Here is an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s poem Mad Girl’s Love Song, which is a fairly short poem with many layers to it. In typical Plath fashion, this poem is packed with poetic devices, and it also presents a theme that is common in Plath’s poetry: unrequited, or failed, love. This is one of Plath’s earlier poems, which she wrote when she was just twenty years old and a student at Smith College, an all-women’s school located in Northampton, Massachusetts. Plath’s poem reveals an almost obsessive view of love, and it seems that the speaker of this is perplexed and mystified about what happened with her former lover, who has seemingly lost interest in her. Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song can be read in full here.
Mad Girl’s Love Song Summary
The speaker in this poem, most likely Plath, is speaking directly to her former lover about their relationship. She is wondering if their love every really existed, or whether it was just a figment of her imagination. The speaker also tells her lover that when she closes her eyes, death and destruction loom, but when she opens them, all has been reborn. She goes on to tell her lover that she thought he would return to her since he told her he would, but it has been so long that she knows he is not coming back. Mad Girl’s Love Song ends with Plath telling her former lover that she should have loved something like a thunderbird because it at least comes back after the winter—her lover, however, is gone, never to return.
Breakdown Analysis of Mad Girl’s Love Song
Plath wrote this poem in the form of a villanelle. A villanelle is a nineteen-line poem that has five tercets (a stanza consisting of three lines) and one quatrain (a stanza with four lines). A villanelle typically has a very basic rhyme scheme, with only two rhymes in the entire poem, although Plath takes several liberties with this. Mad Girl’s Love Song also repeats several lines, which is another characteristic of a villanelle.
The first interesting thing to note about this poem is that it is in quotation marks, as if it truly is a girl’s love song. A second reading could also infer that the speaker of the poem, presumably Plath, was speaking directly to the lover who has spurned her. She does use the familiar pronoun “you” throughout the poem, which lends itself nicely to this theory. Another noteworthy aspect of Mad Girl’s Love Song is the cause-and-effect relationship that is found throughout. In the first stanza, for instance, Plath describes what happens when she closes her eyes, and then she describes what happens when she opens them.
Moving on, there is also an undeniable psychological aspect to this poem, which is present from the very first stanza, and Plath seems to be writing about perception versus reality. She is also exploring here the heartache that comes with being rejected by one’s lover. Anyone who has ever suffered heartache knows that when one closes one’s eyes at night, sleep is elusive and one gets caught up in worries and thoughts. When one opens his or her eyes, however, all is just as it was, which makes the speaker wonder if she and her lover were every really together in the first place. Plath also uses consonance in this first stanza, often repeating the “d” sound in her words, as in the first line: “…all the world drops dead.”
Here, Plath plays with the concepts of light and dark. In the beginning of the stanza, the stars are dancing in blue and red, but then the blackness comes. What makes this stanza even more interesting is Plath’s use of personification, giving stars the ability to dance and darkness comes galloping in. It can be inferred in this stanza that Plath is also commenting on how difficult it can be to see the beauty in the world when one is so depressed and distraught over something such as lost love. Yes, the stars twinkle and shine, but it is hard to enjoy them when everything seems so bleak and dark. The final line in this stanza is, of course, an example of repetition, as it is also the line that begins Mad Girl’s Love Song.
The third stanza is different from the first two because she once again speaks directly to and about her lover.
The reader cannot be sure that this is a dream; it is quite possible that the speaker’s lover did actually convince her to fall into bed with him and then kissed her passionately. One could also read this stanza literally, and perhaps the speaker is simply sharing a dream she had about her lover to him. Plath’s diction here is also worth mentioning, since she uses the word “insane,” and a “mad girl” has apparently written the poem. While many read this poem and think Plath is writing about her own battle with depression, perhaps the title is simply referring to the madness that takes over once love—and lost love—have settled in.
Destruction returns in the fourth stanza. This stanza seems to insinuate that all is completely lost. Reality has set in, and the speaker has realized that her lover is never coming back.
This thought leads directly into the fifth stanza. Essentially, the speaker is telling her former lover that she imagined he would come back because he said he would, yet so much time has passed that she realizes he will not be returning. She is again forced to wonder if their love ever really existed in the first place. Perhaps she had felt more in their relationship than what had really been there.
Plath ends Mad Girl’s Love Song with a final insult. It is interesting that Plath chose a mythological bird for this final stanza, probably to prove her point even more strongly than she already has: a bird that does not really exist is more likely to come back sooner than her former lover will. The poem ends with the two repeated lines, and once again, the speaker is left to wonder if she and her lover were every really together at all.
Many readers see this poem as Plath grappling with her depression, and just two years after writing this piece, Plath attempted suicide for the first time. She took her mother’s sleeping pills and hid in a crawl space, where she lay for three days. Plath seemed to have no respite from her depression, attempting suicide several more times before successfully ending her life on February 11, 1963. As stated earlier, however, Plath was very much a typical college girl who was obsessed with finding love. Many choose to see this poem as something not so dark and psychological, seeing the poem instead as a look into what happens to a person when the one they love does not seem to love them in return.