April is National Poetry Month!

Okay, so we’re a little late in the game — almost 2/3 of the way through April — but I couldn’t resist doing a poetry shout-out.  I tend to be particular about poems.  I’m usually somewhat ambivalent, but the ones I like, I love.  So here is one of those poems that I love: Daddy, by Sylvia Plath.  It has an incredible rhythm and rhyme to it.  It’s a dark poem, but in my opinion the best poems make you want to read them out loud, and this one certainly does.

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.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
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
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
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.
I thought every German was you.
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.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-- 

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
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.
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.
And then I knew what to do.
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.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
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.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

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6 Responses to “April is National Poetry Month!”

  1. LeeB. says:

    Wow, that is some poem!

  2. Tee says:

    That was a really dark poem, Jane. On a more light-dark tone, my Dad memorized the following poem and recited it often at family gatherings and wherever else he could, especially when requested. It’s “The Face on the Bar Room Floor” written in 1887 by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy.

    Face on the Bar Room Floor
    by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy (1887)

    It was a balmy summer evening and a goodly crowd was there,
    Which well nigh filled Joe’s barroom on the corner of the square.
    As songs and witty sayings came through the open door,
    A vagabond crept slowly in, and posed upon the floor.

    “Where’d he come from?” Someone said, “The wind must’ve blown him in.”
    “What does he want?” another cried. “Whiskey, rum, or gin?”
    “Hey, Toby! Sic ‘em…if you’re equal to the work.”
    “I wouldn’t touch him with a fork.” “He’s filthy as a turk.”

    The bantering the poor wretch took with staunch and goodly grace.
    He even smiled, as though he thought he’d struck the proper place.
    “Come, boys, I know there’s burly hearts among such good a crowd.
    To be in such good company would make a deacon proud.

    “Give me a drink…that’s what I want…I’m out of funds, you know.
    When I had cash to treat the crowd, my hands were never slow.
    What? You laugh as though this pocket had never held a söu;
    There was a time when I was fixed as well as any one of you.

    “Say, thanks. That braced me nicely. God bless you, one and all.
    When I pass this good saloon, I’ll pay another call.
    Give you a song? I can’t do that. My singing days are past.
    My voice is cracked, my throat’s worn out, and my lungs are failing fast.

    “But give me another drink and I tell you what I’ll do…
    I’ll tell you a funny story…a fact…I promise you.
    That I was once a decent gent, not one of you would think.
    But I was, a few years back. Please, give me another drink.

    “Fill it up, Joe. I’d like to put some life into my frame.
    The little drinks you boys drink here are, to me, so awful tame.
    Say…five-fingers…and corking whiskey, too.
    Landlord, I thank you very much. And boys, my best regards to you.

    “You’ve treated me pretty kindly, and I’d like to tell you how
    I’ve come to be the dirty sot that stands before you now.
    I was once a decent gent with muscles, frame, and health
    And, but for one costly blunder, could have made a lot of wealth.

    “I was a painter…not one that daubed on bricks and wood,
    But an artist, and for my age, was rated pretty good.
    I worked hard at my canvas, and was bidding fair to rise,
    For gradually I could see the stars of fame before my eyes.

    “I painted a picture, it was called The Cause Of Fame.
    It brought me fifteen hundred pounds, and added to my name.
    And then I met a woman…now comes the funny part…
    With eyes that petrified my brain and sank into my heart.

    “Why don’t you laugh? It’s funny, that this vagabond you see
    Could ever love a woman…and expect her love for me.
    But it was so. And for those weeks her smiles were freely given.
    And when her lovely lips touched mine, it carried me to Heaven.

    ‘Did you ever see a woman for whom your soul you’d give,
    With a form like the Milo Venus, too beautiful to live;
    With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor,
    and a wealth of chestnut hair?

    “I was working on a portrait, one afternoon in May,
    Of a fair-haired boy, a friend of mine, who lived across the way.
    And Madeline admired it, and much to my surprise,
    Said she’d like to know the man that had such dreamy eyes.
    “It took not long to know him and before the month had flown,
    My friend, he, stole my darling. And I was left alone.
    Ere the years of sadness have passed upon my head.
    The jewel I loved, so tarnished, faded. Now, my love is dead.

    “That’s why I took to drinking. Why, I never saw a smile.
    I thought you’d be amused, and laughing all the while.
    My friends…why, there are teardrops in your eyes.
    Laugh, like me. It’s only babes and women who should cry.

    “Say, give me that chalk with which you mark the baseball score,
    And you’ll see the lovely Madeline upon this barroom floor.
    If you’ll just give me another drink, I will be very glad
    To draw, right here, the picture of the face that drove me mad.”

    Another drink…and with the chalk, the vagabond began
    to sketch the face that well might buy the soul of any man.
    Then as he placed another lock upon the shapely head,
    With fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture…dead.

  3. DabneyAAR says:

    This is in my top ten.

    BIOGRAPHY OF SOUTHERN RAIN

    Kenneth Patchen

    Rain’s all right. The boys who physic
    through town on freights won’t kick
    if it comes; they often laugh then, talking
    about the girl who lived down the block,
    and how her hair was corn-yellow gold
    that God could use for money. But rain,
    like memory, can come in filthy clothes too.

    The whole upstairs of space caved in that night;
    as though a drunken giant had stumbled over the sky–
    and all the tears in the world came through.
    It was that. Like everyone hurt crying at once.
    Trees bent to it, their arms a gallows for all
    who had ever died in pain, or were hungry, since
    the first thief turned to Christ, cursing. . .

    Then, out of the rain, a girl’s voice–her hand
    on my arm. “Buddy, help me get this train.”
    Her voice was soft. . . a cigarette after coffee.
    I could hear the clickdamnitclick of the wheels;
    saw the headlight writng something on the rain.
    Then I saw her face–its bleeding sores–I didn’t
    ask her if she had ever been in love
    or had ever heard of Magdalen and Mary
    or why she wanted to leave that town.

    Do you see what I mean about the rain?

  4. Jane AAR says:

    Tee, that’s a good one! (and impressive that your dad memorized it). It sort of reminds me of The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service (http://www.potw.org/archive/potw22.html)

  5. Tee says:

    Jane AAR: It sort of reminds me of The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service (http://www.potw.org/archive/potw22.html)

    You’re right, Jane. There is a cadence or rhythm to both poems and their stories that is similar. My Dad loved that poem and would eek it out at almost no persuasion. We heard it so often, I actually memorized about half of it myself. And he used all the inflections in his voice that he was able to keep his “audience” interested. Sorry I took up so much space with it. I should have provided the web link as you did.

  6. Missie says:

    Excellent poems, all! I was familiar with Plath’s “Daddy,” but the others are new to me.

    James Dickey’s “Cherrylog Road” comes to my mind:

    http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/2003/03/cherrylog-road-james-dickey.html

    As does “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning:

    http://barney.gonzaga.edu/~jdavis6/poem.html

    But seeing as it’s baseball season here, I can’t leave out “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer ;-)

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174665