When Sylvia Plath, at age eight, was told that her father had died, she said, "I'll never speak to God again" (source).
When Plath was four years old, her father Otto, a professor of German and biology at Boston University, became ill with what he would later find out was diabetes. By the time he sought medical care four years later, it was too late. One of his legs had to be amputated and he eventually died of complications from his long hospitalization.
His death threw the family into economic and emotional turmoil. Throughout the rest of her life, which she ended herself in 1963, Plath struggled with depression. Though she was a prolific poet, she published only one book of poetry, The Colossus, and one novel, The Bell Jar, while she was alive.
"Daddy" was written shortly before Plath's suicide in 1963, along with many of the other poems that ended up in her book Ariel, which was published after her death. Plath wrote these poems after her husband, poet Ted Hughes, left her for another woman. This already difficult change for Plath became more difficult as she was left to care for their two young children during a particularly harsh London winter. "Daddy" is disturbing on its own, but it becomes simply haunting the moment we picture Plath writing early in the morning before her children were awake, growing closer and closer to self-destruction.
Like all human beings, you have a father. You may love him, you may hate him, or maybe you've never even met him, but he is a part of you.
So, by nature, you're connected to the people who, for centuries, across continents, and spanning all genres of literature and entertainment, have written and made art about their relationships with their fathers. Shakespeare's plays often deal with father-child relationships. The pop culture epic Star Wars culminates with the discovery of an absent father. Even the Bible tells the story of an entire people whose "father" is far away.
Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" is part of this tradition, but it's not just about Plath's relationship with her father. It's also about topics such as death, love, fascism, brutality, war, marriage, femininity, and God – to name a few.
"Daddy" is a disturbing – but artful – howl from a woman who has lost her father and her husband. Be warned, Plath's language is as playful as it is scathing.
Sylvia Plath on Poets.org
Find her biography and links to her poems on the Academy of American Poets' website.
The Confessional Movement
Plath's poetry is considered to be a part of the Confessional movement, which was marked by very emotional, often autobiographical poetry. You can learn more about the movement here.
"A Celebration, this is"
This site, made and maintained by Plath scholar Peter K. Steinberg, has lots of information on Plath's life and work, as well as numerous photos.
Plath on Modern American Poetry
The University of Illinois provides commentary on a variety of Plath's poetry, as well as biographical information, photos, and an interview.
"You Could Say She Had a Calling for Death"
A New York Times article about Plath's life and Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems in.
Interview with Plath
A 1962 interview with Sylvia Plath. Plath discusses her poetry and inspiration.
Plath reads one of her most famous poems, "Lady Lazarus."
"Remembering Sylvia Plath"
An NPR All Things Considered episode on Plath.
Plath reads "Daddy"
Plath reads her famous poem, which is set to a slideshow.
Plath and Hughes
A 1956 photo of Plath and her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes.
A portrait Plath painted of herself in the early 1950s.
A classic portrait of the poet.
Plath as a baby with her parents.
The Collected Poems
Plath's poems, in chronological order. This collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Plath wrote in journals from the age of twelve until her death at age 30. The Unabridged Journals offer all of Plath's uncensored journal entries for the first time.
Plath's collection of poetry (including "Daddy") that she wrote just prior to her suicide.
A dramatization of Plath's life, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath and Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes.