This poem sounds like a dark, disturbing nursery rhyme. Violence has never before sounded so playful.
But the playfulness – the rhythmic lilting and over-the-top rhyme – makes the violence even creepier. This is the kind of nursery rhyme that the speaker's evil father would have sung to her.
There's a lot of rhyme in this poem even though it has no formal rhyme scheme. Oo sounds completely overwhelm this poem, but instead of being comforting, like they would be in a nursery rhyme, they're suffocating. They're so thick they drown the reader. Here's a quick tour of this poem's oo sounds: "do," "shoe," "achoo," "you," "blue," "du," "two," "root," "Jew," "true," "goo," "boot," and "brute" – and that's not even the whole poem, and it doesn't count repetition. All of this gushing oo makes this poem seem more disturbing than a nursery rhyme – it's not a bedtime story, but a howl in the night.
The title "Daddy" sets this up as an address to the speaker's father. Even though the word "daddy" is only used six other times in this 80-line poem, since the poem is titled "Daddy," we can guess from the start who "you" is in this poem.
It's important, though, that the poem is titled "Daddy" and not "Father," or even "Dad." "Daddy" is an affectionate name, one that a child would call her father when she's being cute, or when she wants something, like ice cream, or soda, or a pony. Also, little girls who are their fathers' pets are often referred to as "Daddy's little girl."
So it's ironic that he speaker uses the word "Daddy" to address the father that she has characterized as a Nazi, devil, and vampire. But the title isn't the only part of this poem that doesn't quite match the violent images of the speaker's father – the related "sound" of the poem is as contrast as well. It seems to us that the title "Daddy" fits with the singsong rhyme and other childish aspects of this poem, like the word "gobbledygoo" in line 42. But this playfulness, paired with the violence she describes, shows us the speaker's internal struggle between loving and hating her deceased father.
This poem shifts settings and most of them are metaphorical. So, instead of being in an actual place, we're taken from place to place in the speaker's mind.
The setting in her mind starts out as the black shoe in which the speaker claims to live, but which is actually a metaphor for her father. Then it moves to encompass the whole of the United States, mentioning San Francisco seals and the beautiful waters of a Massachusetts beach. This setting seems like it should be beautiful, but then we remember that there's a statue of the speaker's dead father across the entire United States, and that's pretty creepy.
Then we move to a place that is in Poland, but where German is spoken, that seems to be the place from which the speaker's father emigrated. We hear that this town has been destroyed by war, and the beauty of the beach from earlier in the poem is lost to the desolation of battle. But, since this town has a common name (which we never hear), we can't know which specific town the speaker is talking about.
Then, the poem is in Germany, but jumps back in time to World War II, and the speaker is on a train across the German countryside. She's headed to a concentration camp. Perhaps on the train, she sees the mountains of the Tyrol range, at the border of Austria and Italy, and thinks of Vienna, in Austria. We hear a lot about World War II – there are air forces, tanks, and her father turns into a Hitler-like character. There's even a swastika that blots out the sky. This part of the setting is sinister.
We get a brief break from the sinister setting, and are taken into the speaker's father's classroom. But just when we've caught our breath, we jump right back into a dark setting. This time, though, we're not just somewhere in history – we're somewhere mystical. There are devils, telephones with roots, and vampires. This is the kind of place where it's possible to put the bones of a dead person back together with glue.
By the end of the poem, we're in a village – which, potentially, is just a part of this same devilish place. The villagers are celebrating the death of a vampire, which gives us an idea of the kind of small town this is – full of suspicion and mysticism.
So, courtesy of our speaker's dark imagination, we've journeyed from the US to Germany, then back in time to World War II, and then even farther, to a mystical time when villagers believed in vampires.
Usually we're super-strict about keeping the speaker of a poem separate from the author of a poem. After all, poets often create fictional personas who they imagine to be speaking their work – not everything they write down is what they personally believe. But the line between the real-life Sylvia Plath and the speaker of "Daddy" is blurry. Plath's poetry is usually considered to be part of the Confessional movement, and "Daddy" certainly reads like a personal confession. Plath's father was a German immigrant, like the father in the poem. He died when she was young (eight years old), though not quite the same age as in the poem (ten years old). Plath, similar to the speaker in the poem, tried to commit suicide. Plath was married to her husband for about seven years when she wrote this poem, and the speaker's husband sucked her blood for seven years.
