Sylvia Plath’s life was tragically short, but she managed to produce some powerful and extremely poignant works. In this recording, she reads aloud her poem Daddy, the affectionate title of which contrasts ironically with the tone of the verse. Plath saw her father Otto, who died when she was eight, as an oppressive, authoritarian figure. The Holocaust imagery, “An engine, an engine / Chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen,” has long been taken to suggest that her father held fascist, pro-Nazi sympathies, and in 2012 newly released FBI files showed that he had indeed been investigated on suspicion of entertaining such beliefs.
In this recording, Plath’s voice is strong and measured, with assured pronunciation of the German phases like ‘Ach, du’ that seems to contradict the poem’s portrayal of German as a ‘language obscene’. It indicates the powerful spirit of a woman who struggled with depression for much of her life, as well as an extremely troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes. Her use of so sensitive a subject as the Holocaust for a metaphor in Daddy is controversial, but it certainly achieves the effect of portraying her father as part of a cruel and terrible past that haunted the rest of her life, and from which she was never quite able to escape, “I have always been scared of you.”