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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.