Morning Song by Sylvia Plath: Critical Analysis

When Sylvia Plath wrote this unconventional poem of hers on February 1961, she had given birth to her daughter Frieda. The mother love is strangely absent in the beginning of the poem. But the mother does move from a strange alienation to a kind of instinctive sweeping emotion, when she lives with the child for some time and when the child happens to breathe and cry; this probably happens after the intense labor pain is over, so that the mother could feel the love.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

In fact, “maternal feelings” do not automatically occur. Plath is honest to divulge (confess) her feelings of alienation and separation. In the last three stanzas, the emotional estrangement changes and she impulsively listen to the sound of her child as it sleeps. The surreal images and comparisons are functional to emphasize the sense of oddity and alienation in the feelings of the mother. One striking surreal image that somehow supports the ‘thingness’ of the baby is that of its cry as “bald.

To compare a child to a “fat gold watch” is surreal. The child is animate while a watch is inanimate. Love is engaging while winding up a watch is a mechanical act. What the simile suggests, is the great distance between the act of love and the fact of the baby.  What does this baby- this thing with its own existence- have to do with the emotions that engendered it? By raising this question about what most people consider a most “natural” phenomenon – the birth of a child – Plath helps the reader see something very old  (childbirth) as something quite strange, new, and unsettling. The disorienting effect of Plath’s style is typical of surrealism.

Plath seems to emphasize the nonhuman quality of this new being/thing that does not take its place among other humans, but “among the elements.” Stanza 2 reinforces the nonhuman quality of the baby as perceived by its parents. The child is a “new statue.” The parents are pictured as gazing at it “in a drafty museum.” In other words, they cannot help staring at the child as a statue and the parents as walls, not much communication occur. Plath’s surreal images underline the parents’ feelings of alienation and strangeness in this new (to them) situation.

No longer a statue, the child’s presence takes on more spirited animation through the animal imagery. The speaker’s lack of feeling for her child gradually transforms into appreciation and wonder, particularly at its sounds – not a “bald cry” any longer but something shaped, “a handful of notes.”

The child enters the human world when the speaker perceives its attempts at language with the clear vowels rise like balloons. The poem closes with this idea of the child making poetry of the natural and innate human sounds filled with emotion. Morning Song records how the speaker’s perception of her baby changes, her intimacy with her child grants her the vision of its animated being.

The theme in “Morning Song” is alienation and the process by which it is overcome. It deals with material instincts and its awakening. Plath avoids sentimentality in taking up the subject – of becoming a mother in a fatherly way. A woman does not come to motherhood merely by giving birth. New behavior is learned. The being of the mother is as new as the being of the child. Even the speaker listening to the child’s sounds and getting fascinated is not self-willed or under her control. She follows her instinct: “only cry and I stumble from bed.” Her child sings to her with a “morning song” and a bond is established with the help of language, the essential human act. One secondary, but important issue that the poem deals with is; can a woman be both mother and famous poet? In this, she is dealing with one of the major issues that faced women poets in the twentieth century. This poem answers her implied question. The joyous ending proclaims the arrival of both a new signer on the scene and a mother pound of her child’s vocal signals and message.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Morning Song by Sylvia Plath: Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 27 Nov. 2013,