinkampf look', who has been chosen for his similarity to the father in the hope that his presence will exorcise the daughter's obsession.

A. Alvarez recalls that Sylvia Plath described this poem as 'light verse':

When she first read me this poem a few days after she wrote it, she called it a piece of 'light verse'. It obviously isn't, yet equally obviously it also isn't the racking personal confession that a mere description or précis of it might make it sound.

The significance of such a term applied to 'Daddy' becomes clearer if we consider the theory of light verse held by W. H. Auden. Auden has written:

Light verse can be serious. It has only come to mean vers de société, Triolets, smoke-room limericks, because under the social conditions which produced the Romantic Revival, and which have persisted, more or less, ever since, it has only been in trivial matters that poets have felt in sufficient intimacy with their audience to be able to forget themselves and their singing-robes.

Auden equates the writing of 'light verse' with a homogeneous and slowly changing society in which the interests and perceptions of most men are similar; difficult poetry is produced in an unstable society from which the poet feels detached. Undoubtedly, at the time of writing, Auden saw himself as belonging to an unstable society, and his use of 'light verse’ is highly sophisticated in that he consciously adopted it as a means of communication for his social criticism; it is not, according to Auden, the natural way in which any modern poet would express himself. 'Daddy' may reasonably be said to be 'light' in the sense that Auden's early poetry is ‘light'. This quality is purely an attribute of form and does not in any way characterise the subject which is fully serious. The strong, simple rhythm, the full rhymes and subtle half-rhymes, the repetitive, incantatory vowel-sounds sweep the poem along in a jaunty approximation to a ballad. The mood of the poem is conversational, the daughter directly addresses the memory of the father with energy and feeling. The vocabulary is simple, the last line scenting almost too indulgently colloquial until we realise that the strategy of the whole poem has been to undermine emotion. When Sylvia Plath described this poem as 'a piece of light verse' she was focusing our attention on the flippant, choppy, conversational swing of the poem which, with its dramatic structure, gives a measure of impersonality to a subject which, less surely handled, could have been destroyed by either self-pity or sensationalism.

From Sylvia Plath: Her Life and Work. Copyright © 1973 by Eileen M. Aird

George Steiner: On "Daddy"

Born in Boston in 1932 of German and Austrian parents, Sylvia Plath had no personal, immediate contact with the world of the concentration camps. I may be mistaken, but so far as I know there was nothing Jewish in her background. But her last, greatest poems culminate in an act of identification, of total communion with those tortured and massacred. The poet sees herself on

An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew. . . .

Distance is no help; nor the fact that one is 'guilty of nothing'. The dead men cry out of th yew hedges. The poet becomes the loud cry of their choked silence:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer



Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

                    'Lady Lazarus'


Here the almost surrealistic wildness of the gesture is kept in place by the insistent obviousness of the language and beat; a kind of Hieronymus Bosch nursery rhyme.

Sylvia Plath is only one of a number of young contemporary poets, novelists, and playwrights, themselves in no way implicates in the actual holocaust, who have done most to counter the general inclination to forget the death camps. Perhaps it is only those who had no part in the events who can focus on them rationally and imaginatively; to those who experienced the thing, it has lost the hard edge of possibility, it has stepped outside the real

Committing the whole of her poetic and formal authority to the metaphor, to the mask of language, Sylvia Plath became a woman being transported to Auschwitz on the death trains. The notorious shards of massacre seemed to enter into her own being:

A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.

            'Lady Lazarus'


In 'Daddy' she wrote one of the very few poems I know of in any language to come near the last horror. It achieves the classic act of generalization, translating a private, obviously intolerable hurt into a code of plain statement, of instantaneously public images which concern us all. It is the 'Guernica' of modem poetry. And it is both histrionic and, in some ways, ‘arty', as is Picasso's outcry.

