Interpretation of Sylvia Plath's Poem Morning Song
Ariel, the collection of poems.
The poem I intend to analyse, Morning Song belongs to the book of poems Ariel , published in 1965, two years after Sylvia Plath's death by suicide. Most of the poems were selected by her but the final selection was made by her widower Ted Hughes. This final selection has been widely discussed by several feminist critics who considered that this was an intrusion of Hughes in Plath's work, others note that the couple usually helped each other edit their works.
A new version of Ariel has been published in 2004. This version restores Plath's original order and twelve poems omitted in the first version. These changes in the original poems were explained by Hughes as being an attempt to avoid redundancies found by him in them. As well as the disappearing of some of the poems and their substitution by others she wrote when she was in London were due to refer to people who were still alive. In this new version it has been added a foreward written by their daughter Frieda Hughes, poet and painter.
Sylvia Plath's work in Ariel is extremely personal. The poems address varied themes such as maternity, sexuality, marriage and her experiences with depression. After the good reception of her first book, Colossus , Ariel was initially refused by many of the best editors in the United States , the New Yorker, for instance only published a few lines on this work.
The poems of this collection were mostly written between October and December of 1962, when Sylvia was living in Devon after the breakdown of her marriage to Ted Hughes. As a result of Hughes selection and arrangement of the collection during forty years Sylvia Plath has been misunderstood. The inclusion in the former collection of poems written in London, during her last to months alive, terribly ill and depressed, gave the wrong idea that Plath was a disturbed person, a narcissistic person who was able to pre-empt her, in that moment, future decease in the poem Edge, the last poem included in the former selection.
Having restored the original order and contents made by Plath and having taken out these poems about death, the emphasis comes back on the original important issues of the collection. And the poems give insights on Plath's moments of happiness in Devon .
When Plath and Hughes moved to Devon in 1961 she decided to keep her bees, this liking may derive of her father's same affection to these insects. She kept notes on her hives which became a source of inspiration for her poems, all meant to be included in Ariel and which came out from her in the period of a week after her marriage had failed. The poems expressed hope and glimpses of ideas of new beginnings, developed with disturbing imagery and sinister tones.
Therefore this new version, which is completed by the poems Sylvia Plath intended to be part of Ariel restores her real self and ideas of death and suicide have disappeared and do not end up the collection as in the original work were not either.
Analysis and personal interpretation of the poem Morning Song .
This poem is part of the collection Ariel and it is considered part of the so called Confessional poetry, a kind of poetry drafted by a group of poets of the fifties of the twentieth century in which Sylvia Plath has been framed and which works are composed in a mode of verse that reveals the poet's personal problems in a very frankly way. Long time it has been considered as a characteristic of the collection the theme of suicide, as a hint of the intimate subjects dealt with in the poems, but as in the previous research of this paper has been stated, death poems were not part of this collection, being the poems that express ideas on death not part of the original selection made by Plath before dying.
(Cf. Baldick, C. ps. 48, 49).
The poem is composed in free verses; it does not seek a regular metre and rhyming scheme. It is composed by six stanzas of three verses each.
(Cf. Baldick, C. p. 102)
The first stanza begins with the word love, which is a good hint of the theme of the poem. It is, the birth of Sylvia's son and the feelings she experiments because of her maternity. This word, love, it is said to be the reason of the baby's coming to the world. This coming, the sense of movement of the action, is compared with that of a watch, as an object that starts working at a certain point, in the life of a person this certain point can be the moment of the birth. This mentioned watch is a gold watch, the adjective gold gives an idea of the importance of the concept compared to it, in this case the newborn. And the word fat, referring to this watch, alludes to the baby's shape, being babies often tubby and rounded in their shape when they are born. In the second verse Plath tells the moment the midwife slaps the footsoles of the baby, when babies are born, the midwifes or the doctors that help in the childbirths usually snap the baby's buttocks or, in this case, the footsoles to help them breath as they start crying. In the poem, this crying, described as bald, sets the moment the new person has come to the world. This idea is described as “[…] took its place among the elements”. Being these elements interpreted as the elements that compose the world, the natural elements, and, they may be as well, the elements human beings have created to conform the world as it is nowadays, or as it was in that moment of history when Sylvia Plath lived.
