Sylvia Plath and Morning Song
My Key to Plath: Choice Diction
In the poem Morning Song, Sylvia Plath chooses words for their metaphoric imagery and sound qualities to describe the feelings of a new mother and universally the feelings of new parents. The speaker is speaking to her newborn baby.
Plath immediately introduces the idea of time in the first line of the first stanza, “Love set you going like a fat gold watch.” The baby was a product of love and once created the clock that would bind his life immediately started ticking. Time acts on every being, and parents are powerless to slow it.
The second stanza introduces the idea that a baby is an awe-inspiring creature, particularly for new parents. Newborns have that other-worldly, strangely wise look about them. Comparing a naked newborn with a naked statue in a museum, and describing blank stares, evokes the overwhelming powerlessness that new parents can feel when faced with the strange new responsibility that is a baby. Although parenting can be all-consuming at times, it is surprising how much parents are simply spectators as time acts on the child and he grows up.
In the third stanza, the speaker acknowledges the growing distance between herself and the baby as time progresses. The child was recently inside her body, and is now separate. As the child grows up, her parental role will slowly diminish, as a cloud is slowly effaced by the wind. The child belongs to humanity, and not just to her.
The metaphoric imagery adds richness to the poem. The baby’s breath is moth-breath, her “mouth opens clean as a cat’s. “ The speaker is “cow-heavy.” What new mother with pregnancy weight that still clings and the swell of milk in heavy, painful breasts could not identify strongly with a cow? The speaker is also “floral,” identifying her Victorian nightgown, which is traditional, feminine, and matronly. This imagery suggests that the speaker’s identity has transitioned as a result of motherhood.
Listening and sound is important in this poem. The bald cry of the baby in the first stanza and the slap of the midwife becomes the echo of the voices in the museum that magnify the baby’s arrival. Sound continues as the far sea in the mother’s ear as she lies awake listening to her baby’s breath and sound marks the final stanza with the morning song of the baby.
Plath also uses sound devices for emphasis. She alliterates “window square whitens” to describe the onset of morning. She uses the liquid l consonance and various “o” assonances repeatedly. The long “o”, “oo”, and “ou” passages and the “l” consonance include “swallows its dull stars” and “vowels rise like balloons.” These patterns echo back to “cloud that distills…to reflect its own slow….” The FL sound is repeated in “Flickers among the flat pink roses.” Plath uses sound both thematically and as a rhetorical feature. The poem is a beautiful, melodic tribute to the mix of emotions felt by new parents.
Poem from: The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by J. D. McClatchy, Vintage Books, New York.