In my essay, I aim to compare the similarities and state the differences between two poems, Sylvia Plath’s, ‘Daddy’ and Emily Dickinson’s, ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain.’ These two poems deal with intense emotions and extreme cases of anger from the writer’s own real-life experiences. Sylvia Plath had an extremely traumatic childhood as her father, Otto Plath, a German professor, died when she was only nine years old and has always had to live with that. The emotions eventually took their toll on Plath. She committed suicide only a few months after writing ‘Daddy.’ Dickinson wrote her poems often under periods of extreme psychological distress; she spent most of her life isolated from the rest of the world, as she feared social situations.
Plath’s ‘Daddy’ and Dickinson’s ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain’ share a similar mood and tone. Both sounding very sad and depressed, also a sense of anger stands out. Dickinson’s title ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain’ already gives the reader a sense that the poem is sombre as a funeral is not a happy occasion and is associated with death and unhappiness. Also, the title is metaphorical, as the ‘funeral’ is not actually happening but is just in her mind, suggesting that the poem is sorrowful and depressing. Plath’s ‘Daddy’ shares the same mood, sounding very depressing and angry. The sense of anger builds to a climax in the poem’s last line when Plath writes, ‘Daddy, daddy, you bastard; I’m through.’ It shows a sense of anger as it’s not often a child refers to their Dad as a bastard, and the tone sounds very angry and as if Plath was shouting at the time.
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I would say that this is my favourite line of the poem, as it is really effective and almost has every poem’s mood encapsulated into one line. It is a very emotional and depressing line, and the mixed sense of sadness and anger is there too. I find the sadness in this line is derived from the anger in it, ‘you bastard’ sounds very angry, and I think deep down she is not angry with her father personally, just the fact that he left her at a young age. I feel this anger is very indirect and has built up over years of sadness and feeling trapped. Plath, even in the poem, suggests that she was trapped, ‘Any more. Black shoe/ In which I have lived like a foot/ For thirty years, poor and white’.
A shoe is very tight and has little room for afoot to move, and Plath’s father is being compared to the black shoe keeping her trapped for thirty years. It’s as if she has not been able to free herself from the tight grasp that he had on her life even after he died. It is slowly suffocating her being trapped in his grasp, slowly draining every last bit of life from her until she sees no point in living. You can also see that she was trapped in another part of the poem; it is spread over two stanzas, which shows enjambment. ‘Ghastly statue with one grey 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.’ Frisco is short for San Francisco, which is on the West Coast of the U.S.A, and Nauset is on the west coast of the USA what the quotation says is that her father will follow her where ever she goes in the U.S.A, this big statue is her father.
His ‘grey toe’ spreads from the west coast all the way to where his head is on the east coast of the USA. Also, the ‘grey’ in ‘ghastly statue with one grey toe’ could suggest that she has this dark cloud always over her wherever she goes. She cannot get away from it. Grey is a very dull colour and can be associated with sadness, and I feel the quote means this. Dickinson also shares these issues but not to the same extent; you can see this in the last stanza of her poem. Her first line is, ‘And then a Plank in Reason, broke,’ maybe this suggests that her last straw has broken; she’s been driven over the edge by something. This suggests depression and insecurity. She’s beginning to lose her mind and maybe going mad. Also, in this quotation, capital letters are used in the wrong places; this brings emphasis down on these certain words or shows her anger at the time of writing the poem.
Maybe she was very erratic when writing the poem and very angry; she was not in enough control to make proper sense and use proper English. The sense of being tipped over the edge also the show’s in ‘Kept beating – beating – till I thought/ My Mind was going numb-‘ the sense off something keep on repeating in your mind is enough to drive you mad. However, Dickinson seems to have a constant drumbeat in her mind. It’s beginning to drive her mad, and maybe she cannot take it anymore. The dashes in the quotation are extremely effective; they draw emphasis to the word and slow the sentence down, drawing an even greater emphasis towards the word. If anything, a pause occurs, and you think for that moment of what you have just read and draws you further into the poem and the emotions involved. I feel this technique works very well and is also used in Plath’s ‘Daddy’ but not as much.
