Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” and Charles Bukowski’s “My Old Man” both talks about their father in an emotional yet negative light. This similarity alone can already distinguish the numerous similarities in Plath and Bukowski’s personal lives. However, there are also differences between the two poems and most of these differences lie on the construction and poetic elements of the works. Nonetheless, both works are confessional in structure as they are both taken out from the two authors’ real life experience with their fathers.
Comparison of the Poems in relation to the Authors’ Lives
It is noticeable that the poems “Daddy” and “My Old Man” talks about the speakers’ early recollection of their fathers which are quite traumatic and unhappy. The first stanza of the two poems already gives out the entire piece’s context, tone and objective. In “Daddy”, Sylvia Plath made use the metaphorical image of a “black shoe” (line2) which most likely resembles her relationship to her father.
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 (1-5).
The tone of “Daddy” seems to be more like a child voicing his or her dilemmas to the subject of the poem which is Plath’s father. The first line, “You do not do, you do not do” (Plath 1) already coveys the objective of the writer to voice out her opinion regarding her father’s tyranny over her. The reference to the shoe therefore states that the poet consider herself as the foot inside the shoe “Barely daring to breathe or Achoo” (Plath 5). Plath’s construction of her poem includes more metaphorical images than Bukowski’s “My Old Man” which primarily used narrative tone to describe a specific aspect of his life with his father.
In the first stanza of “My Old Man”, Bukowski indulges in narrating a certain incident in his life that he cannot forget. It was the time when he came home drunk and his mother was waiting for him outside the house to inform him that is father as read all his stories and was threatening to kill him.
16 years old
during the depression
I’d come home drunk
and all my clothing-
shorts, shirts, stockings-
suitcase, and pages of
would be thrown out on the
front lawn and about the
Like Plath’s tone in “Daddy”, there is a certain air of rebellion as the speaker quotes, “I can whip his / ass . . .” (Bukowski 17-18). This can be similar to the tone of Plath’s first line “You do not do, you do not do” (Plath 1) which seems to be threatening to the father. It is clear that the time these two poems are written, the fathers have already passed away; therefore, giving the writers enough strength and courage to voice out their hidden grudges towards their fathers.
However, the two poems also involve a secret longing for their fathers’ care. The last line of Bukowski’s poem insinuates a poignant sensation that he and his father never got too close in their relationship. When he gave his father the story about the rich man, who went out after having a huge fight with his wife and died when his horse kicked him, he considered that incident to be the closest bond they ever got.
and he took it
and walked out
and closed the door.
I guess that’s
as we ever got (Bukowski 67-72).
The poignancy of the failure of a meaningful child-father relationship is also evident in the 12th stanza of Plath’s “Daddy” which talks about the personal burden that she went through when her father died.
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 (57-60).
Despite all these similarities in Plath and Bukowski’s works, the differences in structure are quite visible. These differences include the Plath’s preference to use metaphorical imageries much in contrast to Bukowski’s use of narrative style. Both poets were obviously recollecting their memories with their fathers but their unique style of presenting it distinguishes one poem from another even though they have a common theme. Plath used the image of Adolf Hitler, Nazis and a black shoe to further elaborate the hard situation that she had with her father. On the other hand, Bukowski made use of particular recollection with his father and allowed it to represent the entire nature of his relationship with his father. Simply put, although Plath’s work is longer than Bukowski, both poems still resorted to providing a vivid image in the readers’ mind by means of metaphors, symbolism and figurative language.
The language of the two pieces also differs in tone and structure. Bukowski’s format seems more informal due to the consistent use of small caps in the narrative except for the quotations. In contrast, Plath capitalizes every first letter in every line. There is also an ambience of maturity in the words of Bukowski which is a bit absent in Plath’s. Plath’s poem is more dramatic in form because of a child’s voice that seems to be telling it. the use of words such as “Daddy” an endearing reference to a father and the use of “Achoo” denote a meaning that it is a child voice within the poem. On the other hand, Bukowski’s technique is more direct to the point. His meaning is more literal than Plath’s.
There is indeed a great deal of comparisons to be concluded I Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” and Charles Bukowski’s “My Old Man”. Their similarities range from the common theme of expressing there emotions towards their father to their comparable styles of using symbolisms. However, their differences in having their own style and structure formation serve as the poems’ determinant with regard to the uniqueness of their works. No matter how they try to voice out their feelings of abhorrence towards their fathers, there is no denying that these two men are still their parent and have obviously made a great influence in molding them into two of the world’s greatest poets of their time.
- Bukowski, Charles. “my old man.” Love Is A Dog From Hell. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1977. 292.
- Plath, Sylvia. “Daddy.” 100 Poems by 100 Poets: An Anthology. Ed. Harold Pinter, Geoffrey Godbert, Anthony Astbury. New York: Grove Press, 1986. 110-113.