So, Sylvia, what’s for dinner?

I noticed on reading some comments on an old post here that somebody wrote, “every woman adores a fascist.”

Oddly, this is a line from a poem by feminist icon and poet Sylvia Plath. The poem reads as follows:

“Daddy

 

BY SYLVIA PLATH

 

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time——

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic

Where it pours bean green over blue

In the waters off beautiful Nauset.

I used to pray to recover you.

Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

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,

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.

And the language obscene

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.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat mustache

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.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

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.

I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,

And they stuck me together with glue.

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.

The black telephone’s off at the root,

The voices just can’t worm through.

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.

Daddy, you can lie back now.

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.”

 

The poem seems  grossly unfair to her father, Otto Plath. Of all things, he was a scientist whose specialty was bumblebees.

But Sylvia cast him as a fascist and said that women love fascists. If I am reading the poem correctly, she also indicts her husband  (poet Ted Hughes) as another sadist whom she loved. (It does seem that Ted was a very sexually dominant man.)

She makes a lousy feminist icon, despite her powerful poetry and suicide  (the title of this post is a tasteless joke).

There are reasons to suspect that she was a masochist. She certainly sounds like one in that poem. And she claims that all women are.

Sylvia Plath finger puppet:

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18 responses to this post.

  1. Depends when she wrote it, did she know by that time that Ted was having an affair with Assia Wevill? However she felt about it, it cannot have sat well with her manic depressive tendencies. (Talking about the Hughes issue, not the Daddy issue).

    Reply

  2. I like “The Arrival of the Bee Box”. I wondered what happened to the bees after she died.

    Reply

    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 12:26 am

      I got myself “Ariel” at Christmas. I have a tradition of buying myself a couple of poetry books at Xmas. (The other this year was Les Murray’s On Bunyah.) I have read Plath (or Mrs Hughes as she liked to be known) on the balloons in the house (which is really well done) and of course I knew about Daddy.

      I have Ted Hughes’ letters and he seems a nice chap, but clearly he was a real ladykiller as they used to say. And there was a biography of him recently, which got panned mostly, which argued that he was sexually sadistic (he was supposed to have used one woman so violently that her vagina “ruptured”, whatever that means.)

      So, I was in the mood to notice the reference to her husband in “Daddy”. What else can “I do, I do” mean than a reference to marrying Ted?

      It is obviously a good thing if the slight sadism in the typical man meets the right level of masochism in a particular woman. In this respect, Ted and Sylvia were well-matched. There is a quote from Plath somewhere along the lines that she wants to have babies “in great pain”. Anyway, Sylvia should have been right for Ted in that respect. They were both physically attractive too. I have seen the famous photo of Ted standing next to Philip Larkin, and Larkin makes Hughes look like Flash Harry.

      Reply

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 12:27 am

        I have read The Cows on Killing Day in Murray’s book. A risky poem to write, but I think it works, and it is bloody sad.

      • That recent Hughes biography I think has been panned for being deceptively scandalous.

        Regardless, I do find it puzzling trying to reconcile Hughes apparent sexual aggression, and his selfishness in his marriage, with his – beautifully gentle and compassionate – animal poetry. His poem A March Calf is so touching.

      • The Baron has used The Cows on Killing Day to stimulate discussion in her classes. It makes an interesting comparison with Hughes ‘A March Calf’.

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 2:49 am

        I can’t say I admire what I have read of his poetry. I should be susceptible to his nature poetry but I have the same trouble I have with Les Murray on nature (eg. his onamatopoeic bat poem) – that they would be better as short natural history essays.

        Yes, there is something unclear about Hughes. He was a real square in some ways, natural Poet Laureate. And he married a girl who should have been right for him. It’s a mystery. Perhaps “the mystery of evil”?

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 2:51 am

        The Baron?

      • My wife. Old blog name.

      • I find Hughes’ poetry remarkable. It’s often very unclear but he sets out to – and largely succeeds – recapture an old kind of pagan wildness in his verses. Many of his odd little verses seem to crop up in children’s books and really stand out.

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 2:59 am

        I will give it another go.

  3. Posted by Glengarry on January 30, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    A grand example of daddy issues. I wonder if the fact that he died when she was ten (right around puberty) made it extra sensitive?

    Here she reads it herself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM
    I’m sorry to say I find her voice inappropriately funny.

    Reply

  4. Not all Sylvia’s opinions or sayings are to be taken as “gospel” 🙂

    Reply

    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 4:43 am

      No, I hope not. It is always difficult to separate the real person from the persona. They are inextricably linked in her case. She seems to have been a confessional poet, as they say.

      Actually, I think it is a silly poem. Hysterical. And she poisons the wells with her Nazi imagery.

      Reply

      • Hysterical I think so 🙂

      • Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 4:51 am

        Some Sylvia quotes:

        “I began to see why woman-haters could make such fools of women. Woman-haters were like gods: invulnerable and chock-full of power. They descended, and then they disappeared. You could never catch one.”

        ” For some reason the most important thing to me was actually seeing the baby come out of you yourself and making sure it was yours. I thought if you had to have all that pain anyway you might just as well stay awake. I had always imagined myself hitching up on to my elbows on the delivery table after it was all over — dead white, of course, with no makeup and form the awful ordeal, but smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist, and reaching out for my first little squirmy child and saying its name, whatever it was.”

        I do think she was a very fine poet. I just think that “Daddy” is a foolish manipulative poem.

  5. Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 31, 2016 at 5:53 am

    An interview with the young couple, from 1961. They were both attractive:

    Reply

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