Despite these similarities, the speaker in this poem is different from Plath, as the characters of the speaker's father and husband are different from Plath's own father and husband. She has made herself, and them, into characters. Common sense and fact tell us that Plath's father was not really a Nazi, and her husband was not a vampire.
We can guess how Plath may have felt about her husband and father, but we shouldn't take anything about her relationships with these two men as fact from this poem. Sure, this poem may reflect how Plath felt at the moment she was writing this poem, but it would be unfair to make generalized conclusions about her relationships from it. One of the main benefits of writing poetry rather than, say, a memoir, is that it doesn't have to be non-fiction. You can stretch the truth in poetry, as Plath does in this poem.
The speaker is a persona that Plath created so that she could write a poem that may be based on her life, but isn't trapped by having to stick to the literal truth. Besides, if this poem were simply autobiographical, we'd miss out on all the other cool meanings that it could have – like "Daddy" being a metaphor for men in general, or a symbol of evil in the world.
So, now that we know the speaker is different from Plath, well, who exactly is she? She's a tortured woman, who lost her father when she was so young that he seemed huge and powerful, like God. Memories of him have caused her pain – they've made her want to die. When dying doesn't work, the speaker tries to find a husband just like her father. Her playful rhythm and rhyme juxtapose with the desperation and violence of her language, to make her words poisonous to these two men and their power over her. This poem is like a stake in the heart of her disturbing memories – by the end of the poem, she has killed them.
This poem has tons of tricky metaphors, references to places and historical events, and even words in a foreign language that could trip you up on your climb. At 80 lines, it's quite a long climb too. But we think the view from the top is worth it.
Plath sometimes uses such playful language, rhythm, and rhyme that you'd think you were reading a nursery rhyme. But don't be tricked – her singsong writing is not about nursery rhyme topics, but about life, death, femininity, and depression – serious, tragic matters. Plath's not afraid to tackle disturbing topics, and the playfulness of her language makes the often-violent images in her poetry more shocking.
Free verse means that there is no set pattern of rhythm or rhyme, and a quintain is a five-line stanza. There are 16 quintains breaking up this long poem.
Even though there is no specific rhyme scheme in "Daddy," there are a lot of end and internal rhymes. The end rhyme started with the first line, which ended in "do," and is repeated often, all the way to the last line, which ends in "through." The oo sound is overwhelming; just look at stanza 10, which ends in these two lines:
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
This poem is held together by sound as much as meaning, and rhymes and repetition can be found throughout.
Just like rhyme plays a big part in this poem without having a specific scheme, rhythm is important here even though it doesn't fit into a specific pattern. There is a lot of iambic verse, which means that the line is patterned by unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables. Let's look at line 1 as an example (the stressed syllables are bold and italic):
You do not do, you do not do.
While this iambic rhythm is not carried throughout the poem regularly, it pops up every now and then, making this feel lilting and rhythmic, but not over-the-top singsong-y.
Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
The speaker indicates that her German father is like a Nazi, and that she is like a Jew. This is a very powerful metaphor for how the speaker feels like she is a victim of her father, or perhaps for how she feels about men in general. But she doesn't come right out and call him a Nazi. Instead, she uses metaphors, imagery, and subtle wordplay to show us that he's like a Nazi.
At the end of this poem, the metaphor for the speaker's father and husband, and potentially all men, shifts from Nazis to vampires. These men go from being depicted as living horrors to undead horrors. We know that the speaker's father is dead, so it's super creepy to think that he's come back to haunt her as a vampire.
The speaker in this poem describes herself as small, and her father as immense. But for the most part she doesn't just come out and say so: she shows us with imagery and metaphors. This adds to the feel that the speaker is the victim in this poem, and makes her father seem more looming and scary.
If a fan of Cool Hand Luke, a classic movie starring Paul Newman, took a look at this poem, she'd probably quote the film and say, "What we have here is failure to communicate." As we have seen, the speaker has a hard time talking to her father, and eventually stops trying. Yet, this entire poem is addressed to the speaker's father; with 80 lines, it seems she desperately wants to say something to him. But, remember, her father is dead, so there's no way she could possibly get through to him. The knowledge that her father will never read this poem is probably what enables the speaker to write it. We won't analyze every time the speaker addresses her father because that would be the entire poem, but we'll take a look at specific instances where she expresses trouble communicating.
While this poem is at no point explicitly sexual, its speaker marries a man she thinks is just like her father – and both men happen to be compared to vampires. While not explicit, this does seem a little perverse. If this poem doesn't deserve a PG-13 rating for sex, it deserves it for violent imagery.