Morning Song Analysis
by Sylvia Plath

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Morning Song Analysis

"Morning Song" is a poem by American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. The poem, from a the point-of-view of clinical psychology, appears to be about the effects of postpartum depression. Plath wrote the poem after she had given birth to her daughter, Frieda.

One of the first things readers might notice is the absence of emotion in the beginning of the poem. Typical maternal-based poems, or poems about a newborn child in general, are filled with cliche descriptions of love, warmth, and the feeling of being complete as a person and as a family. In this case, Plath describes the childbirth from detached point-of-view. In fact, Plath states that she feels alone, mirroring her own child's loneliness, and they are lonely together but separately. This is a contrast image to the picture of a fetus in her mother's womb: intimate and the child is dependent on the mother for survival. Plath also confesses that she feels alienated.

However, the poem suddenly changes its tone. After she spends time with Frieda, Plath begins to feel the love and warmth that was absent in the beginning. The build-up to this crescendo of emotions is written like a sweeping epic poem in which a person has to learn to love instead of falling in love at first sight. The feeling of loneliness wears off because Plath now recognizes her newborn baby's company. In this phase of her motherhood, Plath begins to experience the natural instincts of being a mother. Her protective and caring instincts overpower her postpartum depression and perceptions about the baby being an "object."

The poem is a hint at the major depressive episodes—possible a form of bipolar disorder—Plath faced later on in life and which eventually led her to take her life. Her husband, who was notoriously detached emotionally and possibly emotionally abusive towards her, seems to be absent from the poem, making her feelings of alienation amplified.

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sylvia Plath had recently given birth to her daughter Frieda when she wrote “Morning Song” in February, 1961. This eighteen-line lyric is structured in three-line stanzas or tercets. Although the title promises a song, the only song the reader gets is a baby’s cry. Plath may be experimenting with a traditional form of love poem called an aubade in French or alba in Provençal. Both refer to a lyric about dawn or a morning serenade. In such poems, the lover, usually in bed with a beloved, laments the dawn because it signals their inevitable parting. Plath’s poem mentions love only in the first line: “Love set you going like a fat gold watch”; that is, the love of the parents gave birth to the baby. The mother love that the speaker is expected to feel is strangely absent in this poem. Instead, the mother-speaker moves from a strange alienation from this new being to a kind of instinctive awakening to the child’s presence, her connection to it, and her appreciation for its “handful of notes.”

Once the reader grasps the situation of the poem—the birth of a child—the remainder of the poem is reasonably clear. Although the emotional interest of the poem focuses on the new mother, both parents are mentioned: “Our voices echo” and “your nakedness/ Shadows our safety. We stand round.” Plath startles the reader with line 7: “I’m no more your mother.” Maternal feelings do not automatically occur. Plath is extremely honest to admit such strong feelings of alienation and separation in her poem. In the last three stanzas, the emotional estrangement of the speaker changes. She is compelled to listen to the sound of her child as it sleeps. She seems attuned to that “moth-breath” and says, “I wake to listen.” When she hears her baby cry, she gets up to feed it: “cow-heavy and floral/ In my Victorian nightgown.” As she breast-feeds her child she observes the coming dawn as the light changes outside the window.

Plath closes with a reference to the sounds the child makes, probably not a cry of need since it has just been fed. The...

(The entire section is 1,641 words.)