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A response to 'Daddy' and 'Digging'.

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Introduction

A response to 'Daddy' and 'Digging' by Michael Peel Many of us are inexplicably linked to our own fathers: emotionally tied in strange ways. 'Daddy' and 'Digging' account for the relationships between father and daughter, and father and son, but do so with impulsive desire, and longing understanding for something that may never be understood. A mysterious love attracts both Plath and Heaney to their own fathers, something that they both understand very well, in part, but which also mystifies them. For Plath, this manifests into an almost deranged, turbulent deluge of confused emotions that contradict her more open feelings of hate of her father. Heaney's contemplative mood reaches out to delve into a previously clouded attraction to the cold, physical robustness of his father that he feels he lacks with his well-to-do world of pen and paper. There is a marvellously rich sense of admiration for 'real work' in the field by hard-working men prepared to get their hands dirty and sweat in the sun. There is almost shame, in Heaney's poem for his own 'trade', as he remembers looking down upon his father from a high window, in a quite beautiful moment. There are obvious parallels. Both poems dig at certain preoccupations. Plath attempts to deal with newly surfacing emotions that oscillate between love and hate in the form of the scattered images of memory and fantasy. She endeavours to piece together perhaps her own identity from her father, and decide exactly how brutalised her fathers memory has left her; she 'could never tell where you Put your foot, your root.' ...read more.

Middle

The idea of a stamping down of power over the speaker is maintained with further powerful imagery; 'the boot in the face', 'where you put your foot' and the 'grey toe'. Together, there is a terrible overcast shadow of her father constantly looming over her, which Plath depicts extraordinarily well. She continues with the visually explicit image of her father as a 'Ghastly statue with one grey toe', stretching out across America, an all-powerful being, blemished with the seal-like ugliness of a toe. Here Plath now begins the whole concept of a simile between Hitler and her father, together with Germans and war as a whole; 'in the Polish town' immediately sets the scene with invasion. The guttural qualities of the German language are turned to obscenity by Plath; 'and the language obscene', and visual images of a train taking Jews to concentration camp dominates, as she compares herself to an oppressed Jew under the Hitler of her father, the 'Luftwaffe' and the power. This image is surely heightened, in my mind, since her reference to Jews is outright stereotyping and almost cruel; 'my Taroc pack...' and 'my gypsy ancestress...' which adds drama and poignancy to this remarkably well-worked set of concepts. Visual scorn of a Hitler-like image follows; '...neat mustache, And your Aryan eye, bright blue', 'a brute like you'. Whence her imagery jumps yet again towards another, and final set of metaphors, where her father is compared to the devil, with 'A cleft in your chin instead of your foot', 'a love of the rack and the screw', and the vampire who 'drank my blood for a year'. ...read more.

Conclusion

In Heaney's 'Digging' one cannot miss the love behind the apparent distancing between father an son, and certainly the respect of a father of little words and much work. A gracefully nostalgic sense of real work by real men in the field is implied, as the speaker expresses some sort of guilt that he, a writer, cannot 'follow men like them', but only 'dig' with his pen instead; a moral compulsion to live out the greatness of a line of ancestors in the only way he can. Heaney delivers this sense of identity and bonding sensitively; he depicts visual imagery of his father and grandfather, and inserts small flashback scenes of childhood memories, together with an unforgettable childlike tone with a latter more pensive one in reflection. Plath deals with different emotions, and for her, the poem is more of a struggle in her mind to face her and her father's identity and their relationship, whereas for me, Heaney is merely facing his individuality and his father in a controlled manner. Plath's persona battles with a paradox of feeling in a deluge of emotion, that I personally think is very deliberate on Plath's part; for indeed the way this confusion of love and hate constantly intertwines in 'Daddy', causes a vivid sense of spontaneity in the passion and anger the poetry. The images Plath arrives at are shockingly blatant, and explicitly powerful. In one way, I prefer Heaney's style of implying his emotions through small, real images, instead of the tangible desperation of Plath's words. Yet the way in which Plath uses sound qualities to muster a bitter cry of anger that, when read, sounds so real and up-front, never fails to burn holes of passionate fury in any reader. ...read more.

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