Poetry Comparison: Sylvia Plath ‘Daddy’, a poem written by Sylvia Plath, was written just four months before her suicide and describes a girl’s rough relationship with her father. Some believe that the poem might also be a reference to her husband, Ted Hughes, who she also had a very up-and-down relationship with. The poem attracted some rage from critics on account of its use of the Holocaust as a metaphor for the father-daughter relationship described.
There is enough material from Plath’s life to compare even though she committed suicide at the age of 30. Another famous poem of hers, ‘Lady Lazarus’, uses the Holocaust as a metaphor of oppression. This theme probably connected with Plath because she was a first-generation immigrant with an Austrian mother and German father who were both alive during World War II. Daddy’ alludes not only to Plath’s troubled relationship with her father before his death, but also the crisis of faith she suffered after he passed away. Lines like “marble-heavy, a bag full of god” and “I used to pray to recover you; ach, du,” make it seem like that the death of her father turned her away from religion. In ‘Lady Lazarus” however, Plath describes her struggle with life and her view of suicide as being a beautiful thing with the use of many different supernatural metaphors.
After a long monologue describing the oppression and abuse she feels she is suffering in life and uses a Nazi-Jew metaphor as the main idea, the poem ends with the narrator being killed via incineration. Although Plath has the main character in the poem reborn as possibly a phoenix, or some other sort of mythological creature, the metaphor, is shows her positive feelings towards death and its restorative properties hint at some kind of faith, and the poem ends sweetly and triumphantly.
This is almost opposite of the feeling in ‘Daddy’. Though ‘Lady Lazarus’ describes Plath’s frustrating relationship with living in general, ‘Daddy’ is seemingly aimed at two specific people: her father, a German man who she compares to a Nazi, and her husband, who she seems to refer to in the line “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. Plath met her husband a bit more than seven years before her suicide, making it very possible that he was the ‘vampire’ referred to. ‘Daddy’ is more specific in its description of Plath’s ‘enemies’, singling out these two men as the causes of her pain and many of the mental and emotional problems she suffered throughout her life.
She uses the metaphor of a vampire many times as well, comparing her father to a creature that she desperately tried to please and relate to, but who only wounded and destroyed her. Plath references her first suicide attempt, one she made at the age of twenty, in the line “At twenty I tried to die and get back, back, back to you”, identifying Otto Plath, her father and the impact his death had on her as a possible trigger for her suicidal feelings.
In this poem, Plath seems aware of the fact that being suicidal and emotionally disturbed is negative and unhealthy, while in ‘Lady Lazarus’, she celebrates it. Though the exact date when Plath wrote ‘Lady Lazarus’ is unknown, many critics have speculated that it was even closer to the time of her suicide, since the poem hails death and seems to have a running theme of anticipation.
All in all, Sylvia Plath was a depressed, unreliable, and mentally ill woman, but she was also one of the greatest poets of all time. Her work can be used to chart her highs and lows in mental health, and her decision to write from an entirely female perspective gave American poetry a unique point of view. Though her life was troubled and tragically cut short, her poems and her refusal to suffer abuse from the men in her life have inspired scores of women in the years following her death.