‘Morning Song’ was written by Sylvia Plath in April 1961, ten months after the birth of her first child, Frieda. Plath committed suicide on the 11th February 1963 after suffering from mental health issues for most of her short life. Plath was born in Massachusetts, USA but lived most her life in London, England after meeting her husband at University. She was a white, middle class woman living in a post, World War II, society which seen women experience little or no freedom. Sylvia rebuked this societal norm and wrote this poem to express the true conflicting emotions of motherhood from happiness to apathy to the monotony of parenthood.
The poem is categorised as a free-verse, confessional modernist poem. The poem is free-verse which does not follow any set metrical pattern (Furniss and Bath 2007:58). Confessional poetry is poetry that reveals personal feelings, emotions and the deepest thoughts of the speaker. ‘The poem …gives us direct access to the profound inner experience of the poet…’ (Furniss and Bath 2007:7). Despite confessional poetry being classed as modernist, its origins can be traced back to Williams Wordsworth, this type of poetry experienced a revival in the mid 1900’s thanks to Robert Lowell who later became Plath’s teacher. Confessional poetry was written in reaction to the formal mode of the 1950’s. Responding to the “tranquillized Fifties,” as Lowell called them, these poets resisted mid-century cultural norms (Christopher Beach 2003: 165). Poets using this poetic form are challenging the suppression of emotion and sentiment experienced in literature during this era. ‘Morning Song’ is reflective of this confessional mode, the struggle of a woman suffering from postnatal depression whilst trying to bond with her new-born was somewhat unspoken during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Structure and Form
‘Morning Song’ does not follow the conventions of metre, rhythm or rhyme. This poem is written in ‘free-verse’, yet the poem has some uniformity, it contains six stanzas and the each hold three-lines of free verse, it forms a distinct shape which is recognisable as a poem. Distinguishing feature of a poem in the ‘lineation of poetry’ (Furniss and Bath 2007:14).
The poems flow is undermined by the interruption of punctuation strategically scattered throughout the poem. The last line of the second verse contains the conclusion of the sentence from the previous line, this poetic form is called ‘double syntax’ whereby the reader needs to read on to the next line to obtain the full meaning of the preceding line. Other examples of ‘double syntax’ are seen in line two, seven, ten, thirteen, fifteen and line sixteen. Double syntax describes what happens when the reader is uncertain how to construe the sentence structure when it flows over a line ending (Furniss & Bath 2007: 81),
“In a drafty museum, your nakedness
“Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.”
The enjambment in line five forces the reader to read at pace, then the reader is compelled to stop in line 6 due to a caesura (full-stop). Line divisions occur which cut up and manipulate phrases in order to produce semantic hesitations and awkwardnesses which tease the reader (Furniss and Bath 2007: 62). These enjambments and caesuras occur repeatedly throughout the poem. Even though Plath brings the poem together through the use of language and technique, the poem is fragmented through the use of line breaks, enjambment, punctuation, syntax and caesuras. This careful variation in form suggests the inner emotion of the narrator who is struggling with the complex emotions of motherhood.
Figurative Language and Poetic Technique
Plath links her stanzas together through the use of figurative language. Similes, metaphors, paradox and personification techniques are used throughout the poem to form these links. The first simile used is in the very first line,
“Love set you going like a fat gold watch.”
Love is being compare to a watch, animate (baby) is compared to an inanimate (watch), both valuable and need to be cared for to function properly. Another use of simile can be found in stanza two, line six,
“Shadows our safety. We stand around blankly as walls.”
Plath is comparing the family to walls, just standing around looking at the naked infant, expressionless. Other similes used can be found in stanza five, line fifteen whereby the baby’s mouth is compared to a cat’s yawn and the last line of stanza six compares vowels to balloons. These similes depict a baby’s cry.
In stanza two, line four there is comparison made between the baby and a statue, this metaphor emphasises that the baby is comparable to a beautiful piece of sculpture in museum,
“Our voice echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.”
In line seven the poetic technique of paradox is evident, it is a contradictory statement.
Personification is employed in stanza three, line nine,
“Effacement at the wind’s hand.”
The wind has a hand, dispersing the cloud (Plath) and its reflection (baby). Plath is experiencing the separation from her baby having undergone through the process of child birth, which leaves her conflicted.
The performance of the ‘Morning Song’ by Mary Jane Tenerelli seems emotionless, the pitch is flat and monotone, the volume is low with little or no energy. Pace is quick. The overall tone of the performance is apathetic. The rendition of the poem could reflect how Sylvia felt about motherhood, flat, no energy with time passing quickly. Mary’s performance does not enhance the understanding of the poem, there is no musicality her recital.