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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Plath is known for her striking images and her metaphors and similes. In this poem, there is a surreal quality about some of her imagery. In its attempts to express the workings of the subconscious, surreal art employs fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter. To compare a child to a “fat gold watch” is surreal. The child is animate while a watch is inanimate. Love is engaging while winding up a watch is a mechanical act. What the simile suggests is the great distance between the act of love and the fact of the baby. What does this baby—this thing with its own existence—have to do with the emotions that engendered it? By raising this question about what most people consider a most “natural” phenomenon—the birth of a child—Plath helps the reader see something very old (childbirth) as something quite strange, new, and unsettling. The disorienting effect of Plath’s style is typical of Surrealism.

Plath emphasizes the child’s strangeness—its thingness—by referring to its cry as “bald.” Her choice of adjective is odd. The baby’s head may be “bald,” but by describing its cry this way, Plath seems to emphasize the nonhuman quality of this new being/thing that does not take its place among other humans but “among the elements.” Stanza 2 reinforces the nonhuman quality of the baby as perceived by its parents. The child is a “new statue.” The parents are pictured as gazing at it “in a drafty museum.” In other words, they cannot help staring at the child, but they feel vulnerable and inadequate: “We stand round blankly as walls.” With the child as a statue and the parents as walls, not much communication occurs. Plath’s surreal images underline the parents’...

(The entire section is 712 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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