Plath’s tone seems very childish; very young children often use the word daddy; it’s also maybe what Plath called him when she was young. The childish language suggests that she still remembers it like it was yesterday, and she also still relives her childhood and what she used to do with her dad. Plath’s anger is also shown when she says, ‘Not God but a swastika’ this suggests that instead of having a nice person to look up to, she’s only had evil. Maybe Plath feels that she was being persecuted for her father leaving her, so she compares it to the Jews being persecuted for who they were. Maybe Plath did not have enough time to develop her own views of her own, and because her father was German, he was associated with the Nazis, and also in her mind, he had done wrong; leaving her when she was young was the biggest crime he had could commit.
Her anger is also portrayed in, ‘A cleft in your chin instead of your foot/ But no less a devil for that, no not’ says that you still have that cleft of a devil although not in the right place. You still left me at a young age, and that is not right for you to do that to me, and suggests that he is evil for doing so. Her frustration is shown in one of the poem’s most emotional and vivid quotations, ‘Chuffing me off like a Jew./ A Jew to Dachau, Aushwitz, Belsen’. All the named places are Nazi death camps, and she feels that she is being taken there on this emotional ride, that her father has led her on this ride because of his death, or it could be saying that it is slowly driving her to suicide. Her suffering can be seen in ‘the polish town/ scraped flat by the roller/ of wars, wars, wars. This quote suggests that when her father died, it destroyed and annihilated her, which is why it is being compared to Poland being destroyed in the war.
Dickinson’s frustration can be seen in, ‘And then I heard them lift a box/ And creak across my Soul/ With those same old Boots of Lead, again,’ this suggests that they have lifted the lid on the box, meaning a coffin. Her soul is in the coffin, which is extremely unusual as a soul is supposed to last forever and never die. Still, yet Dickinson has died, not even her soul could be bothered to carry on as the depression was really deep down, and the same life would be lived again. The boots of lead suggest a huge weight constantly weighing her down, and she cannot move; they’re stomping down, slowly destroying and crushing her with every stomp taken.
Metaphors also have a big part to play in both poems. In Plath’s poem, she often uses metaphors to describe herself to Jews and Dickinson’s, ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain’ uses them to describe her depression. ‘Boots of Lead’ is a good example as it’s as if she is being held down by ‘the boots of lead.’ You wear boots on your feet, and they are full of a very dense material lead which weighs her down, this massive amount of pressure keeps her down, and she cannot free herself from the pressure. Also, ‘As all the Heavens were a Bell,’ this suggests that the heavens are ringing, maybe saying that times up for you as a bell often signifies the end of something, and that is what Dickinson felt like and what she heard in her mind. Finally, Plath uses metaphors to describe the racial superiority of the Germans over the Jews and anyone else they despised.
‘The boot in the face, the brute’ sounds as if someone has been extremely disrespectful, maybe she is suggesting that she’s just been kicked in the face when her father died, and the mark has always been there and always will be there. this thisrute’ is her father, and that is who left this print on her face. ‘The vampire who said he was you,’ the vampire is the metaphor and describes someone as someone who lives off of your blood and is a very evil thing. So what she is saying is that there was an evil person in her life who tried to take her father’s place. Maybe that person lived of Plath’s emotions.
Both the beginnings of each poem have similarities; both start with very sombre and depressing moods with clear and vivid imagery, and they contain true emotions that the reader can feel. For example, the thirst stanza of ‘Daddy’ gives you a clear image of Plath trapped inside this tight, suffocating shoe. In contrast, Dickinson gives an obvious image of a sad, depressing funeral. However, the endings are not in the slightest similar; Plath’s ends very furiously calling her dad a bastard, ‘Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through’ shows her intense emotions and extreme furiosity towards her father in the final stanza; it is also a very accusing stanza.