Jean Cocteau once stated that "The poet doesn't invent. He listens." When creating poetry poets often look to the familiar or their own life. This sense of being adds an aspect of the true identity to the poetry and their words. It also allows the reader to gain some insight into the poet's life or even their feelings and thoughts. Often these revelations within their poetry reveal a thought about life, family or marriage. More often than not the childhood that these poets have experiences seems to affect their writing. Two poets who poetry exudes their thoughts about family life are Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" and Philip Larkin's "This be the verse". Both poems allow the readers to gain a perspective on each poet's views of family and marriage.
Sylvia Plath was born October 27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. Often considered to be one of the greatest feminist writers Plath's life was riddled with turmoil and an untimely death caused by suicide. Plath was the first of two children to her parents, Aurelia and Otto. Plath was considered a talented writer at a young age and had one of her first poems published right after high school and she received a full scholarship to college. However, there was one event that happened before these great accomplishments that caused much havoc in Plath's life. The death of Plath's father at the age of ten left an unnerving feeling in Plath's life that would stay with her. In her journal Plath's explains her reason for creating the poem "Daddy":
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Me, I never knew the love of a father, the love of a steady blood-related man after the age of eight (date of her father's diagnosis). My mother killed the only man who loved me steady through life: came in one morning with tears of nobility in her eyes and told me he was gone for good (Plath et. Kukil 231)
This intense feeling of loss that Plath expresses here is the same pain that the narrator expresses throughout the poem. It is not that she hates he father, but that she feels he left him and now she has no one to continue to love her the way he did "bit my pretty red heart in two/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"(). The death of Plath's father had impacted her life until she believed even ten years later that suicide would be the only way that she could be with him again.
The narrator in the poem attempts to release her feelings and disbelief with her father leaving her by comparing him to the most horrendous things that she can think of. In the seventh stanza, the narrator compares her father to Nazi who has come to ship her to an internment camp "An engine, an engine/Chuffing me off like a Jew/ A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen". The image or realization of her father leaving her to this world alone is as bad as if he had sent her off to a concentration camp. His ultimate death has left her to struggle each day as the Jews did in these camps. She is left by her father to tackle the struggles of everyday life by herself. Although she envisions her father as a Nazi, she can't help but to love him "Every woman adores a Fascist" (). Her father's death has made her lose all sense of God, because to her all she see is a swastika, ultimately the symbol that has come to destroy her sense of being. Her life no longer has any meaning because she is essentially doomed by this Nazi which is essentially the death of her father.
In the end, the narrator discusses how her father's death has affected her relationship with other men, "If I've killed one man, I've killed two--/The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year"(). These lines were also written by Plath with her life in mind. In her journal entry describing the poem Plath states that "I hated men because they didn't stay around and love me like a father: I could prick holes in them and show they were no father-material. I made them propose and then showed them they hadn't a chance" (P436). Identical to Plath, the narrator from the poem see herself as a vampire with other men; one who sucks the life out of them because they could not amount to what her father was to her. In them she is looking for a father and not a husband and destroys them because in the end they are not him.
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The intense passion that the narrator feels toward her father is similar to the character of Yolanda from How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents. Both the narrator and Yolanda feel that they no longer can receive the love that they want from their father. On one end the narrator turns to suicide as a possible solution, but Yolanda turns to rebellion by dating various men in order to get her father's attention. They also both possess an Oedipus complex. The narrator's love for her father seems to override any love that she can ever feel for a man. She looks for love in these men to replace the love that her father can no longer give her. Yolanda struggles so hard to get her father to love her that she seduces him with a kiss on her birthday. In the end, both the narrator and Yolanda still do not receive the love from their fathers. The narrator eventually believes that no man can amount to her father, dates them and then gets rid of them. Yolanda quickly marries a man from Germany name Otto to try to fulfill the love that she is missing. The name and ancestry of Yolanda's husband is also eerily similar to Plath's father.
The first line of Philip Larkin's poem "This be the verse" is both captivating and enticing. His use of explicit and obscene language attracts the reader to the opening of the poem. As simple as the word "fuck" is, it symbolizes a sort of extreme hate for something or an extreme belief about a topic. The topic of Larkin's poem is parenting or the influence that parents could have on their children and to Larkin it was not a positive view.
Philip Larkin was born on August 9, 1922 in Coventry. He was the second of two children and the only boy for his parents. Larkin seemed to live a good life despite having to deal with a father who was a Nazi-sympathizer. However as author Stephen Regan points out Larkin had a "general sense of frustration and alienation from the world" (138). Regan points out that in a 1939 cartoon drawn by Larkin, it depicts Larkin with his family however while all of his family is together, Larkin is off to the side alone. Larkin felt he had to steer clear of the family life because it was nothing more than a distraction. He also believed that "Above all, though, children are linked to adults by the simple fact that they are in process of turning into them. For this they may be forgiven much. Children are bound to be inferior to adults, or there is no incentive to grow up" (thinkexist). This theme of parental influence is evident throughout the poem.
The overall mood and tone of the poem is one of extreme anger. The narrator wants to make it clear to get across what parents can do to a child. It is as if the narrator has suffered has experienced the overall negative effect and wants to get his message across to the rest of the world. The fact the poem is entitled "This be the verse", may it seem of importance or something that should immediately be looked at. The narrator believes that parents essentially mess up children not because they want to, but because they were also affected by their parent's upbringing, "They fill you with faults they had/And add some extra for you" (). The faults are the ones that they received from their parents and the extra are the ones that they have learned through the years. The second stanza makes it clear that the reason their parents will mess them up is because they were messed up by their parents "But they were fucked up in their turn/By fools in old-style hats and coats"(). These old coats and hats allude to the old style of parents and how they force their old ideas onto their children. The narrator believes that there is no way to stop this constant passing on of ideas because "Man hands on misery to man" (). In the end, the narrator tells the audience that the only way to avoid this happening is to not have children at all.
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This belief of inevitable parental influence on a child is also evident in the short story "Final Dwarf" by Henry Roth. Similar to the narrator of the poem, the main character Kestrel from the story tries to break free from his father's out of style beliefs. Throughout the story he converses with his father about politics and everyday life and each time he tries to show his father how he does not share his father's own belief. Kestrel is similar to the narrator in believing that his father has adopted the old beliefs from his parents and is trying to pass it on him. However, Kestrel does not want to end up as "fucked up" as his father. He wants to try to break the bond. On the other hand, Kestrel's father believes that Kestrel is headed to danger because of his beliefs and will essentially change his views because it is inevitable. Both Kestrel and his father possess the beliefs of the narrator that parents have faults and essentially children come to share the same ideas of their parents.
Poetry allows for the purging of belief and feelings for the poet. Through poetry, the poet is able to reveal their life or even their personal views about particular situation. Plath's and Larkin's poems allowed for the reader to gain an insight view into their feelings and allow for a sense of catharsis through the poetry. For Plath it was the purging of her feelings about her father's death and for Larkin, it was the ability to express his views about parental influence. In the end, both poets have left their poems to a world who will always be captivated by their revelations about life.