Are these final poems entirely legitimate? In what sense does anyone, himself uninvolved and long after the event, commit a larceny when he invokes the echoes and trappings of Auschwitz and appropriates an enormity of ready emotion to his own private design? Was there latent in Sylvia Plath's sensibility, as in that of many of us who remember only by fiat of imagination, a fearful envy, a dim resentment at not having been there, of having missed the rendezvous with hell? In and 'Daddy' the realization seems to me so complete. The sheer rawness and control so great, that only irresistible need could have brought it off. These poems take tremendous risks, extending Sylvia Plath's essentially austere manner to the very limit. They are a bitter triumph, proof of the capacity of poetry to give to reality the greater permanence of the imagined. She could not return from them.

From "Dying is an Art." In The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium. Ed. Charles Newman. Copyright © 1970 by Charles Newman and the Estate of Sylvia Plath

Helen McNeil: On "Daddy"

In "Daddy," perhaps Plath's most famous poem,. . . Otto Plath appears coded, first as the patriarchal statue, "Marble-heavy, a bag full of God / Ghastly statue with one gray toe." Then, shockingly, he becomes a Nazi, playing tormentor to Plath's Jew. Although Otto Plath came from Silesia, in what was then Germany, he was not a Nazi, nor was his daughter Jewish, nor is there evidence that he mistreated her. In a classic transference, "Daddy" transforms the abandoned child's unmediated irrational rage into qualities attributed to its object: if Daddy died and hurt me so, he must be a bastard; I hate him for his cruelty; everyone else hates him too: "the villagers never liked you.". . . Plath knew that she hadn't ever completed the process of mourning for her father, and both she and "Daddy" recognize that in some way she had used Hughes as a double of her lost father. . . ."Daddy" operates by generating a duplicate of Plath’s presumed psychic state in the reader, so that we reexperience her grief, rage, masochism, and revenge, whether or not these fit the ‘facts.'

From "Sylvia Plath," in Helen Vendler, ed. Voices and Visions: The Poet in America. (Random House, 1987).

Anne Stevenson: On "Daddy"

The Ariel poems emerged from an enclosed world - the crucible of Sylvia's inner being. Sometimes the enclosure is a hospital, sometimes it seems to be a fairground (as with "The Applicant" and "Lady Lazarus") or monstrous Grand Guignol ("Daddy") where fearsome, larger-than-life puppets cavort as they might before a mesmerized child. With "Daddy," written on the twelfth, the nursery-rhyme jingle is incantatory - a deadly spell is being cast. A ferocious rejection of "daddy" is taking place; the most damning charges imaginable are being hurled at him. Yet the wizardry of this amazing poem is that its jubilant fury has a sobbing and impassioned undersong. The voice is finally that of a revengeful, bitterly hurt child storming against a beloved parent.

[. . . .]

Anyone who has heard the recording of "Daddy" that Sylvia made for the British Council that October will remember the shock of pure fury in her articulation, the smoldering rage with which she is declaring herself free, both of ghostly father and of husband. The implication is that after this exorcism her life can begin again, that she will be reborn. And indeed on ethical grounds only a desperate bid for life and psychic health can even begin to excuse this and several other of the Ariel poems. . . .

From Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath. Copyright © 1989 by Anne Stevenson.

Robert von Hallberg: On "Daddy"

It took a long time for readers and critics to appreciate the importance of gender in Plath, and among confessional poets generally. Lowell confesses to a failure to sympathize adequately with his father. Plath, though, reveals a severity in her feelings about her father that makes questions of fairness or sympathy entirely moot. "Daddy, I have had to kill you," she states plainly. Hers is a stunningly performative poetic:

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.


Here in the last strophe of "Daddy" literal biographical truth is obviously irrelevant. The construction of a voice -- nasty, proud, murderous -- is what matters. The second and fourth lines here recover the meanness of an angry child, and the insistent rhymes running through the poems she composed in a rush just months before her suicide repeatedly evoke the source of strong feeling in childhood. After two decades in which American and English poets concentrated their efforts on complications of tone, carefully measured ironies, Plath breaks through to the art of the fantastically overdone.

From The Cambridge History of American Literature, Volume 8, Poetry and Criticism, 1940-1995. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. Copyright © Cambridge University Press.