Morning Song by Sylvia Plath
The poem, Morning Song was written in 1961, when Sylvia Plath had tasted the sweet blessing of Motherhood. Her marriage with Ted had consummated in the birth of two children. She had inner urge for motherhood, Keya Majumdar rightly observes :
“Being just a brilliant student and an aspirant poet was not enough for her woman as she was, she must be perfect wife and perfect mother to fulfill the inborn urge of womanhood. She wanted to give generally also from her actually overflowing spring of love.”
Plath lived with Ted most affectionately. By now Sylvia was pregnant and since her husband wanted the first child to be born in England, they moved to London in December, 1959. There Plath gave birth to her daughter, Freida Rabecca on April 1, 1960. Then next year she suffered from miscarriage. This miscarriage had a very harmful and adverse effect on her poetic activities. A noted critic Brulscker said about her:
“The disasters–the miscarriage and appendectomy hampered her creative flow to a great extent. The miscarriage brought back the gloom soon and doubts again. The gloom was less for the child unarrived, more for her frustration as her inability to bear and sustain.”
The three years from 1960 to Feb. 1963 are very critical for Sylvia Plath. In these years, she had given birth to three children and she had enjoyed the bliss of motherhood. In the poem Morning Song composed and published in 1961 the speaker is a mother.
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Summary of Morning Song
(1) It is love of the mother that sets the new baby going, Mother says that the new baby is like a gold watch in colour and in living.
The midwife has slept your babies) foot soles and in then the baby cries naturally.
Then the baby comes to life among the elements (wind, earth, water, light and space).
(2) The voices of people hail your arrival (new baby). He is a new statue. Your nakedness is our softy, we stand around you as walls.
(3) The mother says after baby’s birth she is no longer his mother than the clouds, which is removed by the wind just as the clouds are separated by the strong wind each other.
(4) The breath of the child is as soft as the breath of moth. At night the mother hears the soft breath of the new baby. It moves among the roses which means the rosy cheeks of the baby. The mother wakes up to hear the cry of the baby like the sound of the far sea
(5) If the child weeps the mother jumps out the bed being very fat she comes out lazily with a Victorian nightgown.
The mouth of the baby opens as clean as a cat.
(6) The window whitens at the time at dawn and it swallows as dim stars. Then the baby creates some sounds, the sounds are vowels which rise like balloons in the nursery room.
Theme of Motherhood in Morning Song
The theme of the poem is motherhood. The young poetess examines and explores the biological aspect of motherhood.
There is another poem “Heavy Women” written after a week of the composition of Morning Song in which Sylvia Plath takes up the subject or heavy overeating foodie woman. The same theme is presented in Sylvia Plath’s B.B.C. Radio play “Three Women” in which each woman represents different facts of womanhood.
After the death of Sylvia Plath this poem was published in the posthumous collection Ariel in 1945. The poem contains six stanzas of three lines each. The mother is a speaker in the first two stanzas which are as follow:
“Love set you going like a fat gold watch
The midwife slapped your footsales, and your bald cry.
Took its place among the elements.”
“Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival, New statue,
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety, we stand round blankly as walls.”
Love is quite creative and Sylvia Plath emphasizes the golden pink colour of her body with a very apt simile of a golden watch. Then the mother describes how the mother slaps the footsoles of the baby and the baby crying by slapping the new borns footsoles. The midwife provides it a gate-way into life which Plath calls a place among the elements. This sole shows the continuity of life. The baby placed in the world by the help of five elements such as wind, rain, cold, earth and fire.
The baby is next placed in the world of “the elements”: atmospheric agencies and forces such as wind, rain and cold not to mention earth water, air, fire, the constitutive “elements of life itself. Yet the opening line itself is not all about “natural processes, or “love” alone; it is also about the “cultural”, mechanical, world in which, once the baby’s “ticker” (heart) is set into motion it sets the baby ‘going like a fat gold watch”, a kind of cultural and/or moral “deism” where the child, once biologically “freed” through birth from its biological connection to the mother, once the placenta is severed, has acquired its autonomy, difference and separateness from the mother. (Morning Song, perhaps consciously, occasionally echoes WH Auden’s comic poem, ‘Mundus et enfans.) Thus the “unnamed” child is compared to a fat, golden (also applicable to the baby) watch; it is somebody set into motion by the collaboration between the mother and the midwife. The child, at this juncture still dependent on its mother for love, nourishment and attention, is already, “set in motion”, like a deistic “fat gold watch” to go on into life when it grows up. This poem is then about “autonomy” and ‘heteronomy”, amongst other things.
In the next four stanzas the mother speaks to her in stanza three written to the world five natural elements to prove that the child was quite separate from the mother because the process of giving birth is impersonal and universal. Across almost all forms of life and the mother hears the voice of the baby and she feels that the elements are working towards individualization and separation
“I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflects its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand’
All night your mother breath.”
“Flickers among the flat pink roses,
I wake to listen a far sea moves in my car.”
In the next two stanzas the poetess has painted the comic picture of the mother. One cry of the baby causes a great worry in the mind of the mother and she jumps out of bed to look after the baby in her Victorian nightgown with flowery motives that echo the natural flowery tells from the gown.
“One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mother opens clean as a cat’s the window square
‘Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes
The clear vowels rise like balloons.”
The child behaves as naturally as a cat, the poet further says that the last remaining stars become dull in the morning.
