by Sylvia Plath
Analysis: Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay
There’s more to a poem than meets the eye.
Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
One of the neatest things about a baby's first few months is that the baby actually learns to experience the world around it. After all, there are just a few more sights and sounds and smells and touches out there in the Big World than there were in Mom's belly. "Morning Song" turns the senses into an ongoing exploration for speaker and subject, a sign that the speaker might share just a little bit more with her child than even she realizes. One of the most common uses of figurative language in this poem is the incorporation of synaesthesia, or mixed-up sense impressions – which might convey just how confused the speaker is about her feelings towards the baby.
- Line 2: Plath presents readers with a sharp image of a baby coming into consciousness through touch – or, to be specific, through a slap. As the baby feels, the speaker hears: she uses synaesthesia to describe the baby's "bald cry." (Want to know more about synaesthesia? Check our reading of line 10 in the "Line-by-Line Summary.")
- Lines 5-6: Describing shadows and drafts in the "museum" of the hospital allows Plath to play with a metaphorical sense of touch as she describes the baby's arrival. The speaker isn't actually feeling a cool shadow fall on her skin. She just imagines the baby as that shadow.
- Line 10: The "flickering" of the baby's breath creates a delicate image – one that, like a moth's wings, is barely noticeable, even in the silence of the night.
- Lines 10-11: The baby's breath sounds like a "far sea"? That, folks, is a classic metaphor for the regular rise and fall of rhythmic breath.
- Line 18: Sound rising like balloons? Well, you see balloons. You hear sounds. Once again, Plath uses synaesthesia to develop strong sensory images.
Anything But Human
Notice how Plath develops elaborate metaphors to compare both the speaker and the baby to anything but an infant and its mother? It's a pretty fascinating strategy – and it allows the speaker to defer establishing any sort of relationship with her newborn infant. Think about it: what sort of relationship can you really have with a watch or a statue? This changes, however, as the poem works towards its end – just as the speaker is working through her emotions about the baby.
- Line 1: Baby = "fat gold watch." That, folks, is one strange metaphor. And we're just getting started.
- Line 3: The baby's cry is described as being part of the elements, which helps to create an image of the baby as a sort of force of nature. Not your typical description of a newborn, huh?
- Line 5: Baby = statue. Again, it's a metaphor. Strangely enough, though, Plath asserts the metaphor as its own sentence, "New statue." It's as if the metaphorical identity of the infant forms a logic all of its own.
- Lines 7-9: Notice the negative construction that's used to create this metaphor: the speaker is not the baby's mother in the same way that a cloud is not the baby's mother. But it could also mean that the speaker is the baby's mother just as much as the cloud is. Either way, though, there's a troubled relationship between mother and baby – it's certainly not the declaration of possession that you'd expect to hear from a new mom.
- Line 13: The speaker describes herself as a cow (or, well, as "cow-heavy"), which suggests that her relationship to the baby is an animal one: she's only there to support its physical needs (provide the baby with milk).
- Line 15: Ah, here's an interesting change. For the first time, line 15 introduces a simile to describe the baby, not a metaphor. Its mouth is clean as a cat's. Words such as "like" or "as" introduce a simile, while metaphors usually don't use comparative terms. Why's that important? Well, it suggests that the speaker isn't saying that the baby is a cat. The baby is just like a cat – which means that, for the first time in the poem, she's recognizing the baby as a baby. That's a step closer to recognizing the child's relationship to her.
- Line 18: Here's an image that's definitely human: Plath describes the baby's sounds as "vowels," which means that the speaker recognizes them as parts of speech. Human speech.