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...

(The entire section is 416 words.)