by Sylvia Plath
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
- Here at Shmoop, we've heard a lot of lines about newborn babies. It seems like everyone's comparing all things lovely and wonderful and innocent to, well, children. The first lines of "Morning Song," though, have us scratching our heads.
- Why? Well, for starters, how often do you hear little babies being described as "fat gold watches"? Aren't they usually compared to lambs and kittens and sunbeams and angels? We've all seen Hallmark baby cards, and there are no watches in sight on those bad boys.
- Sure, our speaker talks about how love gets that watch up and running, and love is a pretty common topic when it comes to babies, but there's something just a little strange in this description. For one thing, whose "love" is being described here? Is it the speaker's? Someone else's? Frankly, we just don't know. And that ambiguity makes it seem like the speaker is distancing herself from the newborn. She's sure not gushing or ooohing and aaahing. In fact, her language is pretty prosaic.
- If we take into account the fact that the speaker is actually addressing herself to the baby, the fact that "love" remains unaccounted-for becomes even more troublesome. After all, she's not just describing some baby getting its start in the world. She's talking to you – the baby is the audience of this poem. Which makes tracing down the source of this love just a teeny bit more urgent, don't you think?
- Those of you who dabble in philosophy have probably figured out that Plath seems to be drawing the Deist concept of God down into her personal sphere with this line. See, the idea of God as a watchmaker is actually a pretty popular concept. Here's how it works: God is a guy who creates an incredibly intricate, self-sustaining mechanism – the world. Once it's done, so is he: he steps back to admire the little thing ticking away time all on its own. He never steps in to fix it.
- Metaphorically turning her baby into a "fat gold watch" allows our speaker to feel the same sort of thrill at creation that the watchmaker God must have done. After all, babies are incredibly intricate mechanisms – just like watches. Or worlds. Being able to claim responsibility for making one must feel pretty cool.
- Look a little closer, though, and the analogy gets a little bit worrisome. After all, in the creator-as-watchmaker scenario, God wipes his hands of his new creation. Once it's up and running, he's out. A baby, however, tends to need care and attention. All the time. Which might be a teeny bit problematic if, as this analogy could suggest, its parents decided to let it exist on its own.
- That's just the dark side of this first line, though. Maybe our speaker could simply be marveling at the incredible way that a creature who for nine months was entirely dependent on its mother, now seems to move and breathe all on its own.
- And hey, gold watches – especially the fat ones – are pretty prized possessions. So maybe our speaker's not so detached from the lil' babe, after all.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
- This is it. This is the moment that most babies have been waiting… well, nine months for. It's the moment that at least one out of three romantic comedies just has to include. It's that time when a new baby takes a deep breath and squalls for the first time.
- Our speaker's stark language gets even more direct here. You can almost imagine a kid's conversation with its mother going a lot like this:
- Kid: Mommy, what happened when I was born?
- Mom: Well, the midwife slapped your footsoles.
- Kid: And then what?
- Mom: And then you cried. A lot.
- It's the last line of this little passage that demonstrates Plath's dexterity with language. See, she doesn't seem to be saying much. But then again, in the space of two little lines, she morphs "you" (that's the baby, remember?) from a mechanized, watch-like being into an elemental force. As she describes it, there's nothing as natural as a baby's cry. It's stripped-down, lonely, "bald" – the first time a baby cries, it does so just because it's out in the world for the first time.
- More importantly, describing the baby's cry as a part of the elements make it seem like this particular baby is an integral part of the world. Its cry is as important to the world as earth, air, wind or… well, you get the picture. This baby is Big Stuff.