Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In Sylvia Plath's "Morning Song," a new mother describes how she feels about her newly-born baby. Some of the feelings she expresses are not those we might expect, and the poem is a fascinating exploration of the strangeness of motherhood and how odd it can feel, at the beginning, to have created a new life.
Plath writes in free verse; while there is a definable rhythm to the piece, it is not consistent from one stanza to the next, with line-lengths also changing. This contributes to the meaning of the poem: as the mother tries to understand and come to terms with how her existence has changed, it is as if she is trying new things to better accommodate her baby and her feelings towards it. At the same time, the rhythm and meter of the poem vary, reflecting these various iterations. Each stanza is three lines long.
In the first stanza, the poet describes the birth of the child, who has been "set going" by love. The speaker seems to find this difficult to understand or conceptualize—the child is the product of the love of its parents for each other, but it seems to the speaker almost a mechanical thing in itself, like a "gold watch" which will now measure out the seconds of its parents' existences, as well as its own. After birth, the midwife slapped the baby and its "bald cry" seems to register its place in the universe.
Clearly, there is a difficulty in knowing how to feel about the baby. The speaker describes how its arrival was "magnif[ied]" by the voices of its parents, but they stand around the baby "blankly" as if in a museum—the child on display to others and the parents not feeling particularly tender towards it. The next stanza emphasizes the mother's feeling that having a child actually diminishes her sense of self: she says she is not so much the mother of the child as similar to a cloud which now sees itself being blown away by a gasp of wind. She has created this child, and yet it seems to her only to be something that shrinks her.
All the same, there is clearly a bond forged between mother and child. The speaker describes listening to the "moth breath" of her baby at night, waking to listen to it. She must know that the child is still breathing and is well. The strange reluctance to acknowledge the humanity of the child continues here, however: the child's mouth is "like a cat's." The speaker seems unable to recognize, yet, that her baby is a human being she has created, rather than simply a strange creature she loves and yet cannot quite understand the truth of.