Morning Song is about a mother waking in the night to tend to her crying baby and doesn’t celebrate the beauty of the sunrise or an aesthetically pleasing landscape as seen at dawn. Plath’s speaker (based on Plath, herself a mother to a small child when she penned this poem) stumbling out of bed ‘cow-heavy and floral’ in her Victorian nightgown.
Text: 1-3 Love set you going like a fat gold watch. The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry Took its place among the elements.
Paraphrase: Love or the act of love initiated the growth of the baby who is very prized and magnificent like ‘a fat gold watch’. The slapping of footsoles by midwife suggests moment of the birth of the baby who cries for the first time breathing and squalling and thus becomes a part of the environment. The image is very detailed and intensely memorable.
Explanation: 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 daughter 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 midwives 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.
Text: 4-6 Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue. In a drafty museum, your nakedness Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
Paraphrase: The speaker along with her relatives and friends exhilarate the arrival of the baby with their voices echoing in the hospital. The speaker compares the newborn with a new statue in a cold and inhospitable atmosphere of a museum. The nakedness of the child shadows the visitors’ safety. The onlookers stand round the baby as blank walls inanimate, inexpressive and quite boring.
Explanation: The second stanza describes how the arrival of the newborn has been welcomed. The first verse talks about the echoes of the voices of the parents magnifying her 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”, her 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.
Text: 7-9 I’m no more your mother Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow Effacement at the wind’s hand.
Paraphrase: The speaker asserts that she is no more the mother of the baby. Her role is almost functional like the cloud that mirrors its own self effacement on the purified drops of water at the blowing of wind. These lines reflect her wavering between responsibility and passivity towards the child.
Explanation: 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 of the mother. The baby belongs to the world, to itself, to the elements which surround her life in the world.
Text: 10-12 All night your moth-breath Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen: A far sea moves in my ear.
Paraphrase: The speaker reflects on how the baby breathes like the fluttering of a moth’s wings. The speaker uses mixed-up sense impression to describe how soft the breath of the baby as on the wallpaper of pink roses. The speaker-mother keeps alert all night long to listen her baby’s cry. She remains watchful and worried and keeps her ear open to listen to the movement of the baby like a person who tries to hear the sound of a distant sea.
Explanation: 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 an idea of the rhythm of the breathing, similar to the sound of the sea.
Text: 13-15 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
Paraphrase: The speaker beautifully depicts how she remains alert in her care of the baby. With one cry, she springs from the warmth of her bed. She is ‘Cow-heavy’ as she is breast feeding the baby dressed in a floral Victorian styled gown.
Explanation: 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 her 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’s attention. The last verse of this stanza links with the first verse of the next one and starts describing the moment of the daybreak.
Text: 16-18 Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try Your handful of notes; The clear vowels rise like balloons.
Paraphrase: The morning light is breaking through the baby’s window. The stars are fading in the morning’s light and sunshine peeks. The speaker has been singing to her infant, so far. But now the infant sings back, trying out ‘notes that become ‘vowels’. The poet seems to date the birth of the mother-infant bond from the first moment of communication-the first time that the baby makes an attempt to express itself to its mother.
Explanation: 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 daylight is coming and in a poetic way she describes how the night ends by saying that it “swallows its dull stars”. Then 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 gives a clear idea of the constancy and intensity of the rising of these sounds.