Reading: Morning Song by Sylvia Plath

The poetry of Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) never fails to impress. Lazarus and Daddy are household names in poetics, and the entire book Ariel counts as a masterpiece. You can find plenty of wonderful writing on Plath on sites like the Academy of American Poets. Here I read ‘Morning song’ and, as usual, give an interpretation that is deliberately not informed, or impaired by too much theoretical study.

Morning song
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, 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.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

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

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

We compare the infant to a chubby gold watch that is slapped on the footsoles to run smoothly on the love it is fed. For the parents, the baby becomes an element, a statue. Bald and naked, vulnerable it shadows their safety (they provide safety to the infant). The parents are blank walls on which the arrival of the newborn throws its shadows.
The next lines are a little bit too cryptic to my taste and I am turned off by overuse of mirrors in poetry. Effacement means shortening of the uterine cervix as well as withdrawing into the background. Sylvia is a cloud that dissolves into thin air, raining some pretty words down before she goes (she gassed herself).

Okay, flickering moth-breath and flat pink roses, that’s good stuff. Now the mother hears the breath of her baby (Plath’s daughter Frieda) as the sound of a far sea. Did the child set her free? When she gets up at night to breastfeed her child, however, the dull stars in the window are swallowed. The baby’s mouth is clean and the sound of his morning song is clear. Does Plath feel the sterile atmosphere? Or is motherhood precisely her liberation and nursing her child following the call of the far sea?

Reading: Morning Song by Sylvia Plath was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Female author by Sylvia Plath

An anthology has to have some Plath in it, or so they say. This one convinced me by its metaphorical precision. I would have liked it even if I didn’t know the author was Sylvia Plath (1932-1963).

All day she plays at chess with the bones of the world:
Favored (while suddenly the rains begin
Beyond the window) she lies on cushions curled
And nibbles an occasional bonbon of sin.

Prim, pink-breasted, feminine, she nurses
Chocolate fancies in rose-papered rooms
Where polished highboys whisper creaking curses
And hothouse roses shed immortal blooms.

The garnets on her fingers twinkle quick
And blood reflects across the manuscript;
She muses on the odor, sweet and sick,
Of festering gardenias in a crypt,

And lost in subtle metaphor, retreats
From gray child faces crying in the streets.

Okay, she is “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English”  (Joyce Carol Oates) and you can see why. In her poetry, life and death, lightheartedness and suicidal depression are closer together than anywhere. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Sordid excellence’. Playing chess with the bones of the world is something for emperors. I see a Cleopatra, a Katherina the Great. It begins to rain outside, so we’re drawn in, where she lies down and nibbles on a bonbon of sin. The word play bones and bonbon is striking. It’s a nice image of spleen.

The second strophe sounds like Hello Kitty to me. All pink, a little cabinet/drawer (highboy) and a hothouse with roses. But something is not right: We hear ‘creaking curses’.

She is writing passionately: the twinkling of her red jewelry is likened to blood. And she isn’t writing about chocolate or roses. She is inspired by the sweet and sick stench of decaying gardenia flowers in a grave. Muses-sweet and sick-crypt, here the poet enforces the immediate proximity of life and death. Thus she writes, and is – like we, her readers? – lost in subtle metaphor.

Then the perspective changes to the streets with the anonymous (gray) crying child faces. She can’t bear their sight and only in metaphor she finds some relief. But is it a dangerous relief, that only catalyzes her own death drive? She committed suicide at age 30, falling prey to depression. Can subtle metaphors indeed keep depression at bay, at least for some time?

Elsewhere on this website, I discuss Plath’s poem ‘morning song’.

Image Cioma Ebinama


Reading: Female author by Sylvia Plath was originally published on Meandering home