Study Guide

Daddy Quotes

  • Gender

    With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
    And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
    I may be a bit of a Jew. (lines 37-40)

    These lines align gypsies with Jews – groups that were both persecuted during the Holocaust. In this poem, gypsies and Jewish people are aligned with the female speaker, and German Nazis are aligned with her father and husband. Thus, women are portrayed as victims and men are portrayed as persecutors.

    Every woman adores a Fascist, (line 48)

    Here, the idea that women are the victims of fascist, Nazi men, is twisted – women seem to be presented as willing victims, loving their persecutors. This quote may be sarcastic, but it raises the question of how much of women's victimization is their fault. Women, this quote implies, like to be overpowered.

    not
    Any less the black man who
    Bit my pretty red heart in two. (lines 54-56)

    This quote again shows the victimization of women. It portrays men as evil and black, and women as pretty and red.

    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. (lines 64-67)

    These lines set up the woman in the poem as suffering from the Electra complex, which theorizes that women seek men like their fathers. The speaker here is fulfilling the Electra complex by taking women's so-called adoration of fascists a little further by marrying one who is just like her father.

    The vampire who said he was you
    And drank my blood for a year,
    Seven years, if you want to know (lines 72-74)

    This is a disturbing portrait of marriage. The speaker's husband is a vampire who's been sucking her blood. And we thought that calling her father a devil was bad. But these lines align the two men – her father bit her red heart in two, and her husband is sucking her blood.

  • Mortality

    Daddy, I have had to kill you.
    You died before I had time – (lines 6-7)

    Here we get our first paradoxical look at mortality. It's not possible to kill someone who's already dead, but you can count on our speaker to try. These lines reveal the core of this poem – the speaker's father died, and she still hasn't coped with it.

    A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
    I began to talk like a Jew.
    I think I may well be a Jew. (lines 33-35)

    Here, the speaker references concentration camps, where millions of Jews died during the Holocaust. She is so distraught in the face of her dead father's memories – especially the memories of his German characteristics – that she feels like she's a Jew in the Holocaust, on her way to a tragic and mass death.

    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. (lines 57-60)

    These lines show us explicitly that the speaker's father's death led to an attempt to take her own life. She thought that, when she was dead, she could be with her father again, even if just her bones were close to his bones. Death is desirable for the speaker. She longs to know the boundaries of her own mortality.

    But they pulled me out of the sack,
    And they stuck me together with glue. (lines 61-62)

    Rather than showing us more of this speaker's obsession with death, these lines demonstrate the resilience of life. Unfortunately for our speaker, it's not a happy life that she's restored to. She feels like she's been pulled out of a sack and stuck together haphazardly.

    If I've killed one man, I've killed two – (line 71)

    We can guess that the speaker didn't kill her father – after all, she was only ten when he died. It also seems unlikely that she killed her husband, who is the second victim referenced here. But this line finally shows our narrator as the wielder, and not the victim, of mortality. Perhaps she'd prefer to have killed her father rather than to think of him as passing away as a result of something she can't control.

    Daddy, you can lie back now

    There's a stake in your fat black heart (lines 75-76)

    These lines treat death as a form of relaxation – the father can lie back in his grave now that he's been killed again. But this is no ordinary death – it's vampire death. The father is already dead, but has refused to die in the mind of our speaker. So she has to kill him as if he is a vampire, by putting a stake in his heart. But he can lie back now that he is dead, and leave his daughter alone.

  • The Supernatural

    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 (lines 8-11)

    These lines start us off with something pretty supernatural: a bag of God/statue that stretches across the entire United States. This image is pretty creepy. Just try to imagine a huge, Godly, ghastly statue stretched across the country. These lines set the tone of the entire poem – it's not bound by the limits of reality.

    With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
    And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack (lines 38-39)

    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. (lines 53-56)

    Now we start getting into the meaty, more sinister parts of the supernatural in this poem, starring the most supernatural of the supernatural – the devil. This devil man has bitten our speaker's heart in two. But worst of all, this creepy, devilish man is our speaker's father.

