Morning Song by Sylvia Plath

Morning Song by Sylvia Plath, in its six stanzas, details the experience of a mother being introduced to the emotions and circumstances of parenting, and it does so in a manner that expresses a gradual process. Rather than the mother instantly feeling a deep-rooted attachment to the newborn child, Plath depicts a mother who sees the child as more of an object than a person through a very stand-off mentality, but eventually that mother softens to the child to think with a more tender approach. This process is depicted through someone growing into their role as a parent by the usage of concrete ideas as comparative tools and simplistic language. You can read Morning Song here.


Morning Song Analysis

First and Second Stanza

While these two stanzas paint the scene for a newly born child and the adults who are present at the birth, they do so in a unique way. The reader learns the baby “cr[ied]” after “[t]he midwife slapped [their] footsoles,” and that the people in attendance “voice[d]” their reactions for the “arrival,” but beyond these relatively typical factors of a baby being born, there are other less standard details that surface within the chosen vernacular. For instance, in the first line of the poem, the baby is compared to a “fat gold watch.” This is a very unusual description to connect to a child, which could confuse the reader.

However, as the entire process is based on time—from waiting for the baby to watching the child grow—the concept of utilizing a time-relative item like a “watch” makes sense. Even the poem itself is based on the notion that the mother needs time to develop full maternal feelings, so beginning the stanzas with that concrete connection is effective.

The adjectives used to describe the “watch” are also telling since it is labeled as “fat,” which is used by people to indicate that a baby has rounded cheeks and a healthy appearance. In addition, the narrator calls the watch “gold,” which can be taken as a subtle indication that the child is of great value to the mother, despite the mother not quite feeling as maternal as she will in later verses. While the emotions might take time to reveal themselves, they clearly exist somewhere under the surface.

Regardless of the “gold” indication though, the clearer aspects of the current relationship between the mother and child are represented through language that does not exude too much human emotion at all. The child’s “cry” is linked to the inanimate “elements,” and the baby is just a “statue [i]n a drafty museum” as the adults “stand round blankly as walls” after the birth. There is little to no humanity or deep expression found in those sentiments, and this is a vernacular portrait of the lack of instinct the mother feels toward the child in these early moments. She clearly cares, as is evidenced by the “gold,” but not in a vivid manner. Rather, she is beholding the child in a way that is as rigid and concrete as the “statue” she has noted the child to be like.


Third and Fourth Stanza

The initial declaration that the narrator is “no more the baby’s mother” states precisely how the mother feels in regard to the child after the birth. Despite the value that is placed on the child when noted as “gold,” the appreciation the mother feels at this moment is comparable to the admiration a person might have for an artistic piece, like the noted “statue.” There is little personal attachment involved, though the continuation of that thought in the second line of the third stanza does indicate that the narrator sees herself, on some level, in the child. Otherwise, “a mirror” that “reflect[s]” would not be an effective metaphor. That bit of herself that the narrator notices, however, is tainted with the distance and lack of depth of emotion she feels toward the child, like a “cloud [that] distills” images.

The tone of the mother seems to take a harsher turn in the first line of the fourth stanza when she refers to the baby’s “moth-breath.” Since it feels like a complaint the mother is making about having to care for the child, what was noted as a distant “statue” is now being treated like a nuisance to the mother. Just as quickly as the notion surfaces though, the wording takes another drastic turn by connecting that “moth-breath” to “flat pink roses.” As “pink roses” are tied to tender emotions, this is an indication that the mother is beginning to feel more maternal toward the child, but still, the process is gradual. This gradual quality is hinted in the detail that those “roses” are “flat pink,” which would give the impression that their color is not overly vivid, but just hinted—as if the feelings are only starting to provide the relationship any color.

Another concept that shows that the mother is developing a stronger bond with the child is the idea that she is no longer “stand[ing] round blankly.” Rather, she has become involved with the child’s care, specifically “wak[ing] to listen” for the child’s “moth-breath.” Not only then is she near enough to the child to hear that “breath,” but she is also making a point to be attentive to the child’s needs. It is a step, but a gradual one, since the child currently seems like “a far sea…in [the mother’s] ears.” No doubt the “sea” would be a calming sound, but the distance of it being “far” represents that distance the mother continues to feel toward the child.


Fifth and Sixth Stanza

Within this pair of stanzas, the reader can witness the mother becoming more interactive with the child as she “stumble[s] from bed” to care for the baby, and doing so is both a “heavy” notion and one that is so natural that it is reflected in the “floral” quality. This is a contrasted pairing that reflects her blossoming instincts and her lingering separation, and the notion that she tends to the child while in a “Victorian nightgown” is relevant as well. What the reader can infer from this idea is that the narrator is stepping into her maternal role, but she is also holding to more luxurious and self-indulgent concepts. It is progress, but it happens while she maintains her own comfort and status.

Another hint that she is progressing as a mother is that she switches her labels in regard to the child from things that are inanimate, like a “statue,” to something that is actually alive—“a cat.” She has yet to grant a human label to the child, but venturing into the territory of a living being reveals that her maternal instincts are developing, though they have not yet solidified. Another indication of this same quality is that while the baby’s “cry” is earlier referred to as a part of “the elements,” it is now noted as a musical sound—a “handful of notes.”

Additionally, those “notes” are said to have more of a lively form than a “statue” since the narrator labels them as “clear vowels [that] rise like balloons.” They are no longer “distill[ed]” like the “mirror” “reflect[ion]” from a previous stanza. Instead, they have become so “clear” as to be distinct and understandable, and also to cause a rising well of emotion within the mother that is noted in the “balloons” visual. Now that she has thought of the baby in a more expressive way than a “statue,” her maternal instincts can lift higher than they had in any previous stanza. Those instincts have been rising, but here in this final stanza, they keep lifting, like “balloons.”

The reader cannot know if the instincts will continue to blossom after the poem concludes, but the notion that they have grown throughout the poem is evident as the narrator adjusts to motherhood. Diving into the feelings of that process, it seems, is the purpose of this poem.


About Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is a 20th century American poet whose works often mirror the sadness she felt in life. In fact, one of the most notable aspects of her poetry is linked to the forlorn concepts that plagued her life, and this quality is reflected in the struggle the mother in “Morning Song” experiences while progressing into a more maternal frame of mind. Through her life, Plath wrestled with depression, and she committed suicide when she was only thirty years old.

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  • Avatar Christopher Brown says:

    To my mind Plath’s poetry is beautiful in its sadness. It has this ambiguous quality which can make it difficult and simple at the same time

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I agree completely. She was a beautiful poet. But at times she could be scathing too, I really like her angry stuff as well as her sad stuff.

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