Analysis of Morning Song
Returning to 1961 the poem Morning Song shows the innate love and affection for her daughter Rabecca born in 1960 before the birth of her son Nicholas, Sylvia Plath was living in the Town of Devon in England. Ted and Sylvia thought that instead of living in London they should move to countryside.
“London life was disturbing Ted, and both of them agreed that a permanent home in the country would help them to plant the roots and settle down eventually comfortably and profitably. And it was an old, solid big house, which was once the local manor house, presumably to big for Sylvia to maintain it properly. But, thanks to her special knock towards interior decoration, she tried her best to make the place colourful and vivid.”
This is the reason that Sylvia Plath was leading a happy and bright life alone with her husband fed. Keya Majumdar in her learned book Sylvia Plath the Complete Poet’ has given us a bright picture of her life in 1961. Majumdar says that she was busy housekeeping, farming, looking after the baby, visiting the neighbour, enjoying being a docile and proud wife and a devoted mother. It is quite intriguing to note that while she enjoyed transforming the slovenly house into a bright, enlivening home while waiting poetry, she threw her piercing search light only on the gloomy side of the universe, of the state of mind with dark manifestations.
The Significance of the Morning Song
The Morning Song, that is about the arrival of morning composed by a mother who gets up early to feed her child. The child also rises very early and creates some sounds which are musical. The sounds rise like a balloon. The last image is clearly visualization of the child’s mild cry. The child’s babble is compared to balloons.
Imagery in Morning Song
Sylvia Plath has used both natural and cultural images in the poem. Natural images are clouds, wind, flower, moth cat and roses and cultural images are gold watch, statue, museum, mirror, Victorian nightgown, songs and balloons. There is much more use of simile and hyperbole than metaphor or other figures of speech.
Philosophical Element in Morning Song
In this poem there is an element of philosophical thought. Sylvia Plath instead of emphasizing heredity and oneness with the mother tries to establish that the new born child is quite different from the mother. In one sense, a mother is “no more” a child’s mother in so far as the “natural process of parturition, giving birth, is impersonal and universal across almost all forms of life. She is just the conduit that the life-force chooses to “anoint”, as in Virgin Mary’s Annunciation. As such she is a transient like a cloud, quickly formed and unformed, a phenomenon that “distils” (subjects itself to a process of vaporization and subsequent condensation) itself to a “mirror” in which is reflected its own slow/Effacement at the wind’s hand.” Just as the mother had “echoed” (aurally “mirrored”) the child’s “bald cry” in the previous stanza, she now finds herself to be, through a process of “distillation,” no more than a “mirror” (a visual echo) that can only “reflect”, the process of its own slow. Effacement at the wind’s hand. The biological link between the mother and child, which is itself a natural process, makes way for yet another “natural process”, self-ordained. Where the “mirror” (it could be the poem Morning Song here), once “created”, can only reflect the mother’s separation from the child and also her own slow effacement”, hastened by her own distillation” (the process of change of form, shape is common to distillation and to a woman’s body pains), the child is on its way to autonomy and the mother, her “natural” self-realized in reproduction, is universally discrete, different from the child. A process of dissemination has taken place.
Reflections on Child’s Nature in Morning Song
Alone with mother’s love and affection for the new born, Sylvia Plath has also discussed a child’s softness and amorophousness in this poem.
The child’s “natural aspect” is re-emphasized at the beginning of Stanza Four. Its soft (and vulnerable) breath is now compared to “mother breath” that “flickers” (vibrates or quivers) among the “flat” (lifeless? dull ? savourless? pink roses (“soft roses”, echoes, “reflecting”, both the “soft” moth of the previous line and the golden-pink body-flesh of the child). The mother wakes up in her bedroom to listen to the trilling “vibrating”, “quivering” notes (musical sound or tone) of the child, and a “far sea”, that is, the babble and murmur of the baby, in the nursery, “moves in my ear”. The “far” aspect of the “sea” (something large, a vast collection of water in “nature” and a something whose waves make a pulsing, rhythmic sound that we register only “blankly”) once again reinforces, the present “distance between the mother and the child in “natural” as well as “spatial terms. In response to the child’s late-night cry, the mother gets up to visit the baby in the nursery:
The child behaves as naturally as a cat. The cat frequently licks the part of the body to keep clean. As the mother faces the child drawn breaks out the square window in the bedroom whiten and like the feeding child. The window swallows it like dull stars. Again the pact refers to the babble of the child, in the beginning child utters only handful of notes, but it will learn more as he grows up.
The poem reflects the love of a mother. It also reflects the Victorian culture because Victoria (1837-1901) was certainly earth mother Queen Victoria ruled far and wide. This idea has been reflected to the image of Victorian nightgown in the poem.
“Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.”
This is the first stanza of a beautiful poem ‘Morning Song’ written by Sylvia Plath. This is both philosophical and autobiographical, this was written as after the birth of Rabecca. Therefore it gives us the picture of feelings and emotions of Sylvia Plath about the new born baby.
The very first word love in the first line of the stanza tells us that the baby enters this world with the love of mother. The midwife slaps the foot soles, the baby then comes to light and begins to weep. Another wide idea is contained in the last line that it takes his place among the five elements (water, earth, air, sky and light).
“One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square”
This stanza occurs in the end of the poem Morning Song by Sylvia Plath. In the previous stanza, the poet has laughed herself by saying that she is cow-heavy and jumps out the bed under the Victorian nightgown.
In the morning hours when the day of dawn, the baby begins to utter some vowels but receive on a babble. It is not language but near vowels. Sylvia Plath has likened than to balloons.