How does Sylvia Plath explore her ideas about motherhood in "Metaphors" and "Morning Song"?   How are the poems related?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sylvia Plath had two children with her husband, Ted Hughes who was also a famous English poet. They were separated when Plath killed herself. Frieda and Nicholas, her children, were 3 and 1 years old. She tried several times to kill herself and accomplished it in 1963 by sticking her head in an oven and turning on the gas.  Her children were in the house with her.  She had placed towels in front of the door to their room to keep the gas from coming into their room

The poet had mixed emotions about motherhood.  In her two poems, “Metaphors” and “Morning Song,” Plath looks at two different aspects of becoming a mother: the pregnancy and the birth.

“Metaphors” is a fun poem to read and figure out. Plath writes it without really telling the reader what is happening in the poem. It is a poem that has to be read more than once.  Her imagery is extremely creative and once the reader figures out that the lady is describing how it feels to be pregnant than the poem becomes humorous.  The reader can take each of Plath’s comparisons and visualize them.

There are so many interesting hints to her pregnancy. The poem has nine lines, representative of the gestation period.  One example of her clever metaphors is her comparison to her body as a yeasty loaf of bread that is rising or growing to accommodate the baby.

One of the more impressive yet sad metaphors comes from the line which states that she is ivory.  Ivory is a highly desired.  In order to obtain the ivory, an elephant has to die. The pregnant lady is the elephant and the highly desired prize is the child.  This is a strong metaphor indicating how she feels about her pregnancy.

In the last line, the humor is gone. She is on the train toward becoming a mother, and there is no way to get off of it. Plath felt that she had lost her identity and her only purpose was to house the child until it was born.

In “Morning Song,” the baby comes. The poem begins at the birth of the child. Plath describes the baby's sound as “a bald cry.”

The baby is born and begins screaming. The speaker reflects on how the baby looks and sounds in its first moments of life. Soon the family watches the baby in its bed, a form of viewership that strikes the speaker as something similar to viewing a statue at an art museum.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.

In a drafty museum, your nakedness

Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

In one interesting metaphor, the speaker states that she is no more the baby’s mother than the cloud who holds a mirror to see its effacement by the wind. Effacement is actually the dilation of the cervix readying for the birth. 

The mother spends all night awake listening to see that the baby is breathing. Once the baby starts to cry, the speaker, in her nightgown still feeling the strain of the pregnancy and birth, rushes out to take care of it. Apparently, she nurses the baby.

She watches as the morning starts to color the windowpanes. After the baby has eaten, he begins to use all of the sounds that a baby has: cooing and singing or screaming or crying. To the new mother, it is like balloons rising to the ceiling,

Sadly, Plath’s son Nicholas followed his mother’s lead and committed suicide in 2009.

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