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“Morning Song” by Sylvia Plath Essay

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Updated: Dec 6th, 2021

The Morning Song by Sylvia Plath is part of the Ariel collection revealing her personal issues in a frank manner. In this poem, Sylvia uses a mixture of serious and joyous elements. Her use of clever metaphors, technical brilliance, fantastic imagery, ironical wit, controlled stanzas, and assonance makes the poem tremendously powerful.

The poem begins with the word love hinting at the main theme of the poem. Sylvia has just given birth to a son and love is the reason for his being born. The opening line “Love set you going like a fat gold watch” contains a simile, metaphor, and personification. “Love” has been personified as the emotional connection between Sylvia and her husband. The comparison of the infant to a “fat gold watch” is a simile and it interprets a sense of action or work. “Fat gold” describes the baby to be plump and signifies his importance in his mother’s life. (Plath, 2000, 251) The respiration and heartbeat of the baby that has been metaphorically compared to a timepiece, begins with a slap on the foot soles by the midwife. The baby’s cry has been described as bold recording his first moment in this world among the various elements of nature that make this earth.

His parents in the second stanza welcome the baby and the echoes in their voices signify their happiness. His soft and delicate naked body has been compared to a statue of a museum, as both are near perfect. His parents blankly stand as if they are walls realizing that his presence is the cause of their worries and the end of safety felt by them since parenthood brings the responsibility of making the baby a good person. The comparison of the baby to a statue also brings about an antipathy in the poem. It dramatizes the postnatal feelings of first-time mothers, which Sylvia experiences when she is faced with the amazing but responsible task of taking care of her newborn.

In the third stanza, Sylvia compares her motherhood to the clouds that break into the rain. The rain acts as a mirror reflecting the clouds, which disappear due to wind and rain. Here “distills” represent the disturbance of stillness. Sylvia tries to tell us that although a child reflects on his mother, it is not a permanent image. Since the child belongs to the elements of the world, just like the shape of the clouds change, the child and the mother will also change losing their reflection in each other, i.e. the child will someday become independent.

The fourth stanza expresses a mother’s worry for her baby. The baby’s respiration is tiny in comparison and its regularity and speed have been compared to moths by the use of “moth-breath”. Moths are nocturnal insects that are small and flap their wings very fast. “Flat pink roses” describe the decoration of either the wall, which is flat or the baby’s crib. Sylvia’s attention and worry are evident from “I wake to listen” to the breath of her baby. (Plath, 2000, 251) She describes the sound of breathing as that of the sea as it has a rhythm just like the sea.

The fifth stanza further expresses a mother’s alert nature. Even if she hears “one cry” from her baby, she clumsily “stumbles from bed”. She is wearing a floral printed Victorian nightgown that causes her to stumble. The baby cries with an open mouth and has been compared to a cat’s mouth, “Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s”. This simile describes the similarity between the wail of the baby for food to a baby cat trying to draw its mother’s care. The last verse, “The window square” links the first verse, “Whitens and swallows its dull stars” of the last stanza. (Plath, 2000, 251)

The final stanza begins by describing daybreak, which drives the stars away from her window. It seems as if the bright daylight “swallows” up the stars. Sylvia then proceeds by describing the first day of the baby. He tries to make some noises in an attempt to speak but only a few “notes” come out of his mouth. His first sounds are almost all of the vowels and their production is like the balloons rising in the air, i.e. the intensity of these sounds is like the gradual rising of the balloons. (Plath, 2000, 251)

In the poem, we find various themes, like marriage, maternity and depression have been addressed here. The theme also concerns the birth of Sylvia’s son, the joy and antipathy of motherhood, natural elements, and feminism. She also explores the aspects of infancy and uses nature to express her own depression. (Wagner-Martin, 1999)

The poem has six stanzas each having three verses, thus it has been composed in six tercets. These six blank verses have three-line unrhymed stanzas. Sylvia has reserved the musical element of the poem for the last stanzas where the cries of the baby have been expressed as musical notes and their production seems like the gradual rise of balloons.

Sylvia has used a number of contrasting tones in this poem, which reveal her state of mind and her personality. At times, her tone is very sensuous and gentle, like when she uses “moth-breath”. At other times, she expresses anger, like when she is woken up by her son’s cry. She also seems a little bit troubled, like when she talks about morning which “swallows its dull stars” since morning should always talk about new beginnings and hopes. (Plath, 2000, 251)

Since the expressions in the Morning Song echo our daily speech, the poem has a very light and simple rhythm. Its language is also not very difficult or intricate and backs up its rhythm beautifully conveying Sylvia’s emotions to us. Sylvia has composed the poem in free verves. It does not have any regular meter but has a free-form rhyme. The meaning of the poem has been supported by the line rhyme technique.

Sylvia has cross-rhymed the use of “our” and an example of assonance is present in the following line in the letters, “a”, “e”, “i” and “u”.

“Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue
In a drafty museum, your nakedness

Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.” (Plath, 2000, 251) In the poem, in the context of imagery, at times Sylvia uses dark, surreal, and ironic imagery in the poem and at times, they are witty and emotional. She uses the image of a mirror, cat, sea, and violent wind, respectively, in:

“Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s”
“Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect it’s own slow”
“Effacement at the wind’s hand”
“A far sea moves in my ear” (Plath, 2000, 251)

In conclusion, it would be relevant to mention that the poet lived in the stages of the 20th century that saw huge changes in society, and thus, being an individual of the culture she responded to the changing times through her writing in her own way. She became the inner voice of this change and interpreted the development of civilization and human relations in her distinctive voice. The poem, like her ‘Morning song’ reminds us of the need for human relations in times of both hope and despair. (Malcolm, 2005).

References

Malcolm, Janet. (2005). The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. New York: Granta Books

Plath, Sylvia. (2000). Morning song. In E. Longley (ed.), The Bloodaxe Book of 20th Century Poetry from Britain and Ireland (p 251). London: Bloodaxe

Wagner-Martin, Linda. (1999). Sylvia Plath: a literary life. London: St. Martin’s Press

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