    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. (lines 57-62)

    Despite her father being evil, the speaker still seems to miss him. But she doesn't say so in plain terms. She misses her supernatural father in supernatural ways – he's dead, so she figures the way to be with him is to become dead herself. Death and suicide are things that happen in the real world, but becoming dead so you can communicate with another dead person – that's supernatural. To top it off, her suicide attempt doesn't work, because her rescuers stuck her together with glue, which sounds kind of like Dr. Frankenstein's monster.

    The black telephone's off at the root,
    The voices just can't worm through. (lines 69-70)

    Now we get into the details of talking to the dead. But, surprisingly, the way to communicate with the dead is not overly supernatural, at least on the surface. It's just a telephone – but one that can connect our speaker to her dead father.

    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. (lines 72-79)

  • Language and Communication

    Daddy, I have had to kill you. (line 6)

    This line is the first direct address (or apostrophe) that lets us know that this entire poem is written to the speaker's father. Throughout the poem, the speaker returns to this "you," saying "Daddy," just to remind us that, hey, we're talking to somebody here! This entire poem is a communication to the speaker's father, who, as the poem later tells us, was not easy to talk to even when he was alive.

    I used to pray to recover you. (line 14)

    Prayer is, after all, a way to communicate with God, or with those whom we've lost. Here, the speaker has just started to experiment with ways to communicate with her dead father. We see her struggling with this through the whole poem.

    Ach, du.

    In the German tongue, in the Polish town
    Scraped flat by the roller
    Of wars, wars, wars. (lines 15-18)

    Now the speaker is giving us a whole new language to work with – German, that she probably picked up from her German father. Throughout the poem, the father is shown as a German – a Nazi, to be specific. So it's appropriate that the speaker gets caught up in the German language. Just like the Polish town gets destroyed by wars, the speaker is destroyed by the German language.

    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. (lines 24-28)

    Now we see a more vivid description of how German is an obstacle to the speaker's communication with her father. She tells us how she can't speak to her father, and then we hear her stammering, saying "Ich, ich, ich, ich" – "I," in German. So not only is she struggling to talk, but she's having a hard time speaking the word "I" – a word essential to her identity, which has been overpowered by her father.

    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. (lines 30-35)

    Now that we've heard the speaker struggle to communicate in German, we get a glimpse of the German language's power over her – it's no longer a language, but a train, taking her away to a World War II concentration camp. German has overpowered her so much she even begins to speak like the victims of the German Nazis, like a Jew.

    The black telephone's off at the root,
    The voices just can't worm through. (lines 69-70)

    Here, the struggle to communicate is over – the speaker is taking back the power. She's disconnected the "black telephone" which connects her with her dead father. She's building up to the end of the poem here, telling her father, for the last time, that she is through.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    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. (lines 1-5)

    In the very start of the poem, we get an image of how our narrator is trapped – she's calling her father a shoe that she's been stuck inside of. Even more, by starting off with a nursery rhyme, she appeals to 1960s images of her gender, which focused on the role of women as mothers and housewives.

    The tongue stuck in my jaw.

    It stuck in a barb wire snare.
    Ich, ich, ich, ich, (lines 25-27)

    Even the speaker's tongue is stuck in this poem! She can't say the word "I." She appears to be so trapped by her fear of her dead father that she's unable to define herself.

    An engine, an engine
    Chuffing me off like a Jew.
    A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. (lines 31-33)

    The speaker brings up a terrifying image of confinement, that of the Jews imprisoned in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It's a big risk for the speaker to compare herself to a Jew – it's a serious topic that she could be seen to be taking lightly. But she feels that she has been, and that women have been, victimized enough to merit the metaphor.

    Every woman adores a Fascist,
    The boot in the face, the brute
    Brute heart of a brute like you. (lines 48-50)

    Here, the speaker is saying that every woman loves a fascist. Fascism is a very confining form of government, which trades freedom for tyranny. Yet these lines say that women love fascists, implying that women willingly put themselves in confinement by loving tyrannical men.

    The vampire who said he was you
    And drank my blood for a year,
    Seven years, if you want to know. (lines 72-24)

    These lines present marriage as a form of confinement. The man to whom our speaker said "I do" turned out to be a vampire, and drains her life's blood for their entire marriage. This is another place in the poem that reaches beyond the speaker and her father to comment on relationships between women and men in general.