Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The dominant theme in “Morning Song” is alienation and the process by which it is overcome. A woman’s poem, it deals with maternal instinct and its awakening. Plath avoids sentimentality in taking up a subject—becoming a mother—that is too often treated in a superficial way. A woman—certainly an ambitious poet such as Plath—does not come to motherhood merely by giving birth. New behavior is learned. The being of the mother is as new as the being of the child. Readers can appreciate Plath’s honesty in dealing with her subject. It also takes a certain amount of courage to admit to a colossal lack: “I’m no more your mother/ Than the cloud.” The alienation in the poem is overcome by such acute delineation of the feelings. Instinct has a role to play as well: The speaker finds herself listening to the child’s sounds. This is not self-willed or under her control. She follows her instinct: “One cry, and I stumble from bed.” In the end, she is rewarded. Alienation is overcome in her connection to her baby. Her own child serenades her with a “morning song” and a bond is formed through language, the quintessential human act.

The third tercet, with its convoluted imagery, introduces a secondary theme: the speaker’s awareness of her child as potentially marking her insignificance, her erasure as a poet: “I’m no more your mother/ Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow/ Effacement at the wind’s hand.” Can a woman be both mother and famous poet? Plath, writing in 1961, had few predecessors who managed to achieve both. In engaging this theme, she is dealing with one of the major issues that faced women poets in the twentieth century. If mothering absorbed her attention, would she still be the poet-artist she longed to be? This superb poem answers her implied question. Further, the joyous ending proclaims the arrival of both a new singer on the scene and a mother proud of her child’s vocal bravura.