The first two stanzas of the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath are deceptively simple and sound more like a strange nursery rhyme than an angry depiction of the speaker’s father. An analysis of the straight rhyme scheme in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath lulls the reader into a hypnotic state and the language is relatively free from the kind of ominous and dark imagery and terms that will arrive as the poem by Sylvia Plath progresses. This nursery rhyme’s innocence is obliterated quickly with each and with the images and language of Nazism and several weighty references to horrible wars. Although the reader of the poem gets the impression of the “daddy” depicted in the poem by Sylvia Plath, he does not exist outside of images of men from history or historical photographs. He is, in many senses, a bland character rather unworthy of analysis since there is nothing that separates him a common Nazi—or even Hitler himself. In this sense, the father in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath cannot be viewed outside of these images from history and thus he loses any realistic character traits in favor of this more generic description of a “typical” fascist.
The only image of the speaker’s father in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath the reader is given that is original, that is, outside of stereotyped images of Nazis or soldiers, is the rather absurd picture of a man comes in one of the important set of lines in “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, “Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, / Ghastly statue with one gray toe / Big as a Frisco seal.” While it may not make sense for the speaker to combine such images as a heavy bad, a grim statue, and a giant seal, it is important to point out that these are all weighty and gray objects or images. It would be easy to think at this early stage of analysis of “Daddy” by Syliva Plath that this is simply because the man is portly, but as the poem by Sylvia Plath continues it seems as though she is conjuring up a different kind of weight for the reader—a spiritual weight. The color gray is in some ways a heavy color itself since it is often associated with dark full rain clouds and the “panzers” (German tanks) that were gray and heavy as well. By setting the tone and “color” of the poem early on, the reader is more prepared for the added weight of an oppressive history and its associated images. The heaviness is also expressed by Sylvia Plath’s use of images such as rollers that “scrape flat” German and Polish towns and even the German language itself is used to convey a sense of weight and history as it is a notoriously thick and requires that the tongue remain depressed for a number of words.
The first part of the poem by Sylvia Plath is preparing the reader for the more intense and even painful images that are about to ensue with the lines “It stuck in a barb wire snare / ich, ich, ich, ich, / I could hardly speak / I thought every German was you.” Here the speaker, without a great deal of analysis into the words themselves, finds the language oppressive and difficult to speak which further enhances the reader’s sense of weight. More importantly, the fact that the speaker thinks every German is her father is important because this recognizes that her conception of him is based in the same stereotypical images from history the reader is likely to conjure up without a thought—images from the second World War that are recognizable as such but the faces of all the men might as well be the same. When the speaker mentions that she thinks every German is her father this also indicates that she feels that the German people themselves are part of this unpleasant heaviness and even their language binds and constrains her. This is a more disturbing side to any poetry analysis of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath because it places the reader in that uncomfortable place of “lumping together” groups of people, just as happened in this disastrous period in history.
There is the sense one gets from even a basic analysis of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath” that all Germans are the same and can be lumped together by cause of a common history (and in this case, a very tragic and unfortunate history) continues when the narrator, when trying to think of her father considers those German and Polish towns that had been “scraped flat” by the roller of “wars wars wars” and can only think, “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.” With so much sameness, especially as the poem progresses and all Germans are seen to her to be implicated in this Nazi-infused historical imagination, the true description of her father becomes lost, save for the fact that the reader realizes he’s as “big as a Frisco seal.” All other images are closely associated with a stereotypical version and image of history—one in black and white—, which could be another reason why the poem by Sylvia Plath is so consciously devoid of color.
The full weight of history the “German implications” in this poem are under the surface and require teasing apart through careful analysis for the first several stanzas and the country’s (and presumably her father’s) Nazi past is only hinted at as she prepares the reader by setting up the gray and the images of weight. When the narrator does finally integrate the Nazi imagery into the poem, there is little warning. Her new stanza badly begins (although still in that ironic sing-songy nursery rhyme tone) “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.” If there had existed any doubt in the reader’s mind about her intentions to relate the negative side of German history, this stanza would have convinced one otherwise. There are no complicated metaphorical allusions or subtle word-play, the narrator of this poem by Sylvia Plath comes right out with it and names the unspeakable—Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen which not only break any sense of rhyme, but intrude heavily on the subtlety that came before it. Out of the five sentences in this stanza, three of them end with the word “Jew” and this is directly in opposition with the names of the three camps mentioned ahead in between.
The full weight of a sad history is expressed in this poem and although it begins with open simplicity and a childlike tone, the subject matter is the stuff of nightmares rather than anything near innocent. In fact, while the nursery rhyme nearly charms the reader for the first two or three stanzas, by the end of the poem it can be seen as nothing more than cruel literary irony. It almost seems to have been enough that the images were gray and dark throughout the beginning but the poem only sinks farther into the deepest, most hellish depths of the historical imagination. Without photographs and vivid accounts of WWII and the many other forms of communication during that period, this may have been a much different poem since much of the impact lies within the associations the reader makes with a stores set of images of what a “Nazi should look like” and in the end, perhaps it should at least make the reader recognize that they may be prone to lumping together history in the attempt to for a solid picture—albeit a dim gray one.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Poetry Analysis of “Dolce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen • Summary and Analysis of the Poem “Departmental” by Robert Frost • Poem Analysis of “Traveling Through the Dark” by William Stafford • Poem Analysis of “Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas • Analysis of the Poem “Pit Pony” by William Greenway • Converging Themes in War and Poetry : Szymborska and Komunyakaa