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Examining The Poem Daddy By Sylvia Plath English Literature Essay

Confessionalism in the Poems “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Skunk Hour” by Robert Lowell. Confessional free verse was the dominant way of writing poetry during the 20th century. Allen Ginsberg Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, and William De Witt Snodgrass are all considered confessionalists. In their works, they tell stories that include intimate details about their lives. Poems are most often about sickness, sexuality and despair and paint a gloomy picture of the world. “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Skunk Hour” by Robert Lowell are two typical confessionalism works that view the sad perspective the authors have.

The two poems have similar structure consisting of stanzas. Sylvia Plath shows the hatred to her father and explains how and with what she remembers him. For her he is just a collective image of the times she has lived in. Unlike Plath, Robert Lowell does not use a person to depict the depressing image to the reader – he tells of a declining Maine sea town where people of the past are fated and vanishing. Both poems use symbolism and metaphors to imply the despondent nature of their writers’ feelings.

The first two stanzas of “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath seem more like a bizarre rhyme than an enraged description of the author’s father. The language here does not contain the dismal and depressing imagery that come later when the poem continues. Plath refers to herself as a foot, and her father is represented as the shoe in which she has lived. Thus, it is logical to think that Plath sees in her father safety and reliability. The black color, however, symbolizes the oppression the daughter had to endure:

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. (Plath 1-5)

Later on, the reader gets the idea of the “daddy” shown in the poem, but he does not seem to be seen outside the pictures of historical figures. He is an unappealing person who does not deserve to be analyzed because there is nothing that makes him different from a typical Nazi. The father loses any true personal features because of his description as a conventional fascist: “I have always been scared of you, / With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. / And your neat mustache...” (41-43).

In the poem there are elements of aggression where the tone changes from childish to a more commanding one. Plath is trying to restore control and simultaneously blames her father for leaving her. The sensation of desertion and solitude is also visible in the time context in which she was writing in. The awareness of the people at that time was changing and they began to question the existence of God – they did not believe that their lives had meaning. The use of phonetics plays a part in the hostile tone of the poem, especially stark words like “ich” (27) and “ach, du” (15).

The topics predominant in „Daddy” are coercion and liberation. The idea of repression is obvious when Sylvia Plath mentions the metaphors “Nazi” and “Jew” (32) to illustrate herself and her father. That picture suggests that the daughter is reliant on her father for her well-being.

“Skunk Hour” by Robert Lowell is symmetrically divided in two parts with four stanzas in each. The first part describes the poet’s social surroundings in the small town of Castine located in Maine. The second part tells of the author’s prurience and emerging folly. The poem is similar in structure and rhymes to “Daddy” by Plath but paints a gloomy picture using the image of the deserted town.

The poem starts with a peculiar heiress who favors the “Queen Victoria’s century” (Lowell, 9) to the present times but who is unable to stop the social degeneration. She possesses everything in her small world; she does not seem to know other way of connection than that of possession. She might be a replacement for Lowell’s mother, but actually she is Lowell himself and his fears of what he could turn into: a lonely person of the past, entrenched in his social status: “Nautilus Island’s hermit / heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; /  her sheep still graze above the sea” (1-3).

Later in the poem, Lowell shows the forsaken town through his eyes. After the change of the season, the summer millionaire has left and the “decorator brightens his shop for fall” (20). In stanza five the author enters directly in the poem and with pity of the foregone time remembers how he has spied on the “love-cars” (27) when the town was alive.

Except for the skunks, no one else is in the town. They are not frightened by the desolation. They are looking for something to eat in the shadows: “only skunks, that search / in the moonlight for a bite to eat. / They march on their soles up Main Street …” (37-39). The skunks are viewed as outcasts, radicals, characters of power who have overcome the sleepy town’s Main Street and whose bright colors ‒ “white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire” (40) – come out in strong distinction to the gray “chalk-dry and spar spire / of the Trinitarian Church” (41-42). The reader can sense Lowell’s awe of them as they symbolize hypothetical freedom.

The tone of the poem is completely different from the one we have in “Daddy” by Plath. Here, it brings despair – the author does not want to be alone but he is. The skunks, however, bring some kind of hope at the end of the poem. They are the only ones in the town and do not care that it has been deserted. They keep trying to survive.

The confessionalists Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell open up and talk about their intimate feelings and experiences in the poems “Daddy” and “Skunk Hour”. Both of them use stanzas, rhymes and metaphors for the structures and contents of their works. The similarities, however, stop here. Plath describes her father in order to imply the hardships she has been through and to express her hatred towards him. Lowell uses the image of the abandoned town on the seacoast of Maine to denote his loneliness and hope for better. The tone in the first poem is aggressive, while in the second it is depressive.

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