The second stanza describes how the arrival of the new born has been welcomed. The first verse talks about the echoes of the voices of the parents magnifying his arrival, these words give idea of the happiness brought to them by the birth. The child is described as “new statue in a drafty museum”, his nakedness is compared to a statue, this image can be easily evoked by the reader. The naked body of a baby, so delicate and soft, is comparable with the perfection of the statues chiselled by crafty sculptors. This image of the delicate baby is the cause of the parent's worries, of the end of the safety felt before the new born's arrival, because of the responsibility on the new person good development and growing. So Sylvia says they stand as blankly walls, just staring around the baby, expectant.
The third stanza begins comparing Sylvia's motherhood with the breaking of the clouds in rain. The rain, stated as a mirror which reflects the disappearing of the clouds themselves; extinction made by the action of raining and the blow of the wind. This expression may express the idea of motherhood not as a condition of possession by the mother. The baby belongs to the world, to itself, to the elements which surround his life in the world.
In the fourth stanza the worry of the mother as the baby sleeps is expressed. The breath of the baby is described as “moth-breath”, this comparison gives an idea of the speed and regularity of the baby's breath as it sleeps. As moths are characterized by the fast and constant movement of their wings and are nocturnal insects. Therefore, the movement of these insects is compared with the rhythm of the breath of the baby at night when it is sleeping. This breathing, expressed as a flying is described as flickering among “the flat pink roses”. These flat pink roses may be the decoration of the wall papers of the room where the baby sleeps as they are described as flat and walls are the limits of the rooms and the breathing, as the moths flying, collides with the limits of the room where it is taking place or as the verse says “Flickers among” them. The mother's worry and attention is expressed when she says that she wakes to listen to this breath and the sound that comes to her is said to be like the sound of the sea that moves in her ears. This description of the sound gives idea of the rhythm of the breathing, similar to the sound of the sea.
In the penultimate stanza the characteristic mother's state of alert is expressed when she says that if she hears a cry of her baby she stumbles from bed, in a clumsy way, being his clumsiness reflected by the composed term cow-heavy, and described as floral surely referring this term, floral, to the print of her Victorian nightgown. The mouth of the baby as it cries is described as a cat's mouth, this comparison may be because of the similarity of the baby's lament, surely longing for food, with that of the baby cat drawing for its mother attention. The last verse of this stanza links with the first verse of the next one and starts describing the moment of the daybreak
This last stanza as I said before links with the previous one where the window is mentioned. In this stanza it is said that the window square whitens, the day light is coming and in a poetic way she describes how the night ends by saying that it “swallows its dull stars”. The she describes the beginning of the baby's day. It starts babbling. This is a description of the baby's attempts to produce sounds, something characteristic of humans before we learn how to speak. These sounds are described as “The clear vowels rise like balloons”. The first sounds babies produce are most of all vowels. And the description of their production and heard like the rising of balloons in the air give clear idea of the constancy and intensity of the rising of these sounds.
Plath's use of Nature's terminology.
As we have seen in my personal analysis of the poem Morning Song , Sylvia Plath's use of natural elements discloses her tendency to identify human qualities and attitudes with natural events and animal's behaviour and qualities.
The anthropomorphizing of Nature is reflected in the poem above analyzed, many characteristics of animals are used to build comparisons of her baby's behaviour and description.
Images of Nature's scenes are used to describe the environment and sounds perceived in the moments described. Her use of Nature's terms is clear and really useful to help the reader evoke the feelings and atmosphere of the actions described.
By reading this poem and trying to understand the authoress I have been able to understand her and to feel the inner feelings she was experimenting at the moment she experienced such an important and special situation as maternity really is.
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms.
By Chris Baldick.
Oxford University Press. Oxford , 2001, Second Edition.
Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia.
Article: Groundbreaking Book: Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)
Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets.
Article: Sylvia Plath. On the publication of Ariel (the restored edition)
Morning song by Sylvia Plath
Home: Home: http://www.poets.org/index.php
Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets.
Article: Sylvia's poetry shines on
The Age Education
Article: Sylvia Plath's Psychic Landscapes by Brita Lindberg-Seyersted
Anja Beckmann's Sylvia Plath page
Bibliographical note: All the webs used and cited have been looked up on May 19, 20 and 21 2007.
Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Mª Elena Mármol Rodríguez
Universitat de València Press