Friday, February 16, 2007

Morning Song by Sylvia Plath

An aubade (morning song) is typically a joyous song sung by lovers at parting. Morning Song is a sort of reversal of the tradition. The couple isn’t parting here, in fact, they’ve added a child, a product of their “love,” and the mother, at least, seems quite unsettled by it. The voice is typical of Plath: cryptic and haunted. Notice the distance the descriptions build between the mother and child. The baby is a described as a machine, a statue; the parents stand around blankly as walls. Critics argue about how autobiographical the poem is. Some suggest the speaker's feelings are typical of post-partum depression. I’d be interested to hear thoughts from any mothers (willing to share).

Reading Plath always makes me feel unsettled. Her demons are always scratching at the surface.

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1932. She spent part of her short life in England, and married the English poet Ted Hughes. In 1963, Plath published a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Then, on February 11, 1963, during one of the worst English winters on record, Plath wrote a note to her downstairs neighbor instructing him to call the doctor, then she committed suicide. She was the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize after death.


Anonymous bax said...

Hm. Perhaps depression if it lingers for weeks or months? Or perhaps people want to call depression anything that doesn't fit the archetype of the lavish, devoted mother? Personally, I have had moments of feeling blank and distant from my dear little one, especially in those early, dazed, sleepless weeks when day and night blur and you are so far from anything that you'd recognize as what you thought your life was. It is a shock (or was, to me) to realize so clearly the separateness of your child, the person you once only knew viscerally, as part of your body. The baby *does* seem so distant and alien compared with the creature you knew coiled in your gut. Anyway, I would hate to reflect Plath's eventual suicide back into this poem and allow only depression to be the meaning of it, you know? (But then I'm more of a structuralist, as out of vogue as that is, and am wont to even overcompensate to avoid the biographical fallacy...)

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Sylvia. You make me feel your pain. Gonna go stick my head in an oven...

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote to my newborn, The thousand dramas
Of your life that I'll direct with care,
Will not suffice to drive away
One private moment of despair.

My wife, on the other hand, did not ever fret. She met that child with a perenial smile, welcoming each nuance of her being. Today, that young woman, is herself a mother, who embraces each moment of her own children's lives with joy, passion, and total commitment. I thank God every day for the melancholy I bring to life, but more importantly, for the maternal resounding joy that passes from one generation to the next. Despite our different parenting styles, our daughter has told us abundantly and in a myriad of ways, "I have known, every day of my whole life, that I am loved, totally and unconditionally."

3:46 AM  
Blogger Slow'n'Steady said...

I've just recently discovered Plath and found this quite interesting. A lovely perspective on the poem is found here:

I am the melancholy yet it was my husband who found the detatchment so glaring in the first months of our baby's life. Until the child could interact.

I think we do a disservice to Plath if all of her work is measured in the context of her suicide. Who doesn't have demons scratching at the surface. Would you interpret the poem differently if she had lived a full life?

What do I know - I've just begun delving into poetry. Thanks for your intriguing perspectives.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got so misty reading this aloud after I had my daughter. It's the clear vowels at the end that kill me - such a beautiful image. Plath went to my alma mater, so I've always been partial to her.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Nichole said...

I rather find the poem to be full of hope as opposed to being negative. Before I had a child I felt it was a little drab, but now, after having experienced those things first hand, I couldn't agree more. Particularly the line "We stand round blankly as walls" gets me. I can remember the moment we brought our daughter home, my husband and I had this moment where we were thinking, "now what?"

There is hope in the author's heart, clear vowels that rise like balloons...that is indeed a hopeful and happy ending line.

I love this poem, and I love the insight you added.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sylvia seems to be battling her demons.
This poem is the complete unraveling of post-partum depression. She has an affinity for clock and time which alludes to her relationship with her father. It is the start of her baby's life and the end of hers. She diminishes the importance of the infants life through out the poem starting with "it took its place among the elements." The baby is only a part of her, her life. Who is the new statue? I think it is Sylvia. She is stunned. This new kind of life is not what she is cracked up for. She is a creative savant and this child and motherhood have nothing to do with her muse. The weak and naked baby ironically takes away her safty. How dare it. She angrily replies "I'm no more your mother." The baby has taken away her identity in the next few lines. When it rains a cloud leaves puddles in which they can see their reflections, said identity. Sylvia can no longer recognize herself because she has been "effaced." The pool has been stirred by this "inconvenient" child. What will happen to her life, career, and art. She distances herself from the child again, "A far sea moves in my ear." She refuses to acknowledge the child. She is awakened by the "Morning Song" of the child. The child desparately needs her love. But, she drags her lethargic body out of bed in her "Victorian nightgown" alluding to the oppresion of that era...motherhood. Lastly, she hears the babys, "notes" or cries does she go to help the baby? Who knows but the baby cries louder "clear vowels rise like balloons."

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I do not think this poem is about Plath sadness at becoming a mother.
i feel people just associate her writing with depression even though not all of her writing is sad. She is an amazing writer and her techniquees encourage analysis, very fare for a poet who (almost) sticks to conventional forms (for example with e.e.cummings you have to anaylsis his poems to understand the meaning)

Please stop associating Plath with depression; of course this may be predominate in her literature, but i feel the quality of writng through depression is of a much higher standard. or maybe drugs to.

This poem regards how her child is now to takes it role among the elements, thus being a hyperbole if one is relating to the predominate greek elements. It therefore also implies that her child is to almost god-like in the sense that it takes it place among air, water fire and earth rather than people and a materialistic society (shown through "a fat gold watch")
However Hippocrates united aspects of the human body with the element; bile-fire, black bile-earth, blood-air and phlegm-water. Thus supporting the extended metaphor that the child is emplaced in an honoured position while still being a child (shown also through the holy connotation of "rising", innocent, glowing "nakedness" and musical aspect to the child’s crying.

in support of this ambiguity and dual interpretation is "effacement", it does indeed mean to 'rub out' but it is also a pregnancy term used for the shortening of the cervix in early labour as well as to withdraw into the background. Therefore a sense of willing sacrificed change is made regardless of the level of meaning undertook. the use of the air (distilling process and clouds) again rising both mother and child above earthy concerns, and yet at the same time medically referencing labour.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depression is a very sad thing. I wish she haden't committed suicide and instead got help. She was such a beautiful creature and one that is very creative. What a waste. RIP

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Blogger Ali said...

This poem is not negative, merely descriptive of the emotions and motions that a new mother goes through. Listening for the sea is lying awake in the early hours, listening for your baby, hearing the loud hiss of silence. Motherhood is not all joy. The early days can be surreal, the night, the square window made stark and obvious by sleep deprivation and isolation, as the birds sing their morning song outside. Not negative, just realistic.

I am mother to a one year old boy. Would not have understood this poem 13